Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Accelerating Speed of Business

The way that Internet companies do business has fundamentally changed over the past couple of years. Platforms like Facebook and the iPhone have accelerated from nothing to ubiquity in just a year or two. How can a business keep up?

Well how does Facebook itself operate? Scrum style engineering. Bold new features that are pushed out and then iterated. Marketing is accomplished via blogs and PR. Sales are self-service, and some features such as Apps are free.

Here's a summary of how the new way of operating impacts each functional area of a social Internet company:

LeadershipLaunch and iterateConsensus
EngineeringScrumWaterfall MRD/PRD/spec/etc.
MarketingBlogs and TwitterWhitepapers, emails, and webinars
SalesSelf-service freemiumDirect sales and limited trials

Recently I have been interviewing a lot of executives. The most challenging thing is that a lot of really good, solid people are steeped in the way we all did business 10 years ago. It is hard to figure out who can adapt to this new way of doing business.

This market moves very quickly. There are no visionaries here, but people who know the market well. When it is clear to the people who know the market well that something is about to change, what should a company do?

One way to accomplish this would be to have a series of meetings where the team would seek input from everyone impacted and attempt to achieve a consensus that a new feature should be added. Then marketing would meet with customers and create a Marketing Requirements Document that the team would iterate on and approve. The next step is a Product Requirements Document that the team would again iterate on and approve. Then engineering can create a detailed specification to match the PRD and meet with marketing to ensure that the specification matches the PRD. Up next is user interface design and iteration. Then engineers can implement the feature for the next big push of the website.

As I am sure you have guessed, companies that operate this way are dead or dying. The competition has just shipped 10 features in the same amount of time.

The new way to do this is to quickly create a wireframe of how the new feature should work. A cross-functional product team should in real time edit this spec and remove functionality until the bare minimum for a functional feature is left. At this point there should be a go/no go gut check decision now that there is a concrete wireframe to look at. The wireframe is then quickly skinned and implemented, and shipped with the next maintenance push of the website. The feature is announced via blog and Twitter. If people don't respond to the feature, the company has learned very quickly with minimum wasted time that it needs to move on. If people respond to the feature, the team can then iterate on the feature based on user feedback now that there is traction. Once there are sufficient users and higher level features to add, there is a self-serve upsell opportunity for the feature.

I visited Zynga this morning, and one of their company mottoes is "Zynga Fast". Facebook moves fast. Zynga moves fast. Companies in the social and Internet ecosystems need to move as fast if not faster. Which means people at these companies need to be just as agile. The way we did stuff 10 years ago no longer applies.

1 comment:

Julie and Scott said...

I totally agree with you about iterating quickly on a wireframe. But, I think that you need to be careful when taking away functionality that its not so minimum that there's nothing really compelling left. We just wrote about this on our blog and your article made me think of it. Check out the "The Feature's Not Finished" paragraph of this blog post: