Build, measure, learn, iterate my vision for an agile future.

Recently I have been going through a process of looking 18 months into the future and as part of that have written a story of to illustrate where we are going and how I am going to help them get there. I thought it would make sense to publish this almost as a time capsule here to see how far I can get in my ambitious plans.

My Story to Come

This story begins three years ago when I first joined Metro to create a development team. Prior to this all development had been done by a central group resource, they took at least 6 months to get anything done and when it was finally delivered, it wasn’t what you asked for in the first place. The lack of agility was seriously harming Metro’s ability to make the most of product, commercial and editorial opportunities that were presented to them. It took the next 18 months to change not just the way that development was run, but also the way that Metro thought about development and the processes that guide it. Our first goal was to become Agile which is a word that is bandied about a lot but essentially means working in smaller iterations using small self-organising teams and regularly reviewing what and how we are working to continuously improve.

This path was not without its road bumps and the first major one was the development of the TV Product, this was an extremely complicated system which allowed people to write reviews of 15,000 TV shows. It took over six months of development and generated less than 100 reviews. As part of our Agile process we sat down at the end at realised we had to change even further. We needed to understand the drivers of ours users behaviour and ensure that we understood them before we over engineered a system which didn’t do what they needed. This is when we started to look at the Lean Methodology of manufacturing promoted by Toyota since the 1990’s and more recently by Eric Reis in his book The Lean Start-up. Being lean means that you limit the number of things that you are working on and look at each iteration more scientifically. For each iteration you have a customer based hypothesis that you build as quickly as possible before releasing and measuring its impact against your hypothesis, you then make your next decision based on the feedback.

Build, measure, learn, iterate became the development team’s mantra and ensured that we only built what was required and we learn’t from every iteration. This ensured waste was kept to a minimum and constant feedback was able to help shape future developments. This enabled Metro to embrace the constant change that is present in our environment and use it as a competitive advantage. It didn’t take away the need for an end goal just ensured that the journey we took was as effective as it could be every step of the way. This quote I think sums it up nicely. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. It wasn’t just Metro who had used these principles Facebook have the words “Done is better than perfect” on their walls and both Facebook and Apple work in small teams specifically focused delighting their customers.

18 months ago Metro decided that they needed to take some brave decisions to diversify their business away from print revenues. With all of the learning that development team and Metro had been through over the previous 18 months and with each of the new start-up businesses having a technology component I decided it was time to break these agile and lean practices out of the development team and get them in use in the wider business. I realised that the best way to do this was to get involved with each of these new ideas and ensure that the both development and business resources used our template of build, measure, learn, iterate.

Boiling all of our new ideas down to a simple test and using data to shape our decision making process has been instrumental in changing the face of Metro to the one that you see today. We now always test our assumptions and if they are not correct, we fail early and quickly adapt. All data and experiments are shared through the use of highly visible dashboards. This has allowed Metro to collectively learn from each other and this level of transparency and openness has accelerated Metro’s decision making process and enabled it to stay far ahead of their competition. I would like to finish with a quote from Winston Churchill “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Books that helped me shape this vision.

Radical Management by Steve Denning
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries