Beyond Features:  Chapter VI - Releasing and firefighting

David Pereira
David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
Jul 6, 2022
Updated on
Jul 21, 2022
Table of Content

Want to read the full Series? See here for the link to: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5

In the last Chapter, Björn and Ivar worked closely with Lagertha to define the metrics they would follow. They learned the difference between output and input metrics and gained clarity on how to measure the results of their work. Now, they both have to lead teams Kattegat and Jorvik to create value and hopefully save Odin Enterprises from a tragic fate.

Orienting on outcomes instead of outputs is something Björn always fought for, but he feels frightened. The responsibility he carries is heavier than he’s used to; creating outputs is easier than outcomes. Ivar, on the other hand, feels confident and believes they will deliver on the expectations.

Removing Distractions

One thing still bugged Björn: they agreed on goals and metrics, but the Product Backlog remained a list of everything. He got together with Ivar to decide how they would clean up the backlog.

Björn pushed for a radical approach and wanted to delete everything unrelated to their product goal. Ivar was skeptical and wanted to archive items and invite business stakeholders to raise a hand in case something was still relevant. That’s when Björn burst out.

Björn: “What? Do you want to keep pleasing stakeholders? We should not ask them if something is still important because they will say it is. This is tremendous bullshit. We must stop acting like waiters. We are Product Owners, and we should not ask for permission. Let’s delete everything irrelevant, and if it turns out to be relevant, we will figure it out later. But now we’ve got to be bold.”

Ivar: “Björn, hold on my friend. You’re new to the game as a Product Owner. You’ve been a great developer, but this is a new ballgame for you. I know what I’m talking about, and I don’t want to rewrite backlog items just because we tried to be bold and end up with a mess.”

Björn: “Yeah, I’m new to the game, and that’s what this game needs — someone with the guts to do what must be done. We are in this situation because you aimed to please everyone”

At the same time, Ecbert was passing by and, noticing something happening, he decided to stop and observe.

Ivar: “You think you know best. You were not a Product Owner and now you decide to judge my actions. I don’t want to have more problems than we already have. I fear that deleting items will backfire.”

Ecbert noticed this discussion was going nowhere and intervened by saying, “I see the discussion is getting intense. Let me help you out. We agreed to focus on specific goals and nothing else. Therefore, you can delete everything unrelated to our goals, and if someone disturbs you guys, just send that person my way.

Björn and Ivar nodded and finally agreed on removing the irrelevant items. Despite the conflict between Ivar and Björn, that was a victory for Odin Enterprises. Now both teams would be ready to start sprinting again.

Get distractions out of your way and focus on what matters most.

Sprinting

With a lean backlog, Björn and Ivar knew what to do. Team Kattegat had to figure out how to create a sustainable customer acquisition channel, while team Jorvik would enable partners to activate offers faster.

Björn got together with team Kattegat and agreed to use the first Sprint to discover how they could create a referral program. He felt they didn’t know enough to commit to features, and it was the moment to explore different alternatives and learn from clients. They came up with the following Sprint Goal: Learn what triggers clients to recommend us to their friends.

When Björn communicated to stakeholders, they couldn’t understand why team Kattegat would not deliver features, and challenged that. Björn explained that before creating anything, they must understand what would encourage clients to recommend Odin, and then they’d be ready to create something meaningful. Uneasy, the stakeholders accepted Björn’s explanation.

Unsurprisingly, Ivar led team Jorvik differently. He thought they had enough information to improve how partners create their offers. From his perspective, the current workflow could be simplified. That would already cut filling time in half. Team Jorvik came up with the following Sprint Goal: Partners spend 50% less time making their offers available

Haraldson got excited after Ivar communicated the Sprint Goal. He said it would be a game-changer if team Jorvik could make that happen.

Sprint Results

Team Kattegat and Jorvik did their best to reach their Sprint Goals. Björn and company discovered many things they didn’t know and invalidated some of their assumptions. It became clear that had they developed features, they’d have wasted their time, but now they learned what would motivate clients to recommend Odin Enterprises. Meanwhile, team Jorvik reached its goal; they simplified the offer workflow for clients and were ready to go live.

Despite the significant achievement of team Kattegat, stakeholders didn’t get excited about it. They were, however, energized by the deliverables of team Jorvik. Ivar announced the release would happen the next day.

Something seemed off. Were Björn and Ivar competing? Did they forget they work for the same company? 

During the whole Sprint, Björn and Ivar didn’t talk. Yet, the workflow change impacted how offers integrated with the shop. Something could potentially go wrong.

Releasing

On Tuesday, team Jorvik started working at 07:00 am. As usual, Ragnar proceeded with the release, made the changes live, and the other team members performed smoke tests to ensure everything was fine, and voilà! The new offer workflow was live and working as expected. Ragnar and Ivar did some tests and concluded that the form could be filled 60% faster than the previous one. They were proud of themselves.

The release finished at 07:37 am, and everything seemed perfect. Ivar invited the team to have breakfast before everyone else started working.

Ivar was feeling like a god. He knew what to do, and the team created outstanding results in such a short time. Could it be that easy?

