I got the opportunity to share some ideas we are working on at ArgonDigital with the product manager community at ProductCamp Austin 6. I had yet to experience a ProductCamp due to conflicts year after year, so I was excited to finally get a chance to check it out. I was stunned by how many people were willing to spend a Saturday with their peers – sharing and learning all day! It was a very cool thing.
The nature of the un-conference format is that some of the sessions were great and others were not-so-great. That said, I was fortunate to get a chance to share my ideas with the community. Given the interactive nature of the forum, I got some really good feedback throughout my presentation. There were lots of examples of people sharing their related stories with the group, their horror-story business objectives for us all to learn from, and their examples of success.
Here is a recap of the presentation:
The premise for this discussion is that most products we see in industry are either late to launch or way over budget. The state of the economy is such that new product budgets have been cut drastically. So we look for ways that we can cut scope from products while still delivering value to the customers. It turns out, that according to the Standish Group, 65% of features built are rarely or never used. So the question we address is: How do you figure out which 35% of the features are the right ones and only build those.
To do this, we live and die by Business Objectives. Business Objectives are the measurable results you look to achieve when building a product. If you understand what those are, then you can start to trace your features to the business objectives. Ultimately, you want to develop the features the contribute the most to the business objectives.
I also discuss a bit about how you elicit Business Objectives. You need to start up front by really understanding the business problem that your customer is trying to solve. Then you can define measurable business objectives that represent what you are trying to achieve in solving that problem and you can decide on strategies to meet those objectives. Your strategy will lead you back to your product (and if it doesn’t, then you have the wrong product). Now, you can elicit features that trace to the business objectives. And we encourage you to work with stakeholders to constantly dig deeper to really understand why they are trying to solve the problems they pose, until you get to a problem that directly relates to dollars in the company (revenue, cost, margin, etc.).
Using this, you can use your instincts to select the features that contribute the most value to the business objectives. And all of that is well and good, but still pretty qualitative. So, taking this one step further, we are actually trying to put dollar values on sets of features, so we can pick the ones that have the most quantifiable value. You link your features to Business Objectives using Objective Factors – statements about how a feature contributes to the Business Objectives. Once you have those statements, you can put measurements on them using your existing data, industry standards, or educated estimates and actually get dollar values for sets of features. If you have basic orders of magnitudes, you can compare features and make scoping decisions, selecting the ones that add the most value ($1K feature vs. the $10K vs. the $.5M feature).
If you want to see this with examples, for at least the time being, here is a video of the discussion.