Time to market: these words buzz in every product manager’s head. Most product managers are on a quest to expedite time to market, shorten lead time, and reduce queue lengths.
However, this desire for speed can lead to a continuous cycle of chasing new features to add to your backlog. The problem becomes that you need more than features alone. A product must also provide a good customer experience.
To do so, your product development team needs a shorter time to market, a quicker learning and iteration cycle, and a continuous development method.
In recent years, the shift left approach has gained traction. In this article, you will learn what the shift left approach is, as well as its benefits and challenges.
Shift left, or left shifting, is a methodology in product development based on moving tasks, processes, and responsibilities to earlier in the development process. It includes shifting activities traditionally done in the later stage of development, like testing for quality assurance.
The intention is to identify issues early on and resolve them sooner to enhance product quality and accelerate time to market.
I always used to understand the shift left approach through the lens of a chef putting a gourmet meal together. To ensure the quality and taste, the chef tries to taste the food after every step of the cooking process to ensure quality and identify potential issues. The chef does that so they can make adjustments if needed instead of guessing that it will all come together.
Good chefs also taste the raw ingredients to understand the perfect measurement and balance.
The shift left approach is proactive and focuses on identifying issues early with a preventative perspective. On the other hand, the shift right approach is reactive and deals with production issues quickly while adapting to changing user needs.
Both methods have merits. With shift left, you can improve product quality, speed up time to market, optimize cost-efficiency, and enhance collaboration between development, testing, and operations teams.
With Shift Right, you can quickly identify and resolve production environment issues, adapt to user needs, and gather valuable feedback for future improvements.
Achieving a balanced approach between “shift left” and “shift right” strategies is crucial for the success of a product throughout its lifecycle. Understanding which method to implement depends on where the product is in its development cycle and the organizational goals.
The table below further illustrates the comparison between these two approaches:
|Timing (when)||Early stages of development||Post-development stage in production with real users|
|Mindset (what)||Preventative & early Intervention||Detection and Response to Production|
|Approach (how)||Proactive (preventing issues)||Reactive (responding to issues)|
|Goal (why)||Improved product quality & faster time to market||Quick issue identification and adaptation to changing customer needs based on real user feedback|
|Implementation (who)||Need early cross-collaboration and different skill sets during development and planning||Collaboration in response to issues later. No need for all expertise within the team|
|Examples||Automated testing in the development pipeline or security during the design||User acceptance test, customer feedback, and production monitoring|
Adopting a shift left approach leads to the following benefits:
One of the critical aspects of shift left is to identify the potential issues early on. The problems then can be related to performance, security, solution design, or functionality before they become detrimental. Once placed, it is easier to solve them early on, resulting in cost-effectiveness and faster task movement in different steps later.
Since you can recognize problems early on, people working on the product don’t have to wait long to understand how the solution is performing. By including development, operations, and testing from the initial stage, the feedback and iteration on each work item speeds up.
Improving product quality is achieved by shifting the learning process to the left at each stage of product development. By doing so, any issues or flaws that arise can be identified and corrected early, thus improving the overall quality of the final product. For instance, if the implementation fails the security test at an early stage, the architect can quickly iterate the solution design and enhance the product quality.
The early intervention approach ensures continuous review, enabling regular checks at each stage of product development. Identification of issues at any stage is easier with this approach, as it allows quick pinpointing of the problem’s origin or cause. This results in less time needed for debugging the issue, making the product development process smoother and more efficient.
A shorter development cycle, continuous testing, and iteration ultimately ensure faster delivery time. When development, operations, and testing work collaboratively, it secures good quality, smoother workflows, and fewer dependencies, resulting in shorter stages and quicker delivery. The speed provides a significant advantage in the competitive landscape, giving the product team an edge.
Implementing the shift left approach is beneficial if it aligns with the organization’s overall goal. However, there are still challenges while implementing the shift left approach. The following represent some of the most common ones:
Shift left is a significant change in process. Without understanding the big picture and focusing on the here-and-now changes, discomfort can arise, resulting in resistance to change.
In the shift left approach, you need to have additional expertise involved early on and within the team. It requires teams to acquire diverse knowledge and develop new skill sets to manage the continuous evaluation in addition to the day-to-day activities — for example, understanding and learning security compliance.
Introducing shift left can be a complex process. The complexity level may depend on the size of your organization and the number of cross-functional teams involved in product development. The change may cause disruptions during the implementation phase, leading to longer queue times that could raise doubts about the benefits of the new approach.
The shift left approach requires a change in mindset. It involves a collaborative approach from the start of a project and throughout the development process. Developers no longer simply wait for finalized requirements before beginning development. Instead, they are involved in creating a solution, taking responsibility for the security and quality of their work.
In order to successfully implement shift left, it is essential to integrate a set of tools and technologies that provide structure and efficiency throughout the process. For example, automated testing tools can help identify problems at an early stage and streamline the testing process, ultimately saving time for developers. To achieve this, developers should integrate a suitable set of automated testing tools with their development tools.
Since it’s a significant strategic change that needs time and approval to implement, it is good to have buy-in from every one the change will impact. Senior management will need convincing of the long-term benefits and effectiveness of the transition to get approvals on the time and resources spent. At the same time, the product teams need to be ready to understand the importance of gaining knowledge and have an interest in trying new processes and changes to explore.
Try to gradually introduce the concept to the team, as implementing too many procedure changes at once can cause disturbance and noise within the team. Instead, focus on implementing change a few methods at a time, giving people time to adjust. Additionally, it is vital to provide adequate training and education to help the team understand how the approach works and answer any questions about how it will affect their work.
As a manager, be open and welcoming to share and address any questions or concerns your team may have. Run a pre-study and identify the needs and the gaps in the organization to integrate with the suitable set of tools and technology that will provide structure and ensure faster development time.
Many big organizations have implemented the shift left approach in their product development. Google is one of the pioneers of Shift Left; companies like Amazon Web Service, Netflix, and Microsoft Azure have also seen the effectiveness of shift left with speed, quality, and customer experience.
The best example to portray the effectiveness of the shift left approach is the Netflix case study. Netflix faced significant database corruption in 2008. This affected many customers and caused them to lose trust in Netflix.
To ensure this will never happen again, Netflix converted its monolithic, data center-based Java application into a cloud-based Java architecture. Migrating to the cloud made Netflix resilient to the kind of outages it faced in 2008.
The product team at Netflix perceived that the best way to avoid failure was to fail constantly. They set out to make their cloud infrastructure more safe, secure, and available by automating failure and continuous testing. They adapted shift left at a large scale, incorporating security into every stage of development to make their platform resilient to any imaginable attack.
The shift left approach has gained popularity in recent years because of the success companies have had in implementing it. Good quality output and shorter feedback loops lead to an improved customer experience.
In the shift left approach, development, security, and operations come into play at early stages of product design to identify and intervene issues at an early stage. This proactive approach makes it a more manageable and cost-effective way to handle problems.
Collaboration is the key to this approach. One must involve all experts and work together rather than a step-by-step process and handover. Acknowledging the implementation challenges and creating a plan to introduce the change gradually, along with proper training and education, will ensure less friction and a smoother transition.
Featured image source: IconScout
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