Pick one thing (well, maybe 3)
Product managers have a great temptation to try to assemble a broad list of features for a release that maximally uses the resources, time or both. While this ‘kitchen sink strategizing’ might seem efficient on one level in that it gets as many things done as possible, it fails on two very important ones.
First, it isn’t a sign of strategic thinking and won’t achieve strategic objectives. How could it, you aren’t setting any!
These laundry list features are classic for 4.x or 5.y kind of releases where the product is generally mature but a gazillion customers have been beating down the door to get their favorite feature adopted. They aren’t good there and with immature products they are a real disaster.
Either way, you are squandering your resources and time on features that:
- won’t bring in more customers/segments
- won’t get more revenue from existing customers/segments
- (and this one is really scary) won’t advance your position against your competition
Secondly, it doesn’t drive the project. Nobody gets excited about laundry list releases except the people who asked for one of the items. Of course, they probably have another one you didn’t get in so they’ll be annoyed that something else took precedence over their pet.
More importantly, it is difficult to get exectutive and organizational support. People can’t latch on to the theme and stand behind it everywhere they go. Developers, won’t understand what’s really important. Marketing and sales people won’t be able to explain the vision to customers and so on.
Now for the real fun. What happens if resources get cut or the schedule changes? You’ve got no built in groundswell for the project. Random things will have to be cut to make it work. In fact the whole project might get dumped. You might have a sense of which items on the list were of the most long term relevance, but since you didn’t get buy-in to that strategy up front, good luck making the case under duress.
So, what to do? The title of this post should give you a hint. Pick one theme to build a release around. In big projects you might even pick a second or third lesser themes to go along with the primary. But this focus is necessary.
This key theme can then be the driver for a business case for the project. It also forms the foundation for the message tree for later communiction (see “Write the Press Release…”). It gives the team and overall organization a goal to focus on.
You might be wondering “so how do I ever get those important but non-strategic thing done?” My argument here isn’t that it’s not possible to have a lengthy list of smaller features in a decent size project. Merely that there must be a key theme (or three) and clear prioritization. I find the MHW system for prioritization very effective here. The key theme items are all “Musts”. “Hopefully” can capture those that are the most closely aligned with the key theme. “Wish” is for everything else and this includes customer pet features. (If it was really that important maybe it should have been a theme?)