Decades and even centuries ago, what did it mean to build something? Consider bridges, buildings, monuments or works of art. How did the people responsible for such undertakings go about scoping their work?
It almost goes without saying that they had to identify every single detail of the scope upfront. One mistake could bring the whole project tumbling down or cost a lot of money if it had to be demolished and rebuilt. Imagine spending months or years building a bridge, only to have it collapse on itself because one component was miscalculated. When there were changes to the scope of a project, it was a horribly painful and costly mistake for everyone.
At the start of the digital age, the builders of software products naturally applied the same mindset to their development process, aiming to identify every detail and prepare for every step along the way. And in fact, this paradigm still exists within many software product teams today.
Yet, when you think about it, this makes no sense.
One of the greatest benefits of software development is its flexibility, the ability to continually make changes. Nothing is concrete (literally or figuratively). You can, and should, seek feedback. You can, and should, update often. In software, it’s not always easy to predict exactly where a scope will take us. So, we let the product lead us, learning and growing from each iteration.
Is Your Team Stuck in a Scope Rut?
As a reminder, your team might be too focused on scope at the expense of value if you experience the following symptoms:
- Your leadership team has more ideas for features than your team can actually implement, and there is constant pressure to do more.
- Your development team is constantly fighting scope creep and it leads to awkward arguments or passive-aggressive behavior during meetings.
- The lead developer seems to be in charge of the product.
- No one is discussing the desired outcome of the product anymore.
How to Ensure Your Team Focuses on Value
This can be easier said than done; however, the following four suggestions will help move your team away from a scope-focused mindset to a value-focused one.
Assign a Product Manager
You need someone who can act as the “single source of truth” when it comes to the product. This product manager would be tracking progress towards outcomes, interviewing and gathering feedback from customers and making decisions that lead the engineering team to shovel-ready work.
Break Your Project Into Sprints and Cycles to Prepare for Scope Changes
As a team, identify three specific features or products that bring the most value to the users and may be implemented quickest. Set short deadlines to start receiving feedback as soon as possible. The quicker to launch, the quicker to feedback — and the better the product or feature will be.
Invest in a Dedicated Team
In order to wisely allocate your funds, determine which skill sets you need on your team during each sprint. Then, don’t be afraid to supplement your team. For example, if you enter a sprint that is more heavily focused on UX than your previous ones, you might want to add a front-end developer to accomplish this next set of goals. It typically takes foresight and look-ahead planning to keep work shovel-ready.
Set Realistic Expectations
When developing a custom feature or product, it’s better to focus on managing the outcome that your team can accomplish within a fixed amount of time and budget rather than focusing solely on the outcome you envision. Your vision may be far beyond the scope of what is possible given your constraints, and that’s not uncommon. As your team iterates and improves on the product or features, it will move closer to its ideal state. Whether that matches your original vision depends on what your team learns along the way and your decision-making.
Results of Switching to a Value Focus
Teams who focus too heavily on scope aim to identify every detail upfront, often because they start with too big of a vision. More often than not, they then experience disappointment and frustration when the scope of their project inevitably changes, costs more and doesn’t produce the desired ROI.
However, when teams are able to make the switch to focusing more on value they will start down the path towards success. This process works. The key is to use it with a sustained focus on your desired business outcomes, data-driven decision making and your ability to learn from failures quickly.