Do you know what you’re doing?

Businessman questioning

Do you know what you’re doing? You might be thinking right now, “What kind of question is that? Is JF off his rocker? Of course, I know what I’m doing.” 

Let me explain my question by using the following exercise analogy. You might start your exercise routine with a few stretches like yoga or pilates movements to warm up. Then you might lift weights for strength and conditioning. Following that, you opt to do cardio, like running or Zumba. And then you cool down, with some concentrated stretches or breathing exercises. They’re all exercises of different types.

Do you see something similar now when viewing work?

Often, most teams work on things that the product manager tells them to do. And usually (based on my experiences working at various companies), it’s all about bugs or new features. There’s never quite a balance. However, there are more work types of moving the business forward than just these two.

Work Baskets

Just as exercise has stretching, strength and conditioning, cardio, and cool down, your backlog has something similar: 

  • new products and features to keep current customers and gain new ones
  • debt (bug fixes are the obvious example)
  • investing-in-the-future type work (like prototypes) to stake out potential new markets and directions for your business
  • keeping the current business humming (updates to existing features, for example) 

You might say there may be more types, but is there a need? Keep it simple.

It’s interesting if you start categorizing each of your product backlog items to see the variety of work that you do. And you can be surprised at the ratios. 

I remember working for a VP who couldn’t quite figure out why one of the teams couldn’t meet their target dates. The team kept pushing the target date out every couple of weeks. I started tagging the previous six weeks worth of tickets that the team had touched. I came back with very telling statistics for the VP. 76% of the tickets fell into the bucket of keeping the business humming (customer configurations and escalations). 19% went into debt (bugs causing the customer escalations). Only 5% was for the new features they were trying to deliver. The ratio of work to keep the current business running was overwhelming the team.

Man thinking where to invest

What’s even more problematic – there was nothing invested in the future-looking bucket, an immense risk. Not investing some effort for the future allows your competitors to catch-up, and eventually leap-frog you and your business.

Are you putting All your eggs in one basket?

The ratios don’t have to be balanced. They can vary, but not lopsided. If they are vastly skewed, you will have problems that affect your overall business. They might not manifest now, but will later.

Just for kicks, I challenge you to tag the last six weeks worth of work your team did. You might be surprised by the ratios.

What are you going to do when you find out? I’d love to hear what you would do.


Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Bad Product Decisions (Part 4 – End)

Sunset silhouette



Part 4 – Dealing with FOMO Through Planning

In my last newsletter, I talked about doing a quick dive into data to validate a FOMO-based decision. There’s another way to ensure that you don’t fall into a FOMO decision situation in the first place – you plan for it.

How do you plan for a situation like this, considering that external forces beyond your control drive FOMO-based reactions?

Well, not all things are beyond your control, because businesses have patterns. Apple usually makes announcements about the next generation of iPhones and the latest version of iOS every September. The Consumer and Electronics Show always occurs just after the New Year in Las Vegas, where many companies make announcements. These are but two examples – I’m sure you can find more patterns out there, both from your company and your competitors. (Although, because of the current pandemic, this year might be an anomaly for the patterns.)

I always bring these known patterns up at my rolling-wave planning meetings with my teams. I ensure that we have some room budgeted in the high-level plan. By setting aside time for these cyclical events, the team can accommodate potential things that might come out of left field. It further allows the business to ensure that we don’t negatively affect our strategic goals for the long term. If we end up not utilizing the buffer we allocated, then we can quickly pick something off our strategic backlog, given that we do rolling-wave planning.

I hope this series on FOMO-based product decisions helps shed light on some strategies to minimize the occurrence. The world is continuously changing, so one cannot utterly discount the scenario.

If you encounter it, I wish I was successful in giving you ideas on how you can address it and see if it is the right decision. I have a few other ways to deal with this, so email or chat with me about if you’re interested in learning about them. I’m sure some of you have encountered it, and I would love to hear from you on how you addressed and dealt with your situation.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) And Bad Product Decisions

Part 3 – Dealing with FOMO Through Data

Social Media on Phone

My last newsletter  highlighted that FOMO-based decisions are typically driven by emotion. Most often, these decisions add on to the pile of work that people are currently handling, which then causes stress and frustration for people on the team. 

So how do you deal with these scenarios? How do you minimize stress and frustration that result from emotion-based decisions?

The first step is recognizing that emotion can be advantageous. You can examine it and start probing for the deeper reasons that trigger it. Understanding the trigger can help you determine various approaches you may take. 

One useful technique I employ is the 5 Whys technique.  Asking five successive probing questions allows me to get to the root cause as opposed to the outward symptom. I end up learning a few things that are not so apparent.

The second step is to decide on quick data points that may help you reframe and rethink the problem and decision. These data points help validate the decision under a more objective light. One needs just enough info to support and validate – or even change – the decision. 

For example, I found myself chatting with the VP about his wanting to assign a brand new project to a very senior engineer in our department. This new project wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and I had a gut feeling that this new addition would impact what we had already planned for the next quarter. I quickly ran some project queries on JIRA. I showed my executive a particular datapoint – the senior engineer was already on six different projects, all currently going on at the same time. We pored over the data and found out that two of the projects were stalled. The engineer and product manager had been waiting for a couple of months for vital input from the customer. (I was relatively new to the company and didn’t know this.) The customer had undergone a reorganization a couple of months back, and left the two projects in limbo, with no direction in sight for the near term. The engineer was still putting some effort into it based on discussions with the product manager. 

We continued to discuss the four remaining projects. We looked at the amount of effort needed against and the potential ROI. Three of the projects – when compared to this new project – weren’t that high in priority, after a brief chat between the executive and product manager. The executive then decided then to postpone the two projects in limbo, drop the three low ROI items. We all felt better about adding on the new, more impactful initiative in the end.

Notice that in recollecting the story, I introduced the third step – looking at the impact of decisions. In quickly reviewing the project data, and promptly asking more questions form the engineer and product manager, we were swiftly able to come to a decision that made sense. The data allowed us to look at impacts quickly to the current plans that were underway. We managed to streamline other projects in the process. 

Another way to minimize emotion-based decisions is to plan for them. I’ll go over the scenario and technique in my next newsletter. In the meantime, I hope I have provided you with some tips to help you reflect on past situations and see how you could have approached them. I would love to hear from you any insights or “Aha!” moments you want to share as a result of this newsletter topic.