Product Practice #289: Linked Better Practices over Stacked Best Practices

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What is the right way to approach aspects like creating Product Strategy, defining OKRs, or pursuing Product Discovery activities? Especially when teams are starting, teams might look for existing playbooks and stick rigidly to them. But that approach quickly starts to break.

The Problem with Stacked Best Practices

Some teams will end up with “Stacked Best Practices.” This might come in the form of always using the same strategy template and insisting on a certain way to fill it. Or a rigid approach to OKRs only is allowed to come in the form of Outcomes. Or measuring Discovery success by the number of weekly user interviews or the total number of experiments.

The problem with this stack is that it doesn’t allow flexibility and adaptability. Teams will have a too tightly-knit toolbox that can’t give in to new situations. Think of it as a static tower that can’t adapt and give in the right way to react to change. It’s also a recipe for the process regiments to get in the way of teams.

You might be limited in new practices that don’t exactly fit in with existing frameworks you have in place (like having to do a Business Model Canvas work with OKRs or having to turn every user insight into a perfect JTBD statement). It’s all about the ideal combination of neatly arranged process puzzle pieces.

Trying to stack best Practices leads to a process overhead that gets in the way of making actual progress: Reducing Uncertainty, Measuring Strategic Success, Creating Just Enough Strategy Guidance

Linking Better Practices

The opposite of that approach is what I call “Linked Better Practices.” Where it’s all about just taking the next step from where you are to improve bit by bit instead of big all-or-nothing propositions.

In that way of thinking, the framework isn’t the star of the show but the core intent of a domain, like seeking the next, stronger piece of evidence through whatever Discovery activity that helps you further reduce uncertainty. Or by prioritizing the usefulness of your OKRs so that a team can influence and track the metrics. Or, by focusing strategy work on the core patterns and components that matter to you right now to guide what to say no to regarding moving closer to your vision.

Whenever you adopt a way of working, ensure it’s not becoming an unwanted constraint for adapting and making future decisions. Linking better practices allows teams to get started from wherever they are without waiting for “the right time” or the perfect conditions to improve the way they work.

Your job is not to meet someone else’s criteria for how to set OKRs or do Discovery. Your job is to create business value by solving user problems. Be free to choose the approaches that get you there.

Speak soon,

Tim


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Propensity to Help a Stranger (Participate in User Research)

It’s up to you to understand why your users would be willing to offer their time (and insights) for relative free. Not only will you uncover better insights during the interview, but it will also help you recruit the right users. Does the user segment you need to speak with already have a good reason to speak with you, or do you need to give them one?

Product Strategy Is Really About Offense vs. Defense

Treating your efforts in this area explicitly as defense will help you achieve the best outcomes. Those investments likely aren’t going to move business metrics up substantially but they are necessary to keep them from going down — and that is a perfect archetypal example of a defensive investment. There is an almost infinite backlog of potential “core experience improvements” you could make, that would be valuable to users, but won’t move business metrics. Because it’s generally impossible to identify a specific diminishing returns point for this kind of defense, one approach is to intentionally constrain by only having a small team, focused on these, to help ensure you don’t over-invest.

There’s no guarantee your product strategy will work. Here’s how to de-risk it.

We believe we should expand into the US markets in 2020. Specifically, we’re going to target large-scale real world events first with our [awesome ability to do X, Y and Z] eventually moving downstream into smaller events like [blah, blah and blah]. We will know our strategy has succeed when we see $X revenue derived from [these types of events], 25% market share in [the relevant US market(s)] and a cost per acquisition that is at least 15% lower than our European businesses.


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