When I joined OutSystems a few years ago, I was impressed by the innovation in the market and the disruption to the traditional development cycles.

I have had the pleasure of working with many customers across the globe in many industries and cultures, collaborating with them as they solve problems and launch innovative solutions with the OutSystems platform. To observe and be a part of the resulting disruption has been nothing short of exhilarating.

It's quite exciting to consistently feel the energy and enthusiasm as the comprehension of the platform capabilities dawns on these organizations and they learn to take advantage of them throughout their adoption journey.

From this experience, I’ve gathered a few thoughts to share with people starting to manage OutSystems application delivery.

The Secret Sauce

For all the projects, applications, solutions, and initiatives I have seen, there is a secret sauce to boost feature delivery with OutSystems: the backlog. That may sound trite, but when new feature developments are no longer constrained (and timelines are in hours and days), the backlog is the fuel for the supercharged engine. I have seen instances where OutSystems developers are idle due to unavailability of features to build! The higher the backlog quality and inventory, the higher the speed-to-value attained.

Keep Refining Your Backlog

The platform promotes rapid mobile and web application development, and this is a paradigm shift for IT. However, without active collaboration with the business, there is the risk of releasing features that may not effectively meet the needs of the user community.  This can result in unsatisfactory user experiences and development re-work (sometimes multiple iterations) taking development capacity away from other initiatives. That’s why is so important to keep a high-quality and continually refined backlog.

For many companies, continuous refinement of a healthy and high-quality backlog for driving not only new features but also initiatives from the strategic roadmap is a learning process and a new experience. Many companies still tend to plan for lengthy development cycles using traditional exercises for gathering requirements and creation, since there was time during the development and testing phases to address gaps in requirements.

This learning curve significantly changes from an intermittent requirement creation to a continuous sequence that aggressively pursues the planned portfolio initiatives.

Most organizations aren’t used to working in this model. It’s how quickly they adapt that drives their success.

The Organizational Pull

Our experiences with customers demonstrate that the traditional feature-build timeline is no longer the “longest pole in the delivery”;  it is a paradigm shift.

The realization of the rate at which new B2B, B2E, and B2C web and mobile applications are built, extended, and changed typically results in changes within the organizations—an “organizational pull.”

Business and IT delivery tend to undergo changes to take advantage of this disruption.

An organizational pull reflects process changes that organically occur when customers organize around the ability to respond to market or customer demands quickly. As noted, every customer is different, but at some point (most fairly quickly), the platform capabilities resonate and current delivery models organically move towards change and how to use the platform for long-term strategic value.

For example, a customer with a talented UX team had typically experienced an occasional cadence of usability feedback from the development team about the original mobile designs and ultimate application user experiences. This was due to the timeline of traditional development cycles. When they used OutSystems to create their first mobile app in two sprints (four weeks), the revelation was that the ability to receive usability feedback and incorporate design changes could be done in days rather than weeks.

This revelation led to internal re-assessment of how the team should organize around this new capability (the pull) and begin a proactive engagement with the business stakeholders regarding accelerating roadmap initiatives.

So, how can you accelerate this organizational pull?

The Recipe (for the Secret Sauce)

Focus on the backlog, regardless of what state it is in. To achieve a healthy backlog, the steps for creating user stories (a topic to consider another day), the team contribution—which reflects the infusion of UX, QA, key user input, and product ownership—and the overall quality are crucial.

Those roles may not persist, per se, in your organization, but responsibilities may be inferred. The simple point is to understand:

  • What the feature needs to look like
  • What it needs to do
  • How you know it works correctly
  • What the estimated time to complete it is

There is a wealth of resources available for all levels of expertise to get you started, if necessary.

If there is an effort to get the user stories “ready” right in the sprint planning session, that is a signal of inefficient planning. Ultimately, your sprint planning session should be an exercise in simple math: selecting the prioritized user stories that match the sprint team capacity.  When experience is consistent, it is a signal of maturity in recurrent backlog refinement. (Hint: set a target for two months of qualified backlog as your goal. This “muscle memory” drives a prioritization-focused approach naturally.)

Consider then invoking an MVP-based (Minimum Viable Product) mindset from the outset in anticipation of productivity increases. Commonly, users who receive a new application do not expect regular updates or the opportunity to provide actionable feedback.

When you can quickly enhance existing applications and gather user feedback to include in future releases, the user community’s comfort and support can expand dramatically and spread internally to other development teams and business units or groups. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Addressing initiatives in the portfolio roadmap can be expedited then, once the signs of development speed, internal collaboration, and predictive estimations begin to mature. An OutSystems-based mature backlog refinement and delivery model will consume strategic portfolio epics, factoring in high-level features and creating individual user stories that can be prioritized based on the most critical need at any given time.

Jump in and Impact Your Organizational Strategy

If you are new (or relatively new) to your journey with OutSystems, then welcome to the disruption! As you go forward with your team and your organization, you will be in for a great ride.

Moving quickly to address evolving market conditions, initiatives, and competitive influences requires an efficient organizational pull. Changing can be a challenge, and every organization is unique in its strengths.  With OutSystems at your fingertips, the opportunity for positively impacting organizational strategy is compelling. Lessons you’ve applied throughout the journey do not take place overnight, but you can adapt at the expedient rate; it’s all based on how you jump in!