Incremental Delivery: The Art of the Small Start
I always thought that building software was like building a house, or ordering a hamburger. You place your order, and you get what you want when it is done. But the more I practice the art of product management, the more I understand about incremental delivery.
Or, as I like to call it: The art of the small start.
Side note: If you are thinking about building a house, don’t! Don’t get me started. But back to building software. I’m a newcomer to coding, but I’ve been doing product development for a while now. I started my side-hustle software company by partnering with Revelry almost four years ago. At the time, I had grand plans and visions of what my product was going to look like. And I counted on Revelry to help make it happen.
Incremental delivery means shipping software that works every week.
Placing an order and waiting for a product to get built isn’t the best way to build software. Revelry takes a Lean Agile approach to software development, and that’s because very often, the thing you think you want when you start a project isn’t the thing you will actually want at the end.
We ship software that works every week, and every week we add new features to the application. The immediate result to you and your business is that each week, your business processes can do more, can do something faster, and can improve upon the work that you could perform last week.
There’s an art to starting small.
My roots are in finance. I revere Return on Investment (ROI), as difficult as it can be to measure at times. It is the holy grail of business. I view every dollar that an innovation partner spends with Revelry as something that needs to generate a return – in increased revenues or lower costs.
And I know our clients and partners want that ROI, too. It can be difficult to approve a smaller incarnation of a big idea at first. But here’s the thing – you have something you can use right away. We don’t take the “come see us when the whole house is ready” approach.
The key to our process is understanding the core loop.
What is the main thing that your application will do, as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? We start with that, and then build out functionality.
Our clients are entrepreneurs with a growth mindset. Or, they are the change agents within a larger organization. And we’re going to deliver digital innovation for them in a major way.
“We want an app that will allow users to send messages to the Tesla Starman Roadster screen and then tweet a screenshot of that message with the hashtag #mytweetfromspace. Then we’ll coordinate a Starman Tweet Meetup at a local craft brewery with VIP access for everyone who had more than 100 retweets of the post.”
We’re totally going to do that for them. But we’re going to start small.
We don’t have an app without a login screen.
You get the idea. The Starman Tweet Meetup doesn’t happen until folks can log in. So we ship that first. And you can test it. And we’ll iterate to the Twitter permissions and tweet from app. Incremental delivery means that last week, you had a brochure. This week, you have a login screen.
One of Revelry’s clients is a logistics company. We’ve built an app that connects drivers with dispatchers, and driver data with the accounting department. And we’ve got a lot further to go before they client has everything they want. But we have software in place and it is working. More importantly, it’s getting better every week.
Just today I heard, “People are instantly happy with the code push that happened yesterday.” Happy customers. Music to my ears. “There is a lot of ROI associated with customer joy,” they added. Indeed, there is.
Capturing ROI: Immediately, week after week.
Let’s take this logistics software platform. Looking at a map to locate trucks saves a dispatcher 30 seconds that was previously spent contacting the driver. The product is still in its early stage, but already, that 30 second savings is happening twice per load, 4 loads per day, for 300 trucks on the road each day.
That’s 20 hours of dispatching time saved, every 24 hours. We can start our ROI analysis by concretely measuring cost reduction.
And whether digital innovation for your company is taking the form of automated invoicing processes or real-time mapping of delivery trucks, the immediate impact to your cash flow is real. There is real value in delivering a piece of a product that can be tested in real time to remove all of the friction in typical business processes.
I have a good friend whose company is acquiring their competition. He recently shared this with me, about one of his targets: “This company couldn’t scale because they spent all of their growth capital on software with nothing to show for it.”
You will see improvements in ROI sooner if you start small. If you insist on starting big, you might not get there at all.