Do you know what you’re doing?

Businessman questioningDo 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. 

Man thinking where to investI 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.

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.


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