Getting to Innovation Faster

Dealing with growing pains is a good problem to have! Over the years, Ticketmaster has evolved from a closed ticketing website to a technology company with an open platform powering products offered by major brands like Facebook and Costco. It has been an enormous challenge to remain agile while scaling, and we are excited to share how we have met the demands of fast growth.

Soon, we will be releasing an open source portal that measures “Tech Maturity” so companies of any size can also realize the benefits, e.g.:

  • Spend more time innovating, and less time being “busy” with repetitive, manual tasks
  • Use a common set of standards to drive business results
  • Increase visibility for better decision making
  • Gravitate towards consistency across teams and products
  • Use standard components over custom-built solutions
  • Invest in fixing root causes and not just the symptoms

View / Download Tech Maturity Model

With the goal to drive innovation, we aim to free ourselves from repetitive busy work by removing friction so that we can focus more on what we really want to do: build awesome products. I’m sure that most developers, whether working at a small startup or large enterprise, can relate to the lightning speed of product development and the pressures that come with it. At Ticketmaster we have hundreds of products in our portfolio, and at times our SDLC has had developers chasing their tails to meet product and quality specifications by a deadline. There is rarely a moment to reflect and clean up shop before the next project comes along.

To improve efficiencies across the board, we took a giant step back to see how to remove friction and help teams work smarter. We found that the existing maturity models didn’t address the pain points felt by most of our teams on a tangible, practical level, so we created our own! We started with a punch list of barriers preventing teams from achieving continuous delivery and that evolved into the model we use today.

Our Tech Maturity model values automation, repeatability, and visibility over manual, repetitive tasks.  It minimizes the risk of paying “tax” later in the form of fighting fires, longer release cycles, and limited visibility into the health and performance of a product. After applying the model to just a few products, a pattern quickly emerged highlighting a trend in low maturity in repeatable deploys, test suite coverage, and monitoring & alerting. We began quantifying the results into a “product quality score” and correlated the data with outages. This resonated with our product leadership, and teams found it much easier to prioritize non-feature work.

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Example of how we visualize product quality at the application level

How the Tech Maturity Model Drives Competitive Growth and Continuous Delivery

Tech Maturity helps us identify growth opportunities to eliminate waste, set clearly defined targets, and measure progress all while we work toward the ultimate goal of continuous delivery.

The model charts a clear path that can be completed in stages and allows flexibility for progressing through five key dimensions of software development: Code, Build & Test, Release, Operate, and Optimize.

For Ticketmaster’s move to the public cloud, the model served as a “cloud readiness” gauge that quantifies how close a product is to being ready for migration. This was achieved by establishing targets for a subset of capabilities that we believe define the minimum requirements for any product or service in the public cloud. This gives teams who own legacy products a clear goal to work toward that they can easily track. It also allows the company to operate in a decentralized, self-service way so that teams can run with their migrations without delay.

You can’t tell if you’re winning without a scoreboard, so we created a portal to gather, aggregate, and display patterns from the data assembled and made it visible to everyone in the company. Strategically, Tech Maturity provides a key indicator of our performance so that we can continually make value-driven improvements.

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Example of how data is aggregated across capabilities to spot trends across products

We make these improvements at all levels within the company. Teams use their “product quality score” to prioritize work while leadership studies the aggregated data to identify patterns that reveal where the company can make strategic investments. These investments are geared towards reducing product development cycle time and leveling up all products across the board to increase our technological edge.

Open Source Tech Maturity Portal Available By Year-End

The open sourced version of the Tech Maturity Portal will be released by the end of the year to GitHub.

With our Tech Maturity Portal, you can:

  • Quantify the maturity of your products
  • Visually compare individual product maturity to company-wide trends
  • Identify patterns for removing friction within your SDLC
  • Track and measure improvements over time

The best thing about our model is that it does not prescribe solutions. Rather, it offers standards with an aim to give teams a clear path towards efficient product development at scale. The model can be easily tailored to meet your specific needs. Ticketmaster has technology ranging from the 1970’s to today, and we have been able to successfully apply this model to products ranging from VAX code to JavaScript libraries. It’s a great vehicle for sharing and rallying around a common vision.

We’re excited to see the response from the community, and are thrilled to announce that we are collaborating with the Cloud Native Compute Foundation to demonstrate how technologies like Kubernetes provide a boost in Tech Maturity when used effectively.

To receive updates on Tech Maturity and the release date for the portal, sign up here.

Have feedback or ideas on removing friction in the SDLC? Let’s discuss!

