The evolving Product Systems of Engagement and Record

There was a time when product release cycles spanned several months. In this world, Product Managers created a PRD and when approved by various stake holders, entered it as an artifact in the  system of record. The Engineering team would then take these requirements and create Epics, Stories and Tasks in their System of Engagement to manage  deliverables for a release. If the organization has effective systems and tools in place, a Product Manager’s System of Engagement where he/she tracks feature requests is the same as Engineering’s System of Engagement and requirements are already available to Engineering as Epics and prioritized for releases.

As an example when our release cycles were 2-3 month long, we tracked feature requests as Epics in in a bug and feature tracking system Fogbugz  When we planned releases we marked feature requests we wanted to get done in particular releases using a custom field in Fogbugz called Release. As we were also tracking bugs in Fogbugz, we marked bugs that needed to get into a release using the same Release field. This helped us easily view what needed to get done in a particular release.

Over the past few years businesses have started incorporating continuous delivery in their software development process to rapidly, reliably and repeatedly deliver enhancements and bug fixes to customers at low risk and with minimal manual overhead. Amazon and Facebook for example  release to production multiple times a day. While the systems of engagement and systems of record used in the past can certainly work, new systems can enable the product development team to better plan and manage short release cycles.

Systems for long release cycles

As we transitioned to a 1 week release cycle from a 2-3 month release cycle, we started managing our product backlog on a month-month basis. We set meaningful goals for each month by identifying Objectives and Key Results for the month. While estimates are hard and almost always inaccurate, breaking down stories into tasks and reducing both, the number of tasks to be estimated and the timeframe, we had a reasonable idea about what we were going to be able to accomplish in a given month. We managed expectations by assigning a confidence level to tasks to signal which tasks we know we can deliver in a given week vs which tasks we may be able to deliver. We transferred the near term  backlog to a Kanban board called Blossom  and added both features and bugs that would take over an hour to fix to the board. This helped us easily visualize our work and progress and quickly and focus on resolving blockers. Our system of record became our bug tracking system where we tracked incoming feature requests and bugs while our system of engagement became our Kanban board where we visualized our prioritized backlog and tasks in progress. This is a relatively new process for us and we are looking to learn and improvise.

Systems for short release cycles

In conclusion: As release cycles get shorter Product Managers need to adopt systems of record and systems of engagement that enable them manage short term priorities so that over the long term objectives are met with key results. The right systems allow higher agility and productivity.