How to Improve Your Organization’s Value Delivery with Health Markers

September 1, 2022

This post was co-written by Jen Weiss Handler and Simon Holroyd.

At VMware Tanzu Labs, we help customers get iterative value from modern app platforms, build better apps, and develop capabilities to continue these improvements long after we’re gone. This involves not just a focus on technology, but also people and processes. For example, we consider the way a team is organized and how/where people on the team focus their time. We also talk a lot about products, the difference between a product and project, and how organizing around products leads to better outcomes over time. Our customers have wondered, though: What does it look like when we’ve succeeded? What will our organization look like and what are some defining characteristics? They asked for our opinions on how to approach adaptation, and ultimately, used this as a tool for self-assessment. So in response, we developed the Product Development Journey health markers—which are iterated in response to continued learnings. We’ve used this tool for a variety of purposes: 

  • Understanding a customer’s current state and future goals in specific areas
  • Jump-starting creation of a transformation roadmap and ultimate vision of success
  • Defining and prioritizing an incremental approach to improvement

Structure of the Product Development Journey health markers

When we developed the Product Development Journey markers, we started with a question: In what areas do successful product development organizations prioritize focused improvement? We ended up with five themes: 

  • Practitioner enablement – We ensure that people have the tools, skills, information, and resources needed to expeditiously deliver their best.
  • Balanced team – We value cross-discipline communication and team representation to drive speedy decision-making, lean solutions, and diversity of strengths, skills, and perspective.
  • Aligned intent – We benefit from all layers of the organization being in total alignment on the results that matter most.
  • Evidence-based funding of value – We invest in opportunities for value which are based on evidence, as opposed to risky assumptions that can create waste).
  • Learning about the organization – “Infinite learners” are pervasive throughout the organization because feedback and evidence drive decisions.

For each of these themes, we developed observable markers as prompts to help someone self-assess their team on a scale of 1 (needs development) to 5 (leader in this area).

Chart your own growth

I’ve personally used this tool most often in a 90 minute facilitated workshop that involves collaboration in a digital whiteboard. Product Development Journey health markers are set up like the following: 

Down the left are each of the “dimensions” of health. Regarding the stickies and what the colors mean: Yellow indicates the number a person would give themselves based on the 1–5 scale on the dimension card, and red and green stickies gather context to support that score.

The goal of the workshop is to extract context from the team I’m working with on the current state of their organization, as well as to get a feel for what they’re most interested in improving. Here’s how I’ve run it: 

  1. Start with an explanation of the markers, and an orientation of the board.
  2. Theme by theme, prompt the group to: 
    • Think about how they’d “score” maturity of their team/organization
    • Jot down notes on stickies: one note per sticky, in whatever boxes are relevant 
    • Review and share as desired
  3. Once the grid is populated, give each person three stars (see below) and prompt them to cast their votes (one star = one vote) for what they’d like to focus on improving. The board will look a bit like this: 
  4. Discuss and conclude with planning next steps. This could be the development of objective and key results (OKRs) in the areas that are targeted (and voted) as areas for improvement. 

Interestingly, I’ve not yet experienced a case where a group of people are wildly across the board when it comes to what areas they’d like to work on! Often, the group is largely aligned—it’s just that the Product Development Journey framework helps them further define what they want to achieve and the work they want to do together. 

Want to give the Product Development Journey health markers a try? Here’s the deck. If you make any modifications to the process, please let us know; we’d love to hear from you! And if you’re interested in learning more about our Platform Journey health markers, which is a great complement to this, check out this post by our colleague Parker Fleming.

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