Lately, there’s been lots of discussion about whether Agile is strictly a software development methodology, without major impact on the outbound parts of a software company, or whether it’s driving broad changes in how companies deliver value to their markets.  At Enthiosys, we’re seeing the move to business agility: applying agile techniques beyond software development as a source of tangible company benefits.

This byte makes three points:
1. Faster delivery of higher-quality software is highlighting problems in outbound groups
2. Agile creates opportunities for more collaboration and customer value by expanding cross-functional teams to include outbound expertise
3. Product management is the natural facilitator of these cross-functional teams

Rather than focus on “near to engineering” functions like Product Marketing, I’ll highlight agile’s impact on two less obvious groups: Channel Marketing and Legal.  We’ll see the company-wide effort to capture incremental dollars (not just theoretical value) from agile software development.

Setting the stage…  Several of our clients sell B2B networking and security services through resellers and distributors (“channels”).  Their internal sales staffs are relatively small, since they depend on channel partners to put more “feet on the street.”  Let’s consider ourselves at one these B2B companies.

Agile Challenges and Opportunities for Channel Partners

Traditionally, we’ve put out new product releases once each year (after hoping for 9 month release cycles).  Our annual Channel education processes include a face-to-face Channel Summit every February, quarterly webinars for technical updates, and twice-a-year revisions of brandable product marketing tools (demo scripts, PowerPoints, competitive updates, etc).  Leisurely software releases haven’t generated much urgency in our channel marketing team or among our resellers.  Last year’s brochures and price lists are pretty similar to this year’s.

Oops! We’ve transitioned to agile, and high-value releases are arriving twice as fast.  With quality up dramatically, we’re also putting more energy into incremental features.  Channel Marketing’s staffing, budgets and turnaround times are suddenly insufficient. More (and better) software demands more (and faster) revisions to online FAQs, feature bundles, upgrade paths, competitor knock-offs, etc.  To capture incremental dollars from agile software, we need to invest in nimble reseller processes and include Channel Marketing in our cross-functional team.

At the same time, Agile is enabling some competitive opportunities.  The development team is increasingly hungry for rapid market feedback, and our best resellers are eager to provide it.  We’re now engaging resellers directly in product showcases, backlog prioritization discussions, and user stories.  After all, these are the folks who look paying customers in the eye.  For resellers, “value” is not a theoretical concept – it translates directly into revenue.

Agile Challenges and Opportunities for Legal

Bringing resellers and customers into showcases opens up our next set of cross-functional issues and opportunities.  It rings alarm bells for Legal.  They start by asking:

  • Do our NDAs sufficiently protect our IP?  If customers share good ideas with us, do we own those ideas?
  • Should we let resellers ask their other customers for opinions on potential features (without making promises)?
  • Have we implied that showcase features will be included in upcoming releases?  That could trigger FAS48 and throw our revenue recognition policy into the trash can.

Legal needs to understand a bit about how agile works, and what happens in product showcases.  Then, we jointly need to streamline a two-way disclosure process to share prototypes and get honest customer feedback.  Once again, product management acts as agile ambassador and coordinator.

More strategically, Legal can speed up some Engineering activities.  As we accelerate our software delivery cycle, the team identifies technical gaps sooner.  We can use an Open Innovation model to in-license third party products and boost velocity.  Each software licensing deals need support from Legal’s representative on the cross-functional team.  (See our byte on build-vs-buy.)

A Full Cross-Functional Team

As we’ve seen, agile development forces us to speed up market-facing processes and information flows.  A cross-functional team may need to include representatives from Support, Professional Services, Direct Sales, Marketing/PR, Finance and Manufacturing Operations as well as Development, QA, Technical Docs and User Design.  This extended team turns software into revenue.

Product management is the natural coordinator for this extended team.  The PM must be a driver of this team: identifying when various team members need to be involved, reinforcing market/segment strategy, bridging the gap between technical and outbound participants, and being the conscience of the team.

SoundBytes

Cross-functional teams need to include market-facing members as well as Engineering.  As the pace of development increases, these extended teams are starting to apply agile methods – collaborative problem-solving, self-management, and rapid delivery of incremental value – to the customer side of the house.