I want to write about a topic that I’ve mentioned in my podcast and in various discussions with other product folks.
I recently did a presentation on the Confluence Cloud mobile app to my fellow product manager’s in the Confluence team. I was giving a presentation about a decision we were making to get feedback. I got to the meeting early about 5 minutes before everyone else. So to give them some context, I drew a timeline. It was a straight line to represent the whole year, with horizontal marks for each month from January to December.
Then I did a review of the past year, writing on each month the release we had shipped in 1- 2 words. It looked like this:
* January – launch
* Feb – search
* March – notifications tab
And so on for each month.
In total, we have shipped 12 releases during the year from major feature releases to point releases with bug fixes.
For the Confluence Cloud iPhone app, we’re maintaining a regular cadence of 6 weeks for major feature releases for the iPhone app. We have 3 x 2 week cycles. We also do some releases in between that to fix bugs, stability improvements and smaller features. For the recently launched Android app, we’re releasing new updates every 2 weeks.
Maintaining the cadence
One of the responsibilities of the product manager is to be the pace setter. That entails maintaining the cadence. You can move things in and out for each release. Reduce the scope. But our job is to never miss the cadence. Because cadence is king. You need to have a steady pace and rhythm for shipping.
Why? We need to be constantly delivering value to the customer. This is particularly important for SaaS products when customers can easily sign up and also as easily churn by cancelling their subscription. The product needs to be constantly improving for the customer and demonstrating value to them. In fact, this can apply to any product delivered over the internet.
This is what grounds me. In the back of my mind, I consider how the experience will change for the customer. Some of the key questions are:
- How will it improve the way our customers do work?
- What value are we unlocking for the customer with each release?
- Can we deliver value to the customer incrementally?
- What is the overall story we are building up to? See my post on “a painted picture“.
What is cadence?
I’ve taken two of the definitions I found in dictionary.com which I liked:
1. Its the rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words: the cadence of language.
2. The beat, rate, or measure of any rhythmic movement: The chorus line danced in rapid cadence.
When I interviewed my friend Jordan Sim from BigCommerce for S2E9, we riffed on this phrase “cadence is king”. He compared it to producing a music album. You have to keep the hits coming. Or as one of my favourite rappers/producers Dr Dre says:
“Keep their heads ringing“.
I like the comparison to music as I grew up playing piano. What Asian kid didn’t? Music is written with a specific time. This one below is written in 4/4 time. The first bar has 4 quarter notes that are 1 beat each. The second bar has 2 half notes that are 2 beats each. Each bar maintains the same number of beats which is 4.
We use to have an electronic metronome sitting on top of the piano. I might be showing my age, but at my piano teacher’s house we also had a mechanical one you could set. You would set the beat to help you. You would constantly hear this ticking sound as you try to line up playing the music to help you practice. You didn’t want to miss the beat. Press play in the video below to understand.
Perhaps those countless years spent playing music was useful after all 🙂
Why is cadence important?
I believe cadence for internet products is important for a number of reasons.
1. An improving product will retain customers
To retain customers on a monthly basis, the customer needs to find constant value in it. The customer experience needs to be improving over time. From new features, small yet important bug fixes to UX improvements. Retained and happy customers leads to positive word of mouth which leads to growth.
2. Demonstrates to customers that more good things are coming
The co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman declared “When you release the first version of your product, you should be embarrassed“. Its not going to have everything in it. Rather, it should be a small slice of the bigger vision. It should still be a complete end to end experience that does one thing really well. Customers will give you more leeway / forgiveness for the lack of features, bugs, etc.. if they can see that it is getting better over time. They can see what you are building it up to.
3. Shifting to incremental delivery
I was chatting to a few folks in the banking industry last weekend. They have a release window of once per quarter. If you miss that window, then you have to wait til the next quarter. That means it could be one release every 6 months. Your team is also sitting idle in between quarters maintaining features. Maintaining a regular pace means that we don’t have to wait til the big bang release that comes so infrequently.
A regular pace means that we can easily move a feature out and deliver it in the next release that is coming soon after. Whilst we still agonize over what’s included and what isn’t, its not as painful as there’s multiple opportunities coming up. We know that we’re still delivering value in the current release. As the PM, we need to ensure there’s enough value in each release. The challenge is understanding the right amount of scope. We ship enough value to improve the customer experience. We deliver an MVP for each feature release. By shipping incrementally, we don’t over invest before getting feature adoption and some signals from customers that it is useful.
4. Faster feedback means it is easier to improve or pivot
Every new feature we ship is based on assumptions. From previous customer feedback, quantitative data, qualitative customer interviews, our own intuition & experience. At the end of the day, its an assumption. The sooner that we can ship it out, the faster that we can get it into the hands of customers and understand how customers will use it. By looking at the metrics coming in, we can make a decision to improve, pivot by working on something else or to unship it. Its also critical that you give it some time to settle to see trends. We can also look at qualitative feedback coming in from customers on the app store or through our channels.
5. Mean time to repair is reduced
By shipping incrementally, we’re also reducing the scope by sending out a smaller package and hence the risk. It does less things, but it does them well. If there is a problem, we can pick it up sooner and fix it faster if there is a regular cadence. Depending on the risk and number of customers affected, we can reduce the cadence if its a critical fix and get that out sooner.
6. Your team gets into a rhythm
When you have a regular pace, everyone understands the timing and what they need to do. You have regular sprint planning meetings, retros, and delivery process. People have a better understanding of what they need to do to get things out. It builds a culture of shipping and momentum.
It also drives us to make faster decisions as we know that we have a ship date coming up. If we have a meeting and some people can’t make it, the meeting still goes ahead. Unless there’s an absolutely critical person missing. But hopefully there’s enough of the people that are needed to make decisions and we trust them to make the best decision on behalf of the customer / team. The team is in perpetual motion to maintain the pace.
7. It motivates everyone
When work has been shipped and delivered to customers, it motivates everyone. We know that the stuff we’ve been working on has gone out the door. There’s been no wasted effort. Every time we ship, it uplifts the team. Doing it constantly means that we’re giving a regular jolt to the whole team. In turn, the product manager or product analyst then updates everyone on how the feature is being used and the adoption rate.
If there’s one thing I hope you take away, is that “cadence is king” 🙂
You need to establish a cadence and to maintain it. It could be weekly, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or whatever period feels right to you & your customers. As along as its a frequent occurrence. I would say that once a quarter is definitely too long. When you have a cadence, it forces you to think about how to deliver value incrementally and how to cut down scope to the bare essence.
It forces you to make decisions faster. The outcome is that you are going to get feedback faster from your customers and also validate your assumptions. It will lead to retention of customers. It keeps the faith amongst those early adopters if they can see and experience the cadence.
I’m out like hot summer nights in Sydney,