This is the second part of an article series about how the technology and product communities can help the world to pivot and work as a cross-functional team by sharing their experiences dealing with uncertainty, difficult decisions, emotions, and data.
In the first part of this article series we discussed some prerequisites – sanitizing ourselves and setting up a mindset based on outcomes, tangible value, not on outputs.
- Forgetting about buzzwords
- Dimming egos
- Being mindful of debts
- Reevaluating our social and organizational culture
Everyone agrees that the COVID-19 crisis is more than a serious health threat, it’s a challenge to the entire business and social ecosystem. But, at the same time, it is an opportunity to learn, to wipe out what didn’t work and to let the better emerges. The point is: the tech community can help the world to pivot, work as a cross-functional team and make this place an improved version of what we had before.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”
As the second president of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr., is known as one of history’s greatest execs. In the ’60s, his first attempt at creating a supercomputer failed with huge financial losses – but undeterred, Watson went on to make IBM a household name.
Why is success made of little failures?
- Failure smooths out the rough edges on our egos.
- It forces us to rethink, and find new ways to approach a problem.
- It brings us a step closer to our goals.
- It makes the success that much sweeter!
Below are some basic concepts we, as product and UX practitioners, are using to get our job done. They are not a kind of one-size-fits-all solution, they do not solve the world’s problems by themselves, but they present some principles. Principles that, in my humble opinion, will define the world, the society and the business in the times that come.
Don’t look at that as an on-the-shelf solution, everything here is a draft. So it looks like a draft, messy ideas and bullet points. Feel free to improve it, to add your own and play the ball as you wish.
1 – Agility (not Agile)
Agility is the way of being agile. Also agile is a common noun, not a proper noun. Let’s keep it like this, a very common concept.
Digital, with or without transformation. Not for the sake of the process, but for the sake of being prepared. How many businesses that claimed the completion of digital transformation are now working smoothly from home in the lockdown times?
Irrational escalation, also known as sunk cost fallacy – when we justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.
Take care, don’t be caught in a building trap → just build things because we have to do something, because we don’t know what to do, because people (or media) are asking and it’s much easier to be reactive than proactive, well, this is a dead-end path.
Being agile means to continuously evaluate the situation, look for threats before they arise. So it’s fine to have boards but look behind the boards too, drill for the “why”. The boards on the wall, in Trello or Jira are just tools, not the reason.
2 – Job To Be Done (JTBD)
Sounds obvious and simple but it isn’t – work on the problem, not on the solution. This is why we land so often on the classical situation of a “solution looking for a problem to solve” → What is a drill? A product? Not really, it’s a solution for having a hole. So, the real product is a drill that is drilling a hole.
Wanna make the world a better place? Build better products → solve new problems, solve old problems in a better way or in a more efficient way. According to some estimations, half of the features we are building are almost never used. This means around $3,000 billion waste per year. We can fix both coronavirus and climate change with that money.
JTBD, in its simplicity, is a great concept and a very powerful tool. It’s simple like that: what do I want to achieve by using the drill? A hole, for sure. How else can I get a hole? Maybe with a gouge. So, let’s see how we can do a better hole-maker than the gouge, a better and more versatile drill.
3 – Always Discover
Get outside of the building. We are building the solutions in the laboratory, but we are creating them outside. The best thing we can do, at all levels, is to be in contact with the real people, not with the marketing or customer insights department.
Ask questions, a lot of questions. Like:
- What problem are we going to solve? For whom? Is there one or more segments?
- Which is the current situation? Are there other potential ways people are dealing with this problem?
- Which is our greater goal? How can we get there?
4 – Prioritization
We don’t have infinite resources, we are seeing that as we speak. But we can focus, more and better, on what matters. There are plenty of methods to map, evaluate and decide in difficult and uncertain situations.
North Star is a way to guide us when there are no roads, maps nor even GPS (can you imagine that?). When we are in uncertain territory and we need guidance. In product terms, it’s a metric that we are looking to improve over a determined period of time. One single key thing that matters.
RICE. RICE stands for
- Reach – how many people would be impacted by the proposed solution?
- Impact – how big will be the impact on the metrics we follow?
- Confidence – this is the human component, what is our gut feeling saying?
- Effort – how hard, costly or resource intensive is the implementation?
Let’s imagine this hypothetical situation, as an exercise: you are in the government and considering the COVID-19 crisis you have to decide over two possible solutions – contain the spread by locking down the country or going for hoard immunization by limited quarantine. Not easy, oversimplified and very hypothetical, but an evaluation framework could help.
So, keeping the oversimplification aspect in mind, we could judge in terms of reach, impact, confidence and effort. Most of the time the government decisions are political decisions, where the KPI is meant by elections and the only metric is electability. This is exactly what an output is on a national scale, when the decision makers look for vanity metrics instead of real impact, real outcome for people on the streets.
5 – Data, but…
… not any kind of data
Be data-informed, not data-driven. Data is a very useful tool, an amazing tool. But it’s also dangerous. We are not robots, we are not building for robots. Besides that, data only gives us an idea about what is happening, but not why.
Data without context is garbage. And, as we know, GIGO applies everywhere (garbage in, garbage out)
Hire good data scientists. Not only because they can read data, but because a key skill for a good data scientist is to tell stories about data.
Is this article a Jedi course on saving the Galaxy? Definitely not, we are not superhumans, we are just those that faced uncertainties before, and managed to overcome them. We had formulated and tested millions of assumptions, identified ways to validate or invalidate them, and created a little value for the people out there. We are the product professionals and designers in tech and with, or without us, the world will pivot… But let’s be there for the next release.