The way a company makes money is by selling products and services to the public. Without sales, no revenue comes in. Revenue, and especially profits, are the lifeblood of an organization. Cut that off, and the company dies. Therefore, the sales staff must constantly sell, sell, sell at all costs to keep the company alive. It’s really that cut and dry.
Or is it?
Side note: This article also appears on Medium.com
True, the sales team is like the priesthood of capitalism that keeps the company’s future alive by sacrificing itself regularly. They should be applauded for this effort. But there is a limit on how much capacity the product team has to support a highly aggressive sales team. If you’ve been in technology long enough, even beyond IT, you know the delicate balancing act between aggressive sales on one hand, vs aggressive timelines to push out quality products based on features in the product backlog and tasks in the sprint backlog.
Product teams are caught in the pinch between the successful sales team, and the quality driven sprint team. If the sales team is too aggressive, product quality may suffer. If, on the other hand, sprint teams are behind schedule, the product team risks losing a sale that cuts the sales team commissions. Both of these scenarios can result in reputational damage as potential customers can get frustrated, terminate any sales agreements, and buy from a competitor.
Balancing the motives and goals of the sales, product and sprint teams is never an easy exercise as business forces can change dynamics rapidly. However, despite the temptation to revert back to ego driven knee jerk reactions to business events, it is crucial for
- The sales team to be in alignment with the agile product team to ensure that the product quality meets customer expectations
- The product team to be in alignment with the agile sprint team for the same reason
Aligning Sales and Product Teams
The following graphic highlights some strategies the sales and product teams can implement to ensure that product quality meets customer expectations:
Collaborate on product requirements
Working closely together at the sales and product team level improves the chances that customer requirements are well understood and documented. The sales team can provide valuable insights into the customers’ pain points, preferences, and expectations, which in turn can be used to prioritize quarterly product features and enhancements.
Attend sprint demos
The sales team should attend sprint demos to witness firsthand the progress made by the product team. They can also provide real-world feedback on how well the product is aligning with customer needs. This will allow the sales team to have some visibility into the product development process, as well as help identify any gaps or areas that need improvement.
Provide customer feedback
The sales team should be the primary source of customer feedback and possibly user story input for the product team. They should provide surveys or plain text feedback on customer satisfaction, feature requests (hopefully in the form of user stories), and pain points to help the product team adjust priorities and make product improvements.
Some product teams may hesitate to invite the sales team to retrospectives, but there is some value at times in doing so. The sales team, once it understands the nature and importance of this exercise, should attend retrospectives to provide feedback on the product development process and collaborate with the product team to identify areas for improvement. This will help the product team to continuously improve the quality of the product and ensure it meets customer expectations.
Develop a shared understanding of quality
The sales team and product team should develop a common understanding of what constitutes high-quality products. This shared understanding should include customer expectations, usability, and performance metrics, among others.
In summary, by collaborating on product requirements, attending sprint demos and retrospectives, providing customer feedback, and developing a shared understanding of quality, the sales team can align with the agile product team to ensure that product quality meets customer expectations.
Aligning Product and Sprint Teams
Continuing, the chain of collaboration between the sales and product teams extend to the collaboration between the product and sprint teams. To maintain product quality, the product team must be in alignment with the agile sprint team continuously. A few ways the product team can align with the agile sprint team to achieve continuity include:
Collaborate on sprint goals
The product team should work closely with the sprint team to define sprint goals that are aligned with the product roadmap and customer needs. By setting clear goals, both teams can ensure that the work being done during the sprint is focused and contributes to maintaining product quality.
Define acceptance criteria
The product team should define acceptance criteria for each user story or feature being developed during the sprint. The acceptance criteria should outline the conditions that must be met before a user story or feature is considered complete and of acceptable quality. This ensures that everyone on the sprint team understands what is required to deliver a quality product.
Conduct high level code reviews
The product team should participate in code reviews, with the guidance of the solution architect assigned to the product backlog or at least the most senior technical leader of the sprint team. This approach is a best practice, helping to make sure the code being developed during the sprint meets the product team’s quality standards. This can include reviewing code for readability, maintainability, and adherence to coding standards.
Provide effective feedback and business guidance
The product team should provide feedback and guidance to the sprint team throughout the sprint. This can include reviewing and providing feedback on user stories, features, and design decisions, as well as providing guidance on how to address any quality issues that arise during development.
Collaborate in sprint reviews and retrospectives
The product team should participate in sprint reviews and retrospectives to provide feedback on the quality of the product and the development process. This will help identify areas for improvement and enable the team to continuously improve the quality of the product.
By collaborating on sprint goals, defining acceptance criteria, conducting code reviews, providing feedback and guidance, and participating in sprint reviews and retrospectives, the product team can align with the agile sprint team to maintain product quality. As a result, the emphasis on optimal quality will ensure that the product meets customer needs and expectations while adhering to high quality standards.
How agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives can improve crucial conversations
Agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives can improve crucial conversations between C-level executives, product managers, and sprint teams in several ways:
- Encourages collaboration
- Creates transparency
- Facilitates alignment
- Encourages continuous improvement
Agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives are collaborative processes that involve input from all stakeholders, including C-level executives, product managers, and sprint teams. This might be surprising for some agile practitioners, but sprint planning and retrospectives are actually important business process in the digital era. In working together, they can gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, identify potential roadblocks, and find solutions to address them.
Agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives together promote transparency by providing regular updates on the progress of the project. Providing continuous updates can help C-level executives and product managers gain insight into the sprint development process, and identify areas where they can provide support or resources. The basis for C-level support of the team is what can be the basis of what’s called “technical empathy.”
Agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives help align the goals and priorities of all stakeholders involved in the project. By having a shared understanding of the project’s objectives and progress, C-level executives, product managers, and sprint teams can work together more effectively towards a common goal.
Agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives provide opportunities for continuous improvement. During the sprint retrospective, the sprint team reflects on what worked well, followed by what didn’t. The team then identifies areas for improvement. This crucial feedback can help C-level executives and product managers understand the team’s needs, as well as identify ways to support the team in achieving their goals.
The product team finds themselves caught between the competing interests of the successful sales team and the quality-driven sprint team. If the sales team is too aggressive, it could lead to a decrease in product quality. Conversely, if the sprint teams fall behind schedule, the product team risks losing a sale, which in turn could reduce the commissions of the sales team. In both scenarios, the company’s reputation may suffer as frustrated customers could terminate sales agreements and turn to competitors.
Maintaining a balance between the objectives and goals of the sales, product, and sprint teams can be a challenging task as market forces can change rapidly. Despite the temptation to react impulsively to business events, it is crucial for:
- The sales team to work in concert with the agile product team to ensure that the product quality meets customer expectations
- The product team to collaborate with the agile sprint team to achieve the same goal.
Generally speaking, both agile sprint planning and sprint retrospectives create a collaborative and transparent environment that fosters (1) open communication and (2) continuous improvement. Avoiding breaks in collaboration keeps the sprint team alert and ready to respond to business events. By encouraging crucial conversations between C-level executives, product managers, and sprint teams, an organization can help ensure that each member of each team is working towards the same goals and priorities, which is not exactly an easy proposition in an ever changing digital world. At the end of the day, the project is has to be successful in meeting customer needs and business objectives for the given product.