Sherry Taylor | @seakitteh
Executive Program Director, Technology

5 Reasons Why You’ll Love Our Devjams

Back in January, we held our very first developer outreach and mini hackathon event, aka devjam, in Scottsdale, AZ, to a sold-out audience. Since then, we’ve had three of these one-day events in Durham, NC, Québec City, Canada, and Austin, TX, with one coming up in Los Angeles in June.

So far, the response has been very positive. The feedback received has helped us build better APIs and a better developer experience. The devjams’ Net Promoter Score (NPS) is 72, which is pretty high. So thank you to everyone involved in this success 🙂

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Devjams are our way to, in the parlance of Steve Blanks, get out of the building and engage our customers. Since my team’s mission is to create APIs developers love to make our platform accessible, devjams are a great and fun way to engage our customers, the developers using those APIs.

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Whether you’re a developer or someone interested in Ticketmaster tech in general, here are 5 reasons why we believe you too will love being at one of our devjams:

#5 Meet the team

Devjams are a great opportunity to meet the people of Ticketmaster who are opening up the platform, building APIs and shipping products. We believe that the best innovations happen when people connect at a human level, and devjams are a fantastic setting for that. Once you meet the team, you will feel the stoke!

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#4 Join the team

It takes a special kind of talent to spend their Saturday with a bunch of strangers to talk APIs and product innovation. That’s the kind of talent we’re interested in and we have various opportunities where they can contribute. Who knows, we might be working together soon on some awesome products 😉

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#3 Get inspired

Serendipitous “eureka” moments are a conversation or a keystroke away. It happens every single time without fail. You’ll find inspiration in the demos others give and in the cross-functional collaboration throughout the day. Given how intimate our events are (30-70 people), it’s easy to have meaningful conversations that will set your imagination free.

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#2 Give feedback

As mentioned earlier, we focus very heavily on the developer experience, or DX. You’re the customer and we’re here to listen to you. We want your feedback. We want your input. As a developer myself, I love when companies do that because it shows they’re invested in me. We’re definitely invested in you, so come on out and share your thoughts with us!

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#1 Have FUN!

By far the best reason for coming out to one of our devjams! We’re a fun bunch and like to connect with others. Our events are informal, laid back, and are as much about enjoying oneself as they are about coding and APIs. There will be plenty of food and beer for everyone. Just bring your jolly self and have a great time!

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We hope to see you very soon at one of our devjams this year. You can also follow us on Twitter to stay abreast on our exciting journey to open up the platform at Ticketmaster.

We would love to hear from you directly. Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Let’s build amazing products together! 🙂

How Agile Inceptions Are Changing Ticketmaster’s Team Culture

The Ticketmaster Way

An agile inception is a collaborative discovery workshop to visually get all stakeholders and team members to a common understanding prior to the start of a project.  The first time I observed my first agile inception I watched 3 transformations occur.  API developers’ eyes widened as they realized for the first time how their “piece” fit into the larger ecosystem and how different applications used it; developers were visibly excited to understand the business problem they were trying to solve and the team rallied together to then solve the problem and ideate based on a common understanding. Product, engineering, UX, program and our stakeholders were bound together by a common mission.   It was one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed a team go through. A year and a half later, the Ticketmaster coaching organization regularly facilitates inceptions as a way to kick off a new project or team and the inception process is now part of our technology culture. “The Ticketmaster Way” became a term used to describe how our culture was changing and we began to experiment with new processes and techniques to deliver ideas to our fans and clients.

How we got here

Like many organizations, Scrum gave us a base and common understanding around agile principles and ceremonies.  It became a very dogmatic approach and much of the principals were driven by the project management organization however, the value was not fully understood throughout the team.  Although, we were doing agile things, we were not agile minded.  It was time to change (yes, this was hard!)  At the start of our transformation, most of our teams were comprised of all one specific skillset on one part of the system or site.  We piloted the idea of creating a cross-functional product focused pod. This group of people were assembled as a team and had varied understandings of systems, architecture and applications.  It was then that we piloted our first inception.   The entire team moved to a separate building which gave them ample opportunity to form autonomously.  Ticketmaster’s first inception lasted 2 weeks.   During this time, we also introduced other agile frameworks into the team including Kanban, Lean and some Design Thinking workshops.

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The Inception

We have since refined our process considerably.  After restructuring most of our teams into pods and over 40 inceptions later, we have found that 2-3 days at the beginning of the project to get to a common understanding is the right amount of time.  Inceptions are critical to help the team spend much less time in the forming and storming stages of team development and shift to norming and performing much quicker (therefore, eliminating waste!)

