Are you shipping things that matter?
Using value-based decision making to prioritize your roadmap.
You always need to be working on things that add value to your product and business.
Not things meant to make you and your team feel busy.
It’s easy for teams to get caught working on things to ‘show progress’ even though those tasks don’t add any value to the project. Or at least not the most value and not at this time.
These no- to low-value items are often things like changing a color, making minor layout adjustments, starting something new, etc.
They are distractions.
However, they make us feel good because we can do them quickly. We can see how the work we did immediately, relatively, turned into something real.
This approach comes from project-based thinking where the key metric of success is tasks done. We’ve been conditioned to believe that if a lot of tasks have been completed that it must mean a lot of valuable work has been done, thinking that high output is more important than a valuable outcome.
For example, what if early on the dev team sprinted ahead to launch the product but now have a load of tech debt. In certain situations, like sprinting to launch, this is fine, but there are a few things you’ll have to consider once you do this.
First, you can ignore it.
Second, you can work addressing it into your timeline at a later date.
Or, third, you can drop everything else and work on it now.
The thing is, there’s no right answer because it’s contextual to each product and where the team is at in the process. This is why you have to determine what is most valuable for the product and project at each particular moment.
Let’s say you’re still sprinting to launch your product publicly, or you have launched, and need to add a few critical features for your initial users. Here you’re likely better off to continue ignoring the growing amount of debt so you can deploy as soon as possible. That said, you can’t do this without understanding you’ll have to go back and take care of the debt at some point. Right now the most valuable thing is to launch.
Maybe you have launched but now things are taking longer and what should be easy improvements aren’t as straightforward as you thought. The team is saying the code is fine, but it’s harder to work with because they have to edit a few things to make adding one thing possible. This situation is tough because there are noticeable issues, but they might not be big enough to be unmanageable. The choice is to either go on like this and hope to improve the code incrementally, put it off for a later time, or take care of it now. It really depends. The best thing to do here is to look ahead and see how what you decide today will play out with the other items on your roadmap.
Or, what if your team is spending two, three, five times the amount of effort on things than it should take them because every time they try to add something the code base breaks or they have to refactor the foundational architecture to accommodate new features? You see this detrimental to the product, and also notice your team is suffering as well because they can’t do their job effectively. Now, the most valuable thing would be to stop all other forward-looking work and focus on cleaning up the codebase and reinforcing the foundation so you can quickly implement new improvements once you pick up again.
For each of these, you have to decide what is most important. And while sometimes you can work on things incrementally, like in the second scenario, it rarely works out that way if invaluable things are prioritized over more valuable work.
Setting & Measuring KPI’s.
The key to this is defining what is valuable and how it will be measured at whatever stage of the project you find yourself in.
Often, this is ultimately measured as revenue as more money coming in means the business has more to reinvest in furthering the product and growing the business.
However, if you’re starting out, the most valuable thing can be something else. If you’re building an MVP, you might be focused on validating the idea and creating a working prototype, or you could be working toward creating the Minimum Marketable Product, Minimum Designed Product, Minimum Lovable Product, or anything else that will drive the business forward in this early stage.
The thing is, these need to be measured. Which often means it comes back to money. It’s one of the most straightforward metrics to evaluate.
While I said earlier color changes and minor spacing updates can be low-value tasks, if the most valuable thing to be working on right now is to optimize your sign up flow to increase conversions, where increased conversions equals increased revenue, editing colors and spacing might actually be the most valuable things you can be working on now.
As I said it’s contextual.
Knowing what’s valuable.
So, how are you supposed to know what you’re working on the most valuable thing if it’s always changing? A couple of ways:
It may be that it’s evident. If you’re faced with a decision to do A or B, where you believe in A, and everyone agrees then A is the way to go.
If you think A is the right direction, but there are compelling arguments for B, and you can’t decide, then you can and should rely on analytics to influence your decision. Decide based on what the data tells you is the most valuable, or what will be the most valuable in the end.
Sometimes though, and especially early on, it might not be evident, and you might not have enough data to commit to a direction confidently. This is when you have to go with what you feel is right. You should base your decision on prior experience of you and others as much as possible. You’re probably not the first one to be in a situation like the one you’re finding yourself in.
The point isn’t to create more work to look like things are moving forward. The point is to add and create things of value.
Gary Keller has an exercise for how he determines what is most valuable to his business, which is to ask himself:
“What’s The ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
So, if the thing that will do that for your product will take six months to increase revenue* and result in not having to do ten other things because of it, do that and don’t worry about the low-value tasks meant to boost the day to day metrics we’ve been conditioned to care about. They’re holding everything back anyway.
* it will always come back to this, even if you think it won't.