When talking about product development, people often think it means you are inventing completely new products which come up with something no one ever thought of and suddenly make life easier or people more productive, happy or whatever. However, developing products in a lot of cases means improving or replacing existing products. And while of course, it is a goal of everyone involved to develop something far better than the existing product, it also comes along with a big bunch of expectations and the question, what the new product has to fulfill in order to replace the old solution.
At Engel & Völkers Technology, we aim to build a new tool better support our Real Estate Agents in organizing their daily work and augment their sales process. The existing software is quite old fashioned, not mobile and is not up to performance expectations. In the past, some attempts were made to build such a new system, but for different reasons we failed in developing a proper substitute. As a result, stakeholder’s confidence is sometimes limited and everyone is a bit insecure on where to start.
Several workshops and discussions already took place and the scope for a first version (MVP - Minimum Viable Product) was defined by the product team, involving internal stakeholders. The development of the first technical stories already started. At this point, we got concerned if we had limited our scope too narrowly as we were lacking the broader input from outside stakeholders. We decided to take a step back and evaluate if we are on the right track. In order to do so, we set up a Product Discovery workshop. The “new” component of this workshop was to not only invite internal stakeholders, but also customers who are working as Real Estate Agents and who will use the software eventually. Our external host and facilitator Tim (herbigt.com) defined a flexible, yet clearly-aimed agenda to guide us through two highly productive days.
In the end, 22 people with different background joined the workshop: twelve Agents and Team Leads from Spain, France and Germany, two colleagues from the Licence Partner Care, our CDO, our Technology Managing Directors, two Developers, our UI / UX Lead as well as two Product Owners. Everyone was quite excited and the Agents had no idea why they were there. I think they expected a Steve-Jobs-ish presentation of a great new (perfect and ready-to-use) tool. You could feel some disappointment in the air after Tim opened the workshop and it was clear that the two days will be a work-shop instead of sitting and receiving great news from Technology and just handing over the long-waited-for-features-list.
The main part of the first day was about “understanding” and alignment. After a brief excursion into software product development and what it means to work agile, everyone had at least a working idea of what “agile” and “MVP” means. In the afternoon we focussed on the work of the Agents. In user interviews, we tried to find out the drivers, anchors and risks our Agents encounter in their daily work throughout the process from acquisition of a client to closing a successful deal.
We illustrated the results using a visual sailboat metaphor and shared them with the whole group. At this point, we were able to identify some of the problems Agent face in their daily work. In the next step, we collected possible “changes in behaviour” to solve those problems (asking ourselves “How might we…” questions). We closed day 1 with this exercise. Since everyone was quite exhausted, we decided to continue on day 2.
The energy level was high again on the beginning of the second day and we continued to collect possible changes in behavior that could solve day to day problems and help Agent to become more successful (resulting in achieving more turnover). In the end, 37 different topics were found and by voting, the three topics which seem to have the biggest impact were chosen.
In the course of the day, for each of those three topics, more detailed ideas for possible “solutions” were found. The methodology helped a lot to find a high amount of ideas. We worked in smaller groups and Tim pushed us through limited time in order to create as many ideas as possible. Extending the exercise to outside of our context box thinking, we also asked ourselves:
“What would solve this, that would get us in jail?”
“How would Uber solve this?”
“How would a magic wand help you to solve it?”
It was not as strict as the lightning decision jam, but time boxing and idea bashing created a productive environment.
In the end, we came up with 18 ideas for “solutions” to our Agents’ problems. It is now our task at E&V Technology to prioritize and work on those topics.
At the end of the workshop, everyone involved was happy to be part of this journey (and exhausted from all the time boxing work!). The next time we meet, first results will be presented, and we will focus on one of the other themes to dive deeper into further development options. For us from the product side, it was good to see that our previous assumptions were confirmed by our users and at the same time to find out about another that was not on our agenda yet. It was the beginning of a new way of developing software at E&V and just the first step of this journey. And last, but not least, it was a great experience working together in such a diverse group where everyone contributed to build great products in the future. We’re excited to continue the product development journey together and apart from meeting online we are looking forward to meeting again at the end of the year.