For Tripadvisor’s New Ventures team, agility was the key to accelerating product delivery excellence.
In May of 2020, New Ventures had just launched an MVP for a new travel recommendations service, working with Pentalog, a software development company. To scale the product during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team moved to agile scrum.
“We started the shift to agile right after shipping the MVP,” commented Siddharth Iyer, the Tripadvisor New Ventures Team’s Technical Manager. “With agile, we were able to quickly adapt to the lockdown while delivering on some big objectives.”
Iyer’s colleague Katherine Reynolds, Director of Product for New Ventures, likewise credited the agile transition with opening up new collaboration efficiencies and increasing the team’s confidence and ability to deliver.
“If we didn’t have the agile infrastructure in place some big projects could have gone very differently, so that’s the big takeaway for me as a product person, the ability to really know what you can really get done,” she said.
Tripadvisor is the world’s #1 travel website, supporting hundreds of millions of annual visits and brands such as Flipkey, The Fork, JetSetter, and Seat Guru. New Ventures, an in-house incubator, had spent five months building Reco, a novel service which matches travelers with experts to craft personalized itineraries.
“Pentalog already had a strong collaboration in place with Tripadvisor, which helped us hit some ambitious goals despite the pandemic,” commented Dimitri Leas, the Pentalog scrum master on the project. “So, when Tripadvisor asked us to support the agile transformation, it was a natural evolution.”
“Efficiently mastering agile was critical as we moved from a world where we had one big release to a situation where we needed to balance roadmap delivery and A/B tests,” Iyer explained. To implement agile, Iyer knew he had the foundation of an adaptable team, as well as the support from a software services partner with deep agile expertise.
Overcoming Pandemic Uncertainty
Iyer and Reynolds had both joined the New Ventures team just as it notched a significant milestone for rapid delivery of a new product MVP. They found themselves tasked with elevating that success while navigating the shift to work-from-home and other pandemic disruptions.
Despite the uncertainty of the moment, Iyer and Reynolds knew that they had a highly adaptable team which had gained confidence with remote collaboration, and which also came with strong communication skills and experience with product management.
New Ventures chose to start the agile scrum journey with backlog planning and refinement, a regular sprint cadence, and retro meetings. This mix of practices and ceremonies was well aligned to the evolving priorities of a team that had moved from MVP to scaling.
“With an agile process, we were able to nail optimization alongside aggressive feature delivery, working on different pieces in parallel,” Iyer commented. “We used agile to keep people focused on their task while also working together on the bigger picture.”
“The product team moved very efficiently with an agile process in place because we could plan what we were going to get done and communicate that to stakeholders,” added Reynolds. “We started to work like a well-oiled machine.”
Reassured by the successful product delivery, Reynolds said the company used the downtick in travel during the pandemic to prepare for the recovery period.
“There was a lot of faith that things were going to bounce back and that opened time to do some things we might not have otherwise done had travel been at its height,” she noted.
Testing by Scaling, Leading by Example
With agile up and running on Reco, the travel recommendations product, the New Ventures team knew that the next big test would be to scale to a second product.
That chance came with an extension of Reco’s capabilities to support a commercial-grade engine designed to allow professional trip planners to leverage Tripadvisor’s assets to build itineraries including flights, hotels, rentals, and activities. Thanks to the transition, the team was ready to handle the intricacies of the new tool.
“Agile allowed us to take the product work, break it down, estimate it and communicate with stakeholders, so we were able to target delivery based on data,” Reynolds said.
With the New Ventures model serving as an example, other teams within Tripadvisor are looking at adopting a more structured and disciplined approach to agile. The main challenge, according to Iyer, is to remove the myth that agile adds a lot of baggage.
“Of course, there is always a challenge in our industry, whenever someone hears about process change, people are like, oh no, here come the new meetings,” he admitted.
“But I’m a huge proponent of agile, along with the idea that the process change should never be the goal itself.”