5 Lessons Agile Teams Can Learn From Netflix

  January 25, 2018

Emerging from the days of video rentals and cable came a new way to digest as many movies and television shows as we want, when we want — Netflix.

There’s no doubt that the binge-watching business is booming. Netflix enjoys 109.25 million customers and subscribers consume more than 140 million hours of content every day, which means it doesn’t look like they’re going the ways of Blockbuster anytime soon.

So why do streaming services experience such high success compared to our previous viewing options? Why do people spend 120 minutes per day on Netflix, but only 30 – 60 minutes per week watching regular television? If you consider that Netflix is operating in an Agile fashion, it makes sense.

That’s not to say that the development team does or does not follow an Agile methodology, but it has to do more with the way that Netflix releases content. Similar to Agile development, it seems like Netflix also strives to focus on fast feedback, iterative changes, and cross-collaboration.

By taking a closer look at the way the company operates behind the scenes (or should we say, behind the screens), Agile development teams can learn quite a bit from Netflix. If you’re still not convinced, here are a few ways Netflix echoes Agile development and can teach teams to be more successful when building, testing, and delivering software.

  1. Do Better Than a Pilot Episode – Have you ever noticed that Netflix doesn’t have pilot episodes? That’s because a pilot episode is essentially a big test to see whether the network and the network’s audiences like the first episode enough to keep watching more. But what happens if they don’t? A lot of time and money wasted. Instead, Netflix pulls the perfect “balance of intuition and analytics” during production so that they know shows will be successful. House of Cards was greenlighted based on deep data analytics that told Netflix it would be well-received. In fact, Netflix Originals have a 35% higher success rate than new TV shows released on-network. Don’t wait until the end of development to test, and don’t let your users find faults for you. Integrate testing into every step of the software development lifecycle so you can be sure you’re delivering something your customers will love.
  2. Integrate Feedback – As per the manifesto, one of the key components of a successful Agile team is allowing for fast feedback, and just as importantly, implementing it in your next release. You don’t have to tell Netflix twice. Take House of Cards again — amid recent allegations about Kevin Spacey, there was a decision to be made about keeping him on the cast or canceling the show, both of which the company knew would agitate viewers. Instead, they decided to continue production with Robin Wright as the lead, showing that integrating feedback is a win-win. Whether that feedback is from testers while the application is in production or from customers after the software is delivered, incorporating feedback maintains continuous growth and improvement.
  3. Be Compatible with Your Customers – Netflix supports 900 different devices — that’s almost as many as CrossBrowserTesting has in the cloud. Between laptops, smartphones, and tablets, not to mention different browsers, operating systems and screen sizes, consistency is key. Netflix has a huge customer base, which means they probably have a lot of diversified device usage. If they didn’t make the application accessible to each one of those, they simply would not enjoy the amount of success they do today. Cross-browser testing is a no-brainer, so be sure to not to skip it if you really want to release a high-quality application for every user.
  4. Release Often – One of the major advantages of Agile is that it allows teams to release software more often instead of having longer release cycles and only delivering every few months or even years. Netflix has found that releasing new movies and shows every on a weekly basis keeps customers excited and intrigued, so they don’t get bored by the same selections over and over. That means once bingers are done with Stranger Things, they still have the next season of Black Mirror to look forward to. It’s no secret that consumer expectations and demands these days are high — they constantly want their hands on the next best thing. But at the end of the day, it’s pretty straightforward. If people want to consume your product, give them the means that allows them to do that as much as they want with Continuous Integration and Delivery.
  5. Embrace Detailed User Stories – A user story describes a software feature as a customer would see it. The goal of Agile is to bring user stories from ideation to deployment, considering who the user is, what they want to accomplish, and how they accomplish it with that feature. Netflix takes this to the next level by understanding every user story with advanced personalization. In fact, 75% of Netflix views are a result of their recommendation engine. By creating different trailers and artwork for content based on viewers previous movie and show choices, they’re able to more precisely communicate recommendations with people based on their interests and behavior. Take it from Netflix and get familiar with user personas and the customer journeys that take place throughout your application to better plan throughout development.

Whether you stream shows or surf TV channels, there’s a lot we can learn from the media mogul. As Agile teams embrace speed and quality throughout testing and development, Netflix provides the blueprint for success from production to breakout deployment.