Don’t build shiny objects

Oct 2

Don’t build shiny objects

Shiny objects are the features you release that arn’t supported by evidence the customer needs them.

Airwallex’s Richard Jeremiah gives his perspective on how Product Teams should triage the firehose of ideas, feedback and opinions that all compete for precious sprint resources.

In this short video, Pointzi’s David Jones asks Airwallex’s Richard Jeremiah how they reduce down all features into the things that get built.

He cautions that all product teams have a tendency to  “Veer off the path” :

  • moving away from (measurable customer) “outcomes” to “output”.
  • Teams often shy away from uncertainty to just making and releasing the new shiny objects.

Outcomes vs Output

For Airwallex and “Outcome” is focussed on customer value – this generally relates to an Objective or a Key Result in an OKR.

In contrast, an “Output” is just the result of keeping busy. This is often features that are built in isolation from customer needs. In other words, output is that new shiny objects are something the team saw in a designer’s blog post or a competitive product.

The challenge, Richard says is that “Outcome” is always way less certain than “Output” – an output is a known quantity, its just a matter of applying the resources and getting it released.

An Outcome requires much more validation and rigour to verify:

  • Are we building the right things?
  • Are shipping valuable things for customers

“Solving core customer problems is one of the great challenges of Product Development.” and “Get inside the head of the customer.”

Triaging competing requests

At the top of the product teams work funnel is a massive amount of options:

  1. Bugs to be fixed
  2. Technical debt to be re-factored. Scale and stability issues.
  3. Customer feedback captured in Zendesk etc
  4. Sales people claiming its imperative to implement ABC feature for XYZ prospect
  5. Team opinions
  6. New shiny objects and technologies
  7. validated feedback from customers
  8. results of experiments, hacks
  9. biased opinions from the product manager.
  10. and that old favourite….the fly-by CEO visit about something that’s been bugging them.

There is a lot to be triaged and having something like RICE is fine, but it’s rudderless.

Similar to what Zip‘s Patrick Collins advised the sprint needs to be filled with jobs that match to the customer and company imperatives.

Specifically, Richard says: Strategy—>OKRs—>Measures that reflect toward an Objective or Key Result/Outcome.

This top-down approach leads to using tools like Teresa Torres’ “opportunity solution trees” to ideate a range of possible technical and non-technical solutions.

From there a weighting or “sizing” (Richard’s term) for each initiative is used as another filter for what makes the sprint.

Summary

The summary is that new shiny objects will always be tabled as solutions to product problems or opportunities. 

Its correct – the shiny objects may be a terrific solution! But you MUST run them:

a) through the lens of the customer’s needs

b) the organisational priorities and OKRs.

 

Banner Image credit

 

