How The American Institute of Architects Revamped Their New Product Process

Share |

About two-thirds through a great session at our 2017 BIMS conference titled Know to Grow: Getting Smarter About Your Customers, Digital Prism Advisors' Jonathan Murray asked Jeffrey Raymond, VP of product strategy for The American Institute of Architects, "What are your three keys to success in implementing agile inside an organization?"

An aside here: After attending a multitude of conferences over the years, I came to the recent conclusion that a good moderator/interviewer is worth her/his weight in platinum. The ability to steer a conversation in the right direction is priceless. Murray did a superlative job here of getting key information from Raymond and keeping things moving—while also refraining from over-promoting the excellent work that his company did and continues to do with AIA.

Back to those three keys, Raymond really loved the second one: Keep the sense of urgency and time to market. "We use time to market as our top driver," he said. "It is much more important to get to market early than it is to get to market right. [It's] very easy—and I'm actually struggling with it today—to say, 'Well, why don't we wait to launch this thing because right now we're in the middle of our peak renewal season and don't want anything.' I'd rather get it out there right now and get the feedback on it and figure out the right thing before we're too late and we have to launch it—or we're going to have some other crisis that's going to happen. You're going to learn something every time you push this stuff, and you have to desensitize yourself with what it means to go live inside your organization. So we use that time to market and get feedback as a driver."

Raymond stressed that his audience is architects so design has to be "really tight. What we release should work really well. But the features and functions it's servicing only need to meet about 80% of our market. If something isn't working well, we'll just disable it. If you're doing a purchase form, it'd be really great to do auto address correction and integrate that. But if it's not there, we'll just disable and go live."

The first key that Raymond listed is to bring subject matter experts in with a products team full-time. "That was one of the core principles we had early on, and it really works because it gets them thinking differently. It gets them thinking how to do this in a new way [and eventually they take that back to their group]."

The third key for Raymond in implementing agile is the delivery of continuous improvement. That means not to just give lip service but to actually do it "and that's a really hard thing to do" he said. "It's scary to go up in front of the organization and say what we're doing isn't working. But once you desensitize yourself to that discussion, it's the most freeing discussion you can have. No one gets it 100% right. But did we hit impact?"

He also wants to know when the most traffic came. "One of the key engagement numbers for us is that we want architects to come to our digital products when they're not at work," Raymond continued. "It would be like me reading a tech blog at night."

AIA's product journey began by admitting that, "We had no concept of product. We had a strong feeling that what we were doing isn't resonating and how we're doing it—even though we're doing a good job internally—isn't being perceived as valuable across our space. Now we have a product team running how the organization makes decisions about engagement on almost all levels."

The improvements started when they "put the user at the center of whatever it is we want to do," Raymond said. "What's the user-centered model that will drive engagement? We now have 12 or 13 core needs that we meet that we think are the community's drivers, and we have a core set of audiences that we talk about."

That led to the development of personas. "We created a lot of opportunities to target a lot of different audiences," Raymond said. "We ended up having 55 personas which is a great level of detail to go to. What does this really mean to us? We wanted to make sure we craft messages that are important [although] the product is still most important."

Then came the process of building products. What are the use cases or user journeys that they want to actually meet? That became the universal truth that the team started embracing and developing into the organizational culture. They took the process more seriously, made hard decisions to stop doing things—using member needs as a driver. "Is what we want meeting one of our core 13 user needs?" Raymond asked. "Can we build a journey around this? How is that meeting our personas?"

Now AIA is working hard to understand where to make investments going forward. They've developed organization-wide KPIs and chosen their five top-level personas. "Are we innovating?" Raymond said is now a constant question. "Are we moving the bell forward on something?"

You can listen to the session here.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
If not, you're missing out on daily strategies, tips, profiles and case studies that can build your audience and increase revenue. To sign up, please contact Nevena Jovanovic.

Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…