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An agile mindset in a b2b environment: Part 2

May 30, 2017

In part 1 we looked at the importance of communication in making Agile work, and the kind of personality traits that help with successful Agile b2b product management. In this follow-up I’ll share some final thoughts on how spreading Agile throughout your organization can benefit you, and why it’s important to limit dependencies in b2b.

 

Minimize hand-offs

Joined-up working is important to making Agile work, but so is compartmentalizing. The complexities of the b2b environment mean that every change and new product has even more far-reaching implications. Agile is a great way to tackle this because it encourages you to ringfence projects – that doesn’t mean working in silos; it just means fewer dependencies. If one team or Scrum pod depends on another team to get their work done, then their timelines have to match up perfectly. Agile doesn’t work on precise dates like that, so you have to minimize those points of failure.

Imagine a relay race; the final runner can only set off after three successful hand-offs – that’s not very Agile. We prefer all-out sprints, so each team is responsible for one product or feature that stands alone. That means our developers don’t have unnecessary external pressures. It also lets us be more flexible; one project per team means that we can dedicate 70% of a team’s time to a project, for example, with 30% capacity for on-the-fly work.

 

Be an Agile evangelist

That doesn’t mean that technical staff must always be at the mercy of sales opportunities – Agile isn’t restricted to dev teams. Your product department might have perfected Scrum techniques, but if your release is held up by legal process then your organization isn’t getting the full benefits of Agile. That’s why buy-in from the whole organization is vital for Agile to work – especially in a b2b setting where there are so many more moving parts, such as contract negotiations, sales cycles and a host of external factors outside your control.

At EAN our product team are real Agile evangelists, and I try to explain what Agile means any chance I get – both the advantages and trade-offs. If your sales reps thoroughly understand the limits of what they can pitch and why, then they’re better equipped to manage customer expectations. If your customer support agents get the philosophy behind the product then they’re better placed to handle customer queries. What’s more, Agile has applications well beyond software development, and technical teams can even be an asset in teaching whole organizations about it.

 

Test and learn – constantly

And we never stop learning ourselves. Monitoring and quality control are essential parts of Agile, but, with the smaller margin for error that b2b entails, they become even more important. We do a lot of monitoring and sharing of lessons-learned, and score ourselves on the quality of user stories and sprints.

Though working in an Agile way presents many challenges in a b2b environment, a waterfall model is often too restrictive to let you innovate and get the most from your product team. Particularly in travel; at EAN we handle hundreds of millions of calls to our API every day, in a landscape where consumer and vendor are constantly changing. But by collaborating, communicating, and compartmentalizing, Agile can pay dividends for businesses in b2b. And the same goes for product managers themselves. When I led product development at Hotels.com I thought b2c was a complex beast; then when I moved to EAN I realized how much more challenging it is to be Agile in b2b. But it is exactly those complexities that make it so much more rewarding.