Out of the blue, Ragnar started trembling. He looked at Ivar and nervously asked, “Did you align with Björn on the changes of shop importer?” 

Ivar: “Which changes?”

Ragnar: “I told you before. If we cut fields and change the workflow, the shop importer needs to be adapted. Otherwise, no offer goes live.”

Ivar: “Björn was aware of our goal. I think he was smart enough to figure that out. So no worries. We tested, and everything is fine.”

Ragnar: “If nobody from team Kattegat did the changes, we must do an immediate rollback.”

What was supposed to be a celebration became a tense moment — but not for Ivar. He felt confident and didn’t worry about it. Everyone returned to the office, and Ivar sat in his leather chair and relaxed.

Firefighting

At 09:03, Haraldson, in panic mode, came to Ivar, “What did you do? I received 78 e-mails from partners. All their offers are out of the shop. And no one can enter new offers.

Ivar: “This makes no sense. We changed only the flow for new offers.”

Haraldson: “Listen to me. We’re in trouble, and that’s embarrassing. Whatever you did, just undo it.”

To make things worse, Olaf came to the room and said, “Ivar! Something is deadly wrong. Our customer service is overloaded with complaints. Clients cannot buy anything.” 

Ivar was still denying reality, “It cannot be that bad. Give me some time, and we will figure it out.

Ragnar looked scared and helpless, “Ivar, we’re doomed. Team Kattegat didn’t make the required changes, and what’s worse, now offer availability cannot be updated so check-out doesn’t work. Also, the full importer failed and removed most of the offers from our shop. A rollback won’t be enough, and we will have hordes of problems to solve.

Ivar realized the mess he led the team into and said, “OK! Proceed with the rollback, and I will talk to Björn later.

Ragnar performed the rollback and got together with the other devs to figure out how to clean up the mess. They realized it would be time-consuming and probably require the whole morning, but they were supposed to plan the new Sprint at 10:00 am. Ivar understood they were in firefighting mode, and planning the Sprint would make no sense.

After five and half hours of intense work, team Jorvik got everything back on track. They stabilized the workflow and shop importer, but one thing they couldn’t get back; their image with the partners and customers was hurt. 

Debriefing

Lagertha got both teams together and asked them a couple of questions to understand the situation and define actions to avoid it. She started by asking, “What led us to this situation?” Ragnar went straight ahead and shared that they had a dependency with Team Kattegat and didn’t align with them. Ivar disagreed; he ensured Björn was aware of the goal and should have figured that out on his own. 

Björn got quite irritated by Ivar’s comment and reacted, “Do you think I can read your mind? If you need something from me, you should ask and not assume I know what you expect. We’re in this problem because you didn’t sync with me.

Lagertha: “Let’s not blame anyone. We’re not here to fight or judge. We’re here to understand the situation and derive actions from changing it in the future.

Ivar: “Björn, it’s the first time we’re working as two teams. We better learn how to do it properly. We didn’t speak a word during the whole Sprint.

Lagertha: “You are two different teams now, but the end goal is the same. You must be in sync to ensure that. What about a simple daily sync between you guys?

Ivar and Björn agreed to that.

Lagertha: “I have another question. How did we go from no problem to a problem with every single partner and user?

Ragnar: “After our release, we noticed massive conflicts with integrations, which led to unforeseen effects.

Lagertha: “Does that mean all releases impact all users?

Ragnar: “Yes, that has always been the case.

Lagertha: “Hum. That’s a practice we’d have to change. It’s too dangerous to release to the whole audience at once. It’d be better to gradually release an A/B test to compare results before you roll out to everyone.”

Ragnar: “That’s not something we’ve ever done, but it sounds like a great idea. Most of our problems with users would have impacted a limited audience instead of everyone.”

Björn: “Next Sprint, we plan to release some things. We can follow this approach and see how it works.”

Ivar: “It sounds limiting and conservative to me. It’s like we do something and are afraid of putting it live.”

Lagertha: “Ivar, overconfidence will lead the team to dreadful outcomes. Gradual release and A/B testing is a way of increasing learning and validating results. It’s not a conservative approach but a valuable one.”

Ivar was frustrated with the results but had to step back and agree with the others. Teams Kattegat and Jorvik had to get closer to avoid this scenario in the future. They would also work on gradual releases instead of taking unnecessary risks of putting everything live at once.

Ivar painfully learned a lesson of what happens when you’re overconfident. Odin Enterprises got mixed results from the first Sprints of teams Kattegat and Jorvik. Yet, they may be better prepared for future Sprints. 

Nothing teaches more than a painful failure.

During the next chapter, things will get tough. Stakeholders are impatient, they want more features, and do not understand why investing in discovery is so important when time is not on their side.

Will Björn and Ivar bow down to the pressure and fall back to feature teams, or will they manage to get buy-in from stakeholders and focus on outcomes over output? Find out more in the next chapter.

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 10+ years of everything. Currently located in Munich, Germany and leading a Product Management team at Virtual Identify My passion is helping product teams overcome their challenges and deliver REAL value faster. Almost every product team is trapped somehow, untrapping them is what drives me.

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