Planning for product success

Goals might have issues

During the season of resolutions I pondered in my last newsletter if setting goals is the wrong focus. Perhaps they aren’t needed in our personal lives but how about in our organizations? Are objectives, outcomes and all these goals difficult to achieve? Do they form cognitive traps? Have unintended consequences?

Dates and roadmaps might also have issues

Here’s a question for people wanting due dates- How often in the past did projects where you work at hit the date? Only 2.5% of organizations have 100% project success. Project failures cost the US at least $50 billion a year and 17% threaten the existence of the company. Some roadmaps are lies, even outcome-based roadmaps fail and maybe it’s time to use alternatives to roadmaps.

Culture follows product

The book Trillion Dollar Coach reveals the leadership lesson that culture follows product. Essentially great companies let their great product lead the way. Companies see benefits in hackathons (including a study), ‘20% time‘, and innovation labs. Applying these typically happens after coming up with the successful product. So how do we plan for product success?

Systems for product success

Most books and consultants insist product success starts with a strong vision. A strong vision seems too reliant on the strong visionary and that is yet another fallacy. However, if we come up with systems and stick to them maybe success will follow.

Use Objectives and Key Results

Objectives and Key Results can help. I’d encourage you to get the audio version of the book “Measure What Matters” and hear the stories CEOs, founders and others tell of what they did both right and wrong in setting OKRs, from those people themselves. Here’s a list of additional OKR resources.

Keep a balanced portfolio

Here’s another series of questions to ask back when people ask for project delivery dates. What does the budget allocation look like? Does the work in progress map to those allocations? How many bets are in the portfolio? What’s the highest priority objective?

Find the unknowns

Run an activity like the future, backwards to poke holes in the plan. Defend the future of the strategic plan. Use lateral thinking techniques to climb out of cognitive traps. Run Monte Carlo simulations to look at uncertainty in date and budget estimates. Enable discovery on product development teams. Be willing to adjust and communicate the new plan as unknowns clear up.

Always be shipping

It might seem counter-intuitive but the more often product is shipped, the more profitable the outcomes. Shipping frequently provides small change sets and fast fixing. Continuous deployment leads to continuous experimentation and learning.

In conclusion

There is no recipe for product success, but these things might help. Be clear in the objectives and priorities. Keep the portfolio’s performance balanced. Continuously research and clear out unknowns. Keep shipping and monitoring production. Adapt the plan along the way. And if possible- have fun!

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