When you design and build a product, it is important that you regularly demo completed work with the team and key stakeholders. In Agile software development, so-called sprint demos are a key part of every iteration, but whatever product you’re building, be it an app, a website (or even a physical product), demos can be incredibly valuable.
Well-run product demos can improve cross-team collaboration, build trust with stakeholders, and boost team morale, as well as enabling the team to respond to change and feedback.
Every product team can run great demos, no matter what the product. While it presents slightly more of a challenge than for apps and web pages, APIs and back-end services can also be demo-ed effectively (I have previously used a combination of slide decks and Postman, an API tool, to demo a back-end service to non-technical stakeholders).
At TAB (The App Business) we help organisations to build products and services to respond to accelerating change in their industries. We work in cross-functional teams of both TAB and client product owners, engineers and designers. Regular product demos are an important part of how our teams communicate and celebrate progress, and deliver value fast.
In this post I’ve gathered together some key learnings from around TAB on why demos are important, and some tips and insights on how to run great demos.
Demos Help us to Build Better Products
Regularly demoing working functionality to stakeholders provides a short feedback loop that enables teams to respond quickly to change and course-correct where necessary to ensure they’re building the right thing. In a waterfall environment, a team could spend months or even years building something which turns out not to be what the business had envisaged.
Regular demos also provide an opportunity for joining the dots between wider teams on bigger programmes of work, surfacing dependencies or duplication of effort early on, as well as highlighting collaboration opportunities.
On my current project we run a fortnightly cross-team demo where each team shares what they’ve been working on. Often these sessions have resulted in cross-team discussions on an issue we hadn’t even considered, allowing us to quickly mitigate or even resolve it before it becomes a blocker.
In addition to getting feedback on the product, you can also get feedback on the demo itself. Don’t be afraid to inspect and adapt your demo format to ensure that both your team and your stakeholders are getting the most out of it.
Demos Improve Stakeholder Relationships
As a technology partner, our clients are our main stakeholders, however, in-house development teams also have stakeholders – the term encompasses anyone with an interest or concern in a product.
By engaging them in the process of developing a product, demos can build trust with stakeholders. They are able to see regular progress, and the incremental delivery of valuable working software.
A good product demo can highlight particular successes or achievements, for instance solving a particularly tricky technical challenge, further boosting stakeholders’ confidence in the team. On the flipside, they can also be a forum for raising particular challenges the team might face – allowing for greater visibility.
Demos Help to Develop Teams
Demos can boost team morale by providing an opportunity for teams to showcase their work and for team members to develop presentation skills and interact more closely with stakeholders. At TAB we believe that presentation skills are incredibly important, and often developers don’t get the chance to present in this way, particularly in the early stages of their careers. Running demos is a great opportunity for team members to develop and hone their skills.
Anyone on a product team can run a demo, from developers and testers to product owners and designers. On my current team we recently started a rota where the team take turns running the fortnightly demo. For some team members this was the first time they had ever run a demo, and they have supported each other in prepping the demo, and in boosting each other’s confidence to present in front of an audience.
Some Tips for Running Great Product Demos
If you’ve decided to run your first demo, or if you’ve run them before but are looking to make the most out of them, I’ve collated some of TAB’s top tips for running great product demos.
Always Zoom out
This is one of our principles at TAB. Not everyone will have the same context that you do. Make sure to set the scene, remind the room what epic you’ve been working on, what’s new since the last demo? Present with the user’s perspective in mind – what’s the benefit to the user of this feature?
Tell a Story
Storytelling is a good way to keep audiences engaged. As well as showing off the new functionality since the last demo, add your personal reflections. Were there any particular challenges you overcame when developing? What did you learn? What are you proud of?
Go Slow and Keep it Simple
When showing off new features, go at literally half the speed you think you need to. Remember that while you know the feature back-to-front, the audience doesn’t. Talk through each and every step (including what you’re tapping or clicking on). Pause when you get to screens which are new or which you’ve recently built.
People in the audience may not be technical, so avoid technical language and stick to straightforward, plain English wherever possible. Take time beforehand to think through how you can simplify any complicated concepts for the audience.
Put in the Prep Time
Have a clear plan for what you’re going to demo ahead of time, preferably with a script which you can walk through. I would always recommend rehearsing a demo in advance, to ensure it flows smoothly and, for people new to demos, to get comfortable presenting.
Finally, get set up in advance, ensure your phone/device is plugged in, on screen and ready to go before the audience arrive, so that they are engaged right from the start. Set-up and screen switching saps energy from the demo and audience attention starts to wander, particularly for senior stakeholders who are often time-poor. On our project we book the room for at least 15 minutes before the demo is due to start to give us time to set up.
In summary – every team can run great product demos, and anyone on a team can get involved!