ProductPlan Roadmap and Backlog Management
Syngenta is likely one of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of, yet your recent meal may have benefited from their work. The agricultural giant helps farmers around the world grow safe and nutritious food using science and technology.
When your mission is to feed the world, which consists of nearly 8 billion humans, you need to think big in the face of ever-shrinking farmland and resources. So how do you grow more food on less land with a growing population?
The key is identifying the right crop and variety for each acre of farmland and keeping it healthy. For Syngenta and its diverse customer base, it’s all about finding the sweet spot between seed and plant genetics, the growing environment, crop care, and the management strategy.
Their solutions help farmers pick the best seeds to plant and the optimal way to maximize their yield while considering long-term sustainability. Using Syngenta’s products and the research data behind them, you can look at almost any spot on the planet and get a recommendation for which seed variety of a crop to plant and how to care for it with their product lines.
Headquartered in Switzerland with employees in more than 100 countries, the company was built on a solid platform of seeds and crop protection solutions, layered on a host of digital solutions to serve its customers better.
This portfolio includes a range of complementary solutions their agricultural customers can leverage, including how to determine the ideal seeds and crops for each area based on soil and climate analysis, such as choosing between soybeans, corn, sunflowers, and vegetables for a particular plot, as well as the specific varieties. Their tools also cover optimal fertilization and watering strategies.
“Standardization is a scary word,” Boerger said. “That’s viewed as being slow and heavy-handed and stifling innovation, but ProductPlan was an accelerator for us. Stragglers got on the bandwagon once they saw others doing things faster.”
Warren Boerger, Global Head of Seeds Digital Product and Machinery Partnerships
Syngenta’s obstacles are familiar to those in many industries, even though agriculture has its unique quirks and considerations:
- It is a large company that’s grown organically and through acquisitions.
- It has a distributed workforce across many countries with different languages and communication barriers.
- It has a highly diverse global customer base, ranging from corporate farms to family farms to smallholder farmers in developing countries.
- It has a broad portfolio of digital and physical products produced by different divisions around the world.
For Warren Boerger, who has spent 30 years with Syngenta and is now the Global Head of Seeds Digital Product and Machinery Partnerships, finding commonalities and synergy across the increasingly large organization was challenging and problematic.
“We found ourselves with different languages being spoken and different digital product processes being utilized successfully individually but not collectively. So how do we bring everyone together as one team across the globe?” Boerger said about the acquisitions. “We already had the normal challenges of language, time zone, and different customer segments. We wanted to simplify wherever possible.”
Boerger, his team of seven product managers, and the other 35 or so product managers working on digital projects found their tools for planning and road mapping were lacking. They’d been relying on Jira, but it wasn’t conducive to longer-term planning beyond the next 90 days, nor did it create visual roadmaps that helped stakeholders understand the capabilities they were planning or their timing.
From there, the team experimented with other solutions, including project planning tools, spreadsheets, and Trello. Unfortunately, while they all met some of their needs, they didn’t provide a robust solution for handling the backlog, prioritizing, and articulating the plan to stakeholders and engineering internally.
Boerger and his colleagues knew the criteria for an ideal tool. First, it had to be online, given its distributed nature. Next, they needed a single sign-on. Lastly, the Jira integration was a must.
And this required tool backlog management capabilities that allowed others to engage with it, not just members of the product teams.
Syngenta wanted a tool that helped them segment customers, understand motivations and pain points, and deliver tools and solutions to meet customer needs. And, just as importantly, they wanted to make sure they could check all those boxes before making significant investments.
It turned out that the winning solution was already being used within the company thanks to the acquisition of the Brazilian farm management firm Strider. So, they already had ProductPlan and another road-mapping tool in-house. In addition, a digital product manager there, Henrique Agostinho, was both a well-respected member of the organization and a passionate advocate for ProductPlan.
Agostinho already had a pilot underway and pushed for a larger rollout. First, he ran training sessions on roadmap within ProductPlan and then gave the product team access to dive in.
