Keys to a good demo



Making demo more productive

Dealing with complex work requires regular feedback. You build something and then quickly check if you are on the right track. Course-correct if necessary and continue towards the goal. Demo is one important type of feedback. And it is important that you get it right.

Here are some common problems with demos and strategies that will help you make demos more productive.

Solving problem #1: No product to demonstrate

The team does the demo but there is no meaningful product to demonstrate. So, the demo then turns into a formal status report. It’s important to remember that what we demonstrate at the demo is a working increment of the product. (Emphasis on “Working”!) Usually, the root of this problem is not how you execute your iteration but rather how you plan it. See, if you don’t clearly plan to create a working increment in, let’s say, two weeks, then you will not produce an increment and there will be nothing tangible to show. Make sure that as a team you know how split work into chunks that represent customer value. Here’s also one important area to watch out for: you may be working only on a part of the product and other teams take care of the rest. Well, if customer value can only be created together then you need a joint demo of the integrated slice of value across all the teams involved. This also implies that you have to plan synchronously. So, whether you work on the product alone or with other teams, when you plan your timebox, plan with the demo in mind and then work backwards to identify everything you need to have a solid demo. 

Solving problem #2: No useful feedback

You are producing a working increment of your product, but you still fail to elicit the right feedback. You may not have the right people at the demo. Do you ever demo to the end user? Or only to those who request the work to be done? Most of the time they are not truly capable of validating a product increment. But besides this, it also matters exactly what happens during the demo. Are you just glossing over the functionality with them or do they have an opportunity to actually use the product increment during the demo? And if so, is there realistic data and other variables? In other words, is the demo truly reflective of the future usage scenarios and environment? 

Solving problem #3: No corrective action taken

Feedback was elicited but no corrective action is taken. This may be indicative of a common problem when iterative and incremental development is considered not as a way to respond to new facts and continuously adjust towards a better solution, but rather as a way to stride along the lines of an already established detailed, long-term plan. But demo is not a status report. Demo is an opportunity to reveal a better path towards customer value. And maybe it’s time to add a simple question to every demo: how can we adjust the course of action to produce more value to the business?      

Solving problem #4: Other feedback loops are missing

Demo seems to be working fine but other feedback loops are missing. Demo, even if really well established, is never going to give you a complete picture. As a matter of fact, it does happen quite often that demo after demo everything looks good, but the moment the product is released to the customer, it turns into a disaster. That shouldn’t be too surprising, as some real-life variables and conditions are practically impossible to approximate in the demo environment. So, besides demo, you need to have other forms of feedback. From customer focus groups to usage instrumentation and more. But for this to work, you’re going to have to release possibly more frequently than you currently do.  

Taking action

Carefully examine problems 1-4 in this article. Use them to diagnose issues with your demos. Consider strategies in 1-4 and plan first concrete steps.   


Alex Yakyma

Alex Yakyma is the author of “Pursuing Enterprise Outcomes” and “The Rollout”. As a consultant, Alex is helping enterprises succeed with complex challenges. Throughout his career, he operated in multi-cultural, highly distributed environments. Alex has trained a large number of change agents and leaders whose key role is to help their organizations achieve higher effectiveness at pursuing business outcomes.

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