When Your Team Constantly Misses Deadlines

Dennis Newel

Senior Product Manager at ReCharge Payments



"While working for MediaValet as a product manager, I found my team was constantly missing deadlines and delivering work late. We didn't have good estimates and nothing we tried was really working."

Actions taken

I started off by working with the Dev Manager to move towards using a much more lean approach, rather than the Agile/Scrum approach we had been using. We also looked at how we could improve our work progress and made changes to what the dev team was working on, how much they were working on at the same time, and how we approached product development. I then went back and looked at what we had on our roadmap. It was just one massive item - Version 3 of our product. Together with the Dev Manager, I managed to find a way to slice the overall scope into smaller pieces of work, sequence them into a series of releases, and then work with the Development Team to adjust their workflow so that, ideally, they were only working on one thing at a time and would only start a new piece of work when they had finished the first piece. "While this worked well for a while, we started to see some bottlenecks. We kept starting new projects without finishing old ones, so we had to talk to the development team and be more specific about when a task can be said to be complete. One of the complications we faced was that we didn't actually want to release anything to customers at that time. Because of this, we needed to figure out a way to decouple pushing code into a production environment from public releases. We decided to define a feature being complete as when it is in a production environment, behind a feature flag." "The next bottleneck we found was around marketing and was when we were launching and working to make sure customers knew about what we were doing. Our CEO liked big bang releases with release numbers and press releases. However, because we were trying to push things out incrementally there was a bit of back and forth. To resolve the problem, we decided to decouple our releases from marketing releases, and keep new features behind a feature flag until marketing was ready. We would tell marketing and sales that a feature was available and if customers wanted it we could enable it, but they would then control the pace at which features were launched."

Lessons learned

"It's really important to have a good relationship with your engineering managers. We were lucky in that the Dev Manager and I worked really well together. However, I have been in other scenarios where I was more disconnected. With this dev manager, I could really see the difference that a trust-based relationship has." "The separation of concerns was also important. It's one thing to have code ready. However, when coordinating with the rest of the organization, it's useful to have a way to completely decouple feature launches and marketing launches. This allows your marketing team to split up or bundle features so they can tell the product's story in an effective way."

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Dennis Newel

Senior Product Manager at ReCharge Payments

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingAgile, Scrum & KanbanTeam & Project Management

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