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Figure 1. The Tuckman Model of Group Development

Inceptions are not only Ticketmaster’s way of kicking off a new project or team, it most importantly aligns the team around a concise mission with measurable business value – outcomes vs. outputs.  In fact, we no longer call projects…”projects”. We deliver on Promises of Value or (POV’s).

Who comes to the inception and what is the outcome?

We bring all team members, key stakeholders and customers into the same room (yes, we fly remote members out for this). The inception is an investment as part of the POV.  We keep the tone neutral by ensuring that it is facilitated by 2 members outside of the delivery team.  We break up the inception into 3 key areas. “The Strategy”, “The Work”, and “The Team”.  Although “The Work” and “The Team” are equally important, strategy is most often done at the product or business level and the team rallies around the work. Think of the team as “The Shark Tank”.  The team needs to be fully bought in and invested in the product that they are building to be inspired and motivated.  Because of this I am going to focus on “The Strategy” portion of the inception in this blog post.

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Figure 2: Illustration via
Jeff Patton & Luke Barrett for Thoughtworks who re-created the cartoon from an unknown origin.

The Strategy – The Mission

The mission is not about telling the team what they will deliver. It is about understanding the problem that they are trying to solve. Product and design help the team to align on some materials prepared prior to the inception.  These materials help the team understand how the product will fit in to the ecosystem, who our competitors are, target users, the user journey, business drivers and the investment. UX will then will help to put some visual context, early prototypes, personas and design around what we are trying to solve. Finally, the mission statement is the most powerful piece. Why is the mission statement so important? It is what the team believes in and clearly states the problem that the team will solve. Product may come to the table with a mission statement already written, however, I typically have the team rewrite the mission so it is in their voice.  They own it. It needs to be something that any person on the team understands, is able to state and is passionate about. This is where it all starts. In writing the mission statement, I actually prefer a hypothesis statement format over an elevator statement. It clearly states what the team will deliver, the value it will bring to the business and how they know they will be successful.  At the end of the day, we really are building a hypothesis.  We have yet to prove its value.

We will deliver _______________________________

Which will enable the business to ________________

We will know we are successful when _____________

We are fans too! Bring the team members into the problem

The teams at Ticketmaster are passionate. Employees go to events; they experience shows and connect with the fan. We are fans! This passion becomes a critical piece in binding the team to the mission.  We begin the inception by allowing the team to fully experience the problem that our end-users are facing and empathize with them. We found that creating personas for the team was not enough, but having the team fully immersed in what the fan or client was experiencing sparked instant emotion, processing, and then ideation from the team. For example, in one inception we had the team call customer service and make changes to an order. We recognize that this is an experience that can be much better today, so what better way to have the team understand the pain then to go through it! This is the hand-off. It is at this point the team fully understands the WHY. They are not being told it will save the company x amount of dollars, or that it will improve the bottom line. They understand the pain and can see that this is a problem that can be solved.

When possible, we will bring our client or customer into the inception and have them demo directly to the team in how the product is being used and the many steps they have to go through to find a solution.

Measure Success

How will we know that what the team has been working on has been successful? Output is not as critical as outcomes. Just because we deliver something does not mean that it is meaningful to anyone. This final step is critical to motivate the team and help them feel successful in their journey. Are they going down the right path? Should they pivot? The team, just like the business, wants to know from the customer themselves. What do these measurements look like?

I often hear in these workshops that “we want to improve our Net Promoter Score or improve conversion”. But it’s not clear how this product or feature will move the needle in the many products we are delivering throughout the organization. It needs to be tangible. I usually ask 3 basic questions:

  1.  How do you know that you’ve achieved your mission for your slice or POV?
  2.  What does that look like and how will that help you make decisions or validate what to work on next?
  3.  When can the team celebrate their next win?

I like to ask when the team can celebrate their next win because most often than not, these are measurements that the team can fully get their head around – “We integrated with X and validated that the system is fully functional”. “We tested with internal users and validated that the user interacted with application as expected”…

It helps to break down the victory into much smaller wins which keeps the team motivated and excited.

Ticketmaster’s culture is changing. At the core of this change are the people who are passionate about solving hard problems. Given the context, room to innovate, alignment and a way to measure their success the teams become the change agents.  Invest in an inception, it will allow your teams to align early and deliver value quickly.  The key to kicking off a successful inception is by bringing the team into the strategy up front as possible.

  1. Get the team to collaboratively write (or rewrite) the mission statement.
  2. Demo the problem to the team.  Get every member on the team to feel the pain and then give this demo again for any new team members that come on-board.
  3. Understand the team’s success metrics and then measure success at the end of each slice/mvp.

Teams that are motivated feel empowered and driven.  Empowered teams produce amazing results.

celebrate