How to Implement Continual Improvement with Product Development

Project management methodologies like scrum and Kanban have always been built on the principle of continual improvement. That is to say that while all of the processes and progress built into the system are built on creating the best possible results, they recognize that there will always be room for improvement.

Continual improvement, as the name suggests, happens throughout the project lifecycle, and of course, agile project management strategies allow teams to pivot and make changes as new ideas and improvements emerge. But this doesn’t only apply to the process itself. It can also be used with great effect to create a better product.

Create Your Baseline

Although methodologies like scrum are designed to be used in agile, non-traditional environments, they still start from the same place: the baseline.

At the very start of the development of any product, there is an idea. This idea, and the original functions and features you want to build into it are your baseline. You might end up with a very different product to the one you envisaged on day one, but it’s important to know where you’re starting, so make sure you document what your baseline is.

Appoint a Leader

A scrum master does not exist to drive a team in the way they would be in a traditional environment, but they do facilitate the process. Agile product development usually takes many different people, all working on different things, and can become a little chaotic without someone to gather all the threads. Ensuring that you designate a person to manage the product development team and their continual improvement process adds direction.

Review Your Sprints, Milestones, Tasks and Deliverables

Whatever you call them, your product development journey is going to be divided into tasks, sprints, milestones, or steps. These should be small enough chunks of the overall product development process that you can pause, review, and revise, as necessary.

Dividing product development like this allows your team to share information that they have gathered, feedback they have received, and ideas that have been generated. Working with that new information in near real time allows you to map out a new course, if necessary, before you move on to the next step.

Choose the Best

After every sprint review or task meeting, you will have a list of ideas, comments, questions, and innovations. The teams next task is to choose the best of all of those and incorporate them into the product. This may require you to change the design or the production process, but when this is done early enough, there won’t be any rework required to make them happen.

The Minimum Viable Product

Many years ago, companies used to take years to develop new products. These days, the time it takes you to get to market can be a critical factor in your success. Which is why many product developers have adopted the method of launching with a minimum viable product.

This is usually a bare bone, stripped down version of your goal product, which allows you to test your hypotheses, get real client feedback and start building a brand. It’s also a valuable step in the continual improvement process.

When everyone using your product already knows what it does, there’s a certain amount of tunnel vision. Releasing it to the public and letting them tell you about problems you’re blind to and make suggestions you had never thought of is a critical step in the process.

This can be a hard step to take, knowing that you might not get the feedback you want. But it’s one of the most important to validate your idea, find out what people think and what they really want, and start the next step of the process.

Absorb, Incorporate and Pivot

Once you have the first feedback on your product from people you don’t know, you’re ready for the next step in the continual product improvement process.
The public isn’t always kind, but they’re always the best source of information about the product you’re creating. What do they love? What do they hate? How does that align with your plans and product design?

Once your MVP has got some feedback, you will start to get a picture of what people want it to be able to do, what they don’t like, and what they love. Use that information to alter your product plan before you move to the next step.

Add Features and Functionality

With your adjusted product plan in hand, the next step is to start adding on all the features and functionality you left out of your minimum viable product. Product development in a vacuum will always result in the product you want, but not necessarily the best one for your business.

Review your plans, update them, and then create new tasks for the product development team. Focus on the features and functionality your first users and early adopters requested most frequently. Then roll those out and get another round of feedback.

Be prepared to meet some resistance to changes that you have made. We’ve all had moments where a service, tool, or product we use frequently changes their design or functionality, and it takes some getting used to. Sometimes, those product developers have even had to roll back some of their changes.

There Is No End

Eventually, you will reach the point in the product development process where you’ve added everything you wanted to add, addressed all the problems with the product and incorporated all relevant customer feedback. But there’s never an end to the continual improvement process.

You might be able to scale back your development and work on the product, but you can’t rest on your laurels. Keep asking for customer feedback and suggestions. Monitor what your competitors are doing, and how they are improving their products.

There’s always a way to do things faster, cheaper, better, or with a higher level of security. Your job, as a product development tool is to never stop looking for those ways. You’ll never reach perfection, but you can always get a little closer.

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