From there, ProductPlan’s adoption spread virally, as more and more colleagues were exposed to its potential by viewing roadmaps and then requested full access for themselves. Key internal selling points were vital to tag things they wanted and then roll-up roadmaps into portfolio views across multiple products.
We found ourselves with different languages being spoken and different digital product processes being utilized successfully individually but not collectively. So how do we bring everyone together as one team across the globe?
Benefits: Common framework, common terminology
With a global team working on a multitude of products, Syngenta’s product managers already have their hands full. Factor in different languages, time zones, and the legacy of corporate cultures, tools, and terminology that recently acquired companies and staff brought with them, and the need for a Rosetta stone was evident.
“Standardization is a scary word,” Boerger said. “That’s viewed as being slow and heavy-handed and stifling innovation, but ProductPlan was an accelerator for us. Stragglers got on the bandwagon once they saw others doing things faster.” Boerger said this created a “flywheel effect” for the organization. The more people who began using ProductPlan, the better the business got to leverage its full benefits and create better alignment and awareness for its roadmaps.
“We concluded that ProductPlan was easy to use, easy to deploy, and met the core needs of what we were looking for,” Boerger said. “Not only do product managers have access, but some engineers are making changes and adjustments too. So now it’s moving into internal IT and the R&D team for their respective road mapping of projects and products.”
This organic growth continues, partially driven by other coworkers seeing the roadmaps in ProductPlan and wanting to know how they can do the same thing for their initiatives.
We concluded that ProductPlan was easy to use, easy to deploy, and met the core needs of what we were looking for.
Results: Greater than the sum of its parts
In this type of organization, it’s easy for teams to operate within a vacuum without realizing the full scope and scale of dependencies and linkages between seemingly disparate projects.
“People were talking but not communicating,” Boerger recalled. “It was death by Excel spreadsheets or multiple other online tools, and lots of silos of info that didn’t tell you what was going on because it wasn’t connected data all in one spot with a common framework.”
Digital leaders and team members can instantly access anyone’s plan and see what their next 12 months of work look like, as well as their backlog with many product managers.
“When you have that kind of transparency it allows us to coach and action, not search,” Boerger continued. “Making that type of leap requires more than just the tool. It’s not magic, but it’s a big enabler.”
Another critical feature for Syngenta is the ability to roll things up into a portfolio view, making it as much a tool for the group as it is for individual product managers.
“We had individual roadmaps that were created within the team, and they thought they’d made a mistake and had to recreate it,” Boerger said. “But someone in the meeting was able to integrate them into a portfolio view within minutes during the meeting. They could move things around on the screen even though it wasn’t on the agenda or planned.”
ProductPlan’s backlog management capabilities have also been a significant improvement for Syngenta.
“Being able to capture the ideas and store the backlog and have stakeholders come in and vote—particularly in a COVID distributed environment and doing it without the usual sticky notes,” Boerger mentioned. “You could really distill what the key features were, and it’s just so seamless and easy to do.”
Fueling reinvention and transformation
Syngenta is—not surprisingly, given their name—interested in the synergy of bringing together different perspectives and ideas to accelerate their teams and agriculture as a whole. They didn’t go on a buying spree to build a lineup of standalone digital products. Instead, they want to provide comprehensive solutions to an agricultural industry looking to maximize output from farmland by improving crop yields in a sustainable way.
“There were certain commonalities, but each company had unique things they focused on and cared about,” Boerger said. “Our focus has been to bring the best and share it in terms of innovation and roadmaps to transition to a common platform called Cropwise, which is the journey we’re on right now.”
This transformation within Syngenta isn’t easy, but ProductPlan plays a pivotal role as the company brings solutions to market that have physical aspects, such as seeds and crop protection products, and their digital counterparts that optimize usage and performance.
For any organization considering a purpose-built roadmapping tool such as ProductPlan, the tool must add meaningful value for both those using it and those who interact with its output.
“It has to be aligned to the objectives of the organization, and people have to see the value,” Boerger said. “People realize firsthand the benefits every time they use it, and everyone else gets the recurring benefits of the work they’re doing.”