Now that we have Rhythm, we can talk about Focus.
I love this story, told to me by a COO who joined a 25 person consumer tech company that was poised for growth. When he got there, he did what all business types do and created a list of his top 20 priorities for the product backlog over the next year, all of which he considered essential to get to the next level. He took the list to the CEO (who still owned product and dev) and asked for feedback. The CEO looked at it and asked which one was most important. COO says “well, they’re all important.” CEO asks him again which one of the 20 was most important. COO grudgingly picks one. CEO says “OK, that’s the one we’ll do” and meeting was over. COO lost his mind — how could he plan and hit his goals without a commitment that all of the stuff he needed was going to get done?
What the COO didn’t realize is that the CEO and his devs were really good at doing one thing at a time, and by forcing the business to focus, they were able to ensure that it got done, and got done right. Those 20 things were not equally important, and the CEO wanted to identify the one which would move the needle the most. After a while the team grew and they were able to handle 2 or 3 of these “rocks” simultaneously, but that was as far as they were willing to go. Today this company has over 600 employees, a fantastic business, and a household name (you’ve definitely heard of them). And through it all they’ve continued to hone their ability to focus on what really matters.
Now ask yourself: Are you willing to make the hard choices which will allow your teams to focus? Are you willing to give them a singular goal and free them to accomplish it? Rather than giving your teams projects to work on in parallel so everybody “stays busy”, are you willing to give them a product problem to own, let them tell you what will make the biggest impact for your customers, and defend them from distractions as this CEO did?
I’m not saying teams aren’t capable of multitasking — you will always want to fix bugs, pay down tech debt and capture low hanging fruit, but if you find yourself making poor progress on your 3 big rocks this quarter, try putting 2 of them on the shelf. Your team may surprise you with how effectively they solve your most important problem. And if they do, by definition you are building (some of) the right things for your business.
One clarification - I’ve spent the last few paragraphs talking about how important it is for teams to focus on their biggest problems. That kind of tactical focus is essential, but it must be paired with customer focus. Taking a bad roadmap and doing a great job executing the first thing on it is a hollow victory -- finding your customer’s biggest pain point and making it go away is guaranteed to move the ball, and make your team hungry for more.
Interested in more ways to help your team succeed?For Agile teams, leveraging your sprint retrospective is a great place to start. Our free eBook shows you how to properly facilitate these meetings to get results. Download it today by clicking here.
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