Transcript

00:03 – some of the lessons that i’ve

00:04 – learned over my career but it’s very

00:06 – very easy for

00:07 – teams to veer off the path away from

00:10 – outcomes towards output

00:11 – it’s very easy to veer off the path of

00:14 – experimentation uncertainty and trying

00:16 – to nail down something that is certain

00:18 – which is

00:18 – in many cases look at this shiny thing

00:21 – that i’ve built

00:22 – and so trying to embed that into your

00:25 – day-to-day

00:26 – um check-in with the team i think so

00:29 – anyway you’ve got these squads

00:31 – how do you actually make sure you’re

00:32 – building something that people actually

00:34 – want

00:35 – so yeah i mean that’s a that’s a big

00:38 – question

00:39 – um and it’s it’s really challenging i

00:42 – think i think this is

00:44 – you know making sure you’re shipping

00:45 – value to customers is the

00:47 – it’s one of the defining aspects of

00:49 – whether you’re not gonna be successful

00:50 – as a business

00:51 – um i mean that’s that’s like are you

00:54 – well suited as a business to do

00:55 – to do that and all those stuff there’s

00:56 – lots of other questions but one of them

00:58 – is generally

00:59 – are you solving a core customer problem

01:01 – is

01:02 – one of the great challenges of product

01:04 – product development look our focus is

01:07 – and my focus has been for a long time um

01:10 – i i spoke previously it’s all about

01:12 – focusing on the outcome

01:14 – and not focusing on output that’s the

01:16 – that’s the key

01:17 – um it’s very natural as human beings

01:20 – that we want to focus on

01:22 – the output and not the outcome and one

01:24 – of the reasons for that is output is

01:25 – certain if you

01:26 – if you apply effort you’ll get you’ll

01:28 – have something to show

01:29 – for it in terms of that you know it

01:32 – could be

01:33 – whether it’s a new page that you’ve

01:34 – created whether it’s an experience

01:36 – enhancement thing you’ve done whether

01:37 – it’s a new feature

01:38 – that’s available on your on your

01:40 – platform you’ll have something to show

01:41 – whether that thing matters or not that’s

01:43 – the question right and so the

01:44 – outcome is always way less certain and

01:47 – we have a natural information as people

01:49 – to want to you know shy away from that

01:51 – uncertainty towards something that’s

01:52 – certain

01:54 – you have to be relentless in that focus

01:56 – on the outcome

01:57 – and that outcome could be whether it’s a

01:59 – commercial outcome that you’re trying to

02:01 – achieve by a meeting a need or a

02:03 – customer need itself

02:05 – you know that’s where your focus has got

02:06 – to be so for me

02:08 – trying to ensure that you’re shipping

02:09 – value it’s all about

02:11 – focusing on the outcome um and

02:15 – and then you know if the outcome is

02:17 – customer related

02:19 – ah yeah so you sort of threw that in at

02:21 – the end but it sounds like the most

02:22 – important thing

02:23 – so you you know what goes in the top of

02:25 – the funnel

02:26 – is a whole bunch of things you’ve got

02:28 – opinions you’ve got sales people walking

02:30 – back saying

02:31 – you know they’ll come on board if you

02:32 – actually develop this feature

02:34 – uh you know you you know that sales

02:36 – people are always dragging in between

02:38 – you know bits of roadkill they say that

02:40 – this is definitely the one that’s going

02:41 – to

02:42 – break the you know it’s really going to

02:44 – the company will break out

02:45 – you’ve got opinions around particular

02:46 – things and then you’ve got disciplines

02:48 – and customer

02:49 – so how how are you feeling the top of

02:51 – the funnel and then how are you triaging

02:53 – that to get to this

02:55 – output that’s actually used by a

02:57 – customer

02:58 – used by a customer yeah sure or even

03:01 – valued

03:02 – valued by a yeah yeah so

03:05 – we um the general the general approach

03:07 – and i

03:08 – alluded to this before with you know we

03:10 – have a strategy we have a set of okrs

03:13 – that that then outlines um you know

03:16 – here’s some some measures we’re going to

03:18 – try and deliver over the course of the

03:19 – quarter

03:20 – and those measures reflect progress

03:22 – towards an outcome or an objective

03:24 – right what we take from there is trying

03:26 – to understand

03:27 – what are the various opportunities there

03:29 – are to better serve the customer in a

03:31 – way

03:32 – that’s going to drive that particular

03:33 – key result and

03:35 – getting an understanding of that is all

03:38 – about trying to get

03:39 – under or inside the head of the customer

03:42 – and there’s a lot of ways to do that

03:45 – and you know you have to you want to use

03:47 – all the tools you’ve got your disposal

03:49 – sales people they are one of the tools

03:51 – yes they have

03:52 – they’ll have a lot to say that

03:54 – oftentimes will be focused towards

03:56 – a feature and a solution and they’ll

03:57 – tell you about the solution

03:59 – i mean one of the things is to try and

04:01 – step back from that and say well hang on

04:02 – what’s this solution actually trying to

04:04 – achieve

04:04 – and refer back from that some of it is

04:06 – talking to those sales people all those

04:07 – customers support people

04:08 – and just taking on the journey to say

04:10 – hey when you talk to your customers

04:12 – next time they come up with a solution

04:14 – can you ask why they want to do that and

04:16 – actually try and work with your customer

04:17 – support team to drive better customer

04:19 – insights on the

04:21 – the why for the customer as opposed to

04:23 – what they want because

04:24 – you know if you ask a customer what do

04:25 – you want they’ll ask for you know

04:27 – classic saying i want a faster horse not

04:29 – i want a

04:30 – motor vehicle so it’s about trying to

04:33 – use

04:34 – as many of the avenues that you’ve got

04:37 – to get customer insight and that can be

04:39 – you know talking to customers watching

04:41 – customers engaging with customer support

04:43 – team as i’ve said you can

04:45 – um and in fact you can do that yourself

04:47 – you know one of the things i used to do

04:49 – a little bit of secret to get onto our

04:50 – zendesk and start seeing what customers

04:52 – are saying and trying to understand

04:54 – what’s going on for them uh and again

04:57 – you know

04:57 – use your sales people they have a lot of

04:59 – insight they’re coming to customers all

05:01 – the time

05:02 – but what you need to do is you need to

05:03 – bring that back to try to understand the

05:05 – customer’s motivations trying to

05:06 – understand their needs

05:17 – okay so that’s a discipline to actually

05:19 – just basically look at it through the

05:20 – lens and i guess what are using customer

05:22 – interviews for that or

05:24 – yeah so there’s a mix i mean the way

05:27 – the way you know uh structured it and

05:30 – the way we’re structuring it and while

05:31 – it’s the framework we’re using is jobs

05:33 – to be done

05:34 – um we at seek

05:37 – out a thing called a mental model which

05:39 – is a more detailed deep dive than jobs

05:41 – to be done into very

05:42 – difficult tasks and that that is

05:44 – essentially that mental model is

05:45 – essentially a shared understanding of

05:47 – the customer

05:48 – and what is put against that mental

05:50 – model the evidence that used to

05:51 – construct that at

05:52 – customer interviews uh customer support

05:55 – insights

05:56 – um you know experiment data behavioral

05:59 – data on the platform like

06:00 – basically any data point you can get

06:02 – about the customer is used to help build

06:03 – out that shared understanding of how the

06:05 – customer

06:06 – thinks facts their motivations what

06:07 – they’re trying to achieve et cetera et

06:09 – cetera

06:09 – so is a mental model an intersection of

06:12 – you know demographics slash personas

06:14 – and job to be done is that is it so yeah

06:18 – i mean you could segment the mental

06:19 – model

06:20 – based on the different personas um but

06:22 – really it’s just a more detailed view

06:25 – of jobs to be done you’re getting down

06:27 – to very discreet tasks as opposed to a

06:29 – job you know a job is

06:30 – a manifestation of multiple tasks it’s

06:31 – like subtasks and sub-sub-tasks it’s

06:33 – really really granular

06:35 – and it just essentially represents a

06:37 – shared understanding of the customer how

06:40 – we

06:40 – understand the customer’s motivations

06:43 – and what they’re trying to achieve

06:44 – through

06:45 – in this particular you know task