Building infrastructure products: talk to your users
Building shared infrastructure products is now a thing. Multiple product teams building the same thing over and over in your organisation seems like crazy waste, so why not get a team of specialists to build it once and offer it as a shared service? This is a great idea in principle, but time and time again I’ve seen teams fail. This is part 1 in a series which explores the things which will help you build successful infrastructure products.
The basic rule when building successful products is to talk to your users, identify user needs and then try to build something which meets this. And yet for some reason people building infrastructure products skip this step. Crazy right?! Maybe it’s because many infrastructure platform teams end up with technical product owners (aka architects or senior developers) who don’t have a product thinking background, or maybe it’s because people don’t think user needs are a thing when your user is a developer. Either way I can wholeheartedly tell you that this can be a costly mistake.
Let’s take an example of a shared monitoring service. Without a speaking to users we might find that:
- we build a monitoring service which teams can’t use
- teams might not even be in production yet, a monitoring service is not high on their wish list
- we build a monitoring service, but teams already have one in place
Talk to your users
Solve this problem by actually talking to development teams. What is holding them back from delivering great products? Are they missing the skills and knowledge to do it themselves? What’s working for them?
Talk to developers, QAs, BAs, architects and delivery managers as they’ll each have different visibility of technical and organisational issues such as governance. Make sure to talk to new teams, as well as more mature, high performing teams or even teams looking after legacy products. There are tons of user research techniques to do this, so go wild and experiment!
Do event storming
You can get most of the information you need quickly with a simple Event Storming workshop. Gather one or more teams together for a couple of hours and map out the events which happen from the start of a project to being live in production with real users. Then ask the teams to overlay pain points. This creates a visual heat map so you can visualise which areas you might need to focus on. Repeat with a bunch of teams, until you’ve got confidence that you can identify common themes and patterns.
Create a retro board
In these remote times, it can be tricky to engage teams for long workshops. A great way to see what is happening in the infrastructure space across your organisation without disrupting teams for too long is to do an infrastructure retrospective. Simply create a retro board using your favourite tool (I prefer Team Retro but Trello will also work) and create some columns such as “what is going well” and “what we’re struggling with”. Share the link to your retro board with all development teams in your organisation.
Once you’ve got a bunch of feedback and themes are emerging, you’ll want to dig a little deeper (so I would advise not making responses anonymous since this will make it very difficult). There could be a lot to get through so follow your intuition and decide which themes might give you a deeper understanding and insights. For example, it could be interesting to dig into an area where some teams haven’t been doing well, but another team has succeeded, you might get ideas on how the success can be replicated.
After you’ve done some awesome workshops, spend some time refining your themes. And surprise — these themes are your user needs! Bonus points if you write these as product hypotheses:
We believe that offering a centralised logging platform
Will result in product teams being able to troubleshoot problems faster
Because over ten teams highlighted that their logs aren’t providing the detail they need
Now you’ve got some hypotheses to validate. This is where the magic lies.
Coming up next in the building infrastructure products series… creating an infrastructure platform strategy and prioritising the right thing.