Innovation at scale: human-centered product vision through the Agile solution layer

How to stay innovative in large Agile programs

Peter Centofante

Peter Centofante

Specialist Director, Experience Design, Transformation Delivery, KPMG US

+1 321-278-4951

Dave Wolf

Dave Wolf

Managing Director, Digital Enablement, KPMG US

+1 202-470-3736

Recently, my colleague Ryan Mills wrote about the value of introducing a solution layer into large-scale Agile programs. If you’re not familiar, in brief: on programs with many Agile teams, adding a Solution team to define priorities, value, and epic direction can help keep teams marching towards a unified vision.

But with such a sprawling effort of hundreds of team members, how do you ensure that ideas stay fresh, innovative, and will meet the needs of your customers? How do you keep teams and stakeholders aligned, on-board and inspired?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Focus the teams on the users. Once you introduce a Solution team, it’s crucial that it remains human-centered and innovative at its core. This doesn’t happen by accident—it starts with the people assembled and culture created. Find creative people with the ability to see across complex programs—who look for unconventional solutions—and understand the impact of decisions beyond individual projects. Require human-centered input for decision-making—qualitative and quantitative user research, in-depth customer journeys, behavior-based personas, analytics, and other Voice of Customer (VOC) data. Encourage the team to be as directly involved in the research as possible, perhaps even embedding team members into components of research plans. All of this will keep the real needs of people at the center of solution-level decision-making.
  • Set aside time for design thinking. It is natural to get caught up in the Agile ceremonies to keep the trains loaded and running on time, but disrupting these patterns can help teams stay innovative. Get people outside of their day-to-day—consider an off-site or set aside a time for workshops. Start each with highlighting the top pain your people or business are feeling and run creative exercises to generate new ideas. Involve members of your Agile teams as well as business and technical stakeholders. Use it as an opportunity to empathize, ideate, and align together. This kind of disruption can keep ideas fresh and ensure you’re solving the most important problems creatively. 
  • Cast a solution vision through high-level prototypes. Epic hypothesis documentation can sometimes be dry, with the exciting vision behind an initiative getting lost in the words. Consider creating simple, high-level vision-casting prototypes to rally people around a concept. These should visually tell the simple story behind the idea with the goal of viewers saying “I get it” without even digging into the epic. Consider adding a design-led, vision-focused resource, team, or train to the program to focus on creating these ahead of upcoming program increments. You will need to ensure that the Agile team that will take on this work has the freedom to execute differently as they see fit, but give enough of a taste of the concept to generate excitement. It will go a long way to helping get vision buy-in and alignment throughout the program. 
  • Encourage innovative thinking from your product teams. Your product managers should always be a proxy for the customer and have a deep understanding of their needs. They should also be encouraged to act as creative problem solvers, constantly looking for new hypotheses to help customers. When Agile product teams have new and unexpected findings, they should be celebrated for unearthing and sharing back with the solution team. There should be a clear process for getting ideas formally into the solution backlog. Leverage these insights at the solution level and encourage continued innovative thinking from your teams. 

Programs of this size have a lot riding on them, and without an innovative, human-centered vision, they risk not returning the value that is expected. The solution layer plays a crucial role in setting the tone for innovation, keeping everyone motivated towards a unified vision. Want to talk more about the solution layer? Reach out to the KPMG Transformation Delivery team.