In an “Agile” world, things are constantly changing. One example is the near elimination of collocated teams due to the current global pandemic. But one way to feel in control despite and through change is through being prepared. While we cannot prepare for every outcome, we can practice proactivity instead of reactivity.
As I have worked on various Agile teams and have read and learned about Agile development, I have found a lot of guidance and learning materials about how to plan sprints, develop user stories, and estimate story points. But I have not found too much on how to properly prepare for the most critical step in the process – demonstrating the working software to your customer. While the approach for giving a demo is not black and white, the necessity for preparation surely is. I decided to share my own personal lessons learned and would love to hear what you think.
One of the most important considerations when framing your script for a demo is understanding who your audience is. Each stakeholder may possess their own goals and experience their own challenges, which will influence what information you need to share with them and how you present it. Therefore, spending time before the demo to understand the aspects of your solution that are relevant to the audience will help you communicate more effectively. Before the demo, try asking your stakeholders key questions that help you understand them and anticipate their concerns.
While it is important to walk the audience through all new capabilities and functionalities during your demo, it is even more important to plan your script to weave in product features and functions through the story you are telling. To open your story, you will want to provide a high-level overview of what you will be presenting to set the structure for your demo. Additionally, you will want to highlight for your audience what has changed since the last time you demoed for them and any specific areas for which you are seeking their input.
Providing a day-in-the-life narrative will help the audience imagine themselves as true users of the product and will allow you to educate them on the features, benefits, and logical structure of the solution being demoed. In order to achieve this, you may present the audience with contextual visual artifacts in addition to showing them the system. For instance, you may show a high-level, logical architectural diagram depicting how the different components of the system work together to meet the needs and goals of their business. Further, during the demo, enter realistic test data throughout all the forms and other user interfaces to better connect with your audience.
Each new user story to be developed will introduce change for users to varying degrees – whether it be a change from a paper-based process to an automated process, a change in business operations, or the introduction of a new business process or role, among others. As a result, when preparing for a demo you will need to utilize the stakeholder analysis you previously conducted to assess the impact of these changes on your audience and to lead your demo with empathy. If you go over changes too quickly or do not spend time explaining what has changed and why, this may cause undue stress and/or confusion among the audience and can lead to audience disengagement and distrust.
Prepare yourself to jot down any action items or critical concerns that emerge from your demo session and follow up with your scrum master and/or Organizational Change Management (OCM) team on these matters. Be sure to follow up on these items with your audience the next time you meet with them to show them that they have been heard. Additionally, while preparing, you will want to be cognizant of the language you will use to ensure the audience follows and to enable them to imagine a direct impact on their work.
During your demo, you may be required to answer some challenging questions. In anticipation of these discussions, it is a very helpful practice to imagine the types of questions users may ask you and to jot down the types of responses appropriate for each case. This will allow you to address questions succinctly and clearly to bring users to a point of understanding. Additionally, this preparation will likely give you the confidence to be able to pause and only respond to a question once you have truly understood what the audience member is asking.
Although it may be a tempting thought, it is important to remember that silence is not always golden. Just because the audience is silent does not mean they do not have any feedback or that they are completely satisfied with the product presented up until now. Therefore, by posing questions to your audience with regards to components of your demonstration, you may encourage stakeholders who have been previously inclined to stay quiet to speak up with their suggestions and questions.
Giving a demo is unlike other presentations. You must simultaneously juggle the impact of your demonstration on the stakeholders, as well as all the workings of the demonstration and your interaction with the audience. This is a lot to balance and will be difficult to maintain without rehearsing. Rehearsing is not meant to make demonstrations sound scripted or overly pristine, but rather to facilitate giving a meaningful presentation.
Though it may not feel “Agile” to rehearse, your audience may be depending on you for it. If you will be presenting to a multi-vendor audience, your considerations will be different than if you will be presenting to your development team and scrum master or even just to one vendor. Whether that means rehearsing and presenting more formally or informally depends on your style and the needs of your client. One component of this preparation comes in the form of properly setting up.
Ultimately, despite all your preparation, unexpected issues, questions, or challenges may arise during your presentation. Therefore, it will pay off to proactively think through different types of issues that could occur, as well as the types of responses you would offer and the directions you would take should you find yourself in an unexpected situation. This may even include checking the next time the environment on which you will be demoing will be down for updates and patches, for example. By anticipating these potential impediments pre-demo, you can successfully schedule a demo without any issue or even react and prepare accordingly should you be unable to present any other time.
In a world that is constantly changing, put yourself at ease with one constant – your own preparation. You will notice the effects.
Talia Trubnick is a Consultant at Ignyte Group working primarily in the realms of Low Code and Automation and UI/UX Design. She is a certified Appian developer and has practical Agile development experience from her work on various projects in the healthcare industry. Talia leverages her public health background to provide maximum value to clients through her systems thinking, communication, and technical skills.
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