By Dave Thomson
We have all been in a meeting where a backlog is being discussed, or a new feature or product and at some stage in the meeting, normally someone quite senior, usually the person being presented to will pipe up and say “this all sounds great, but are there any quick wins we could implement next week”.
Most of us will also have seen recommendations at the end of presentations broken down into “quick wins” and “longer term initiatives”. I like to think of these differently; I see “pointless things that stop us solving the real problem” and “much harder things that will solve the problem but no one is brave enough to do”.
Saying no to incrementalism
Now, don’t get me wrong, I get why people look for the quick wins, but my philosophy is that quick wins will not build a great product and a long term sustainable business. In fact, if you looked at a product backlog and only did the quick wins, can you imagine what that product would look like? Quick wins don’t make you a market leader, just a follower. Quick wins just prolong you solving the hard problems that if left unsolved, will lead to your business being disrupted, or never growing at all.
If quick wins can be thought of as things that require the least effort and least amount of thinking and planning, then isn’t it strange that some people come into work and try and find the easiest things they can do with their time?
Stop being lazy
Quick wins stop you facing into the big scary problems. The problems that are causing you horrific tech debt, the problems that mean you can’t deploy every day. The kind of problems that customers tell you about but you know can’t be solved in 1 sprint or even 1 quarter.
Larger businesses are especially susceptible to going after quick wins as they are normally already focussed on a cadence of time over results and might already have politics and org charts which means solving the hard problems have the added gauntlet of being emotional roller coasters.
By their very nature, hard problems might need a lot of folks in different parts of the business to solve them, which means you need many people to recognise and agree all at once what the hard problems are in order to solve them. You’ll normally see people and companies going after quick wins are the ones that don’t have clear and joined up goals that enable many people to get behind an idea and deliver it.
Quick wins give people a way of leaving a meeting room with a minimum amount of responsibility.
If you are sat in a start up, and you are not solving the hard problems, it’s likely your startup will fail. You are not building network effects by testing button colours.
Disrupt or be disrupted: pick one
If you are sat in a market leading Plc and you don’t solve the hard problems, then it’s likely you’ll get disrupted. So think of quick wins as handing a lifeline to your competitors. For every day you spend on quick wins that may incrementally improve metric X, your competitor is spending her day solving problems that entirely leapfrog everything you are doing. In short, it might be better to do absolutely nothing than invest any money or effort at all into a quick win. Maybe pay your shareholders a dividend and go home.
Given the network effects that exist within marketplaces, it’s better to swing for the fence and miss than not swing at all. You’ll have more fun swinging and it’s what your customers would want you to do with your day. This is especially true in Product Management when we normally evangelise for and encourage our squads to go after the features/problems/bugs that have the biggest impact for our customers and our business. You would never look at a backlog as a Product Manager and look for the quick wins, so why does it happen in other business areas?
Quick wins will kill your business, run away from people bearing quick wins and headlong into all the hard problems.
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About the author
I’m Dave Thomson and I’m Head of Product at Skyscanner. I work mainly on consumer products used by our travellers. I’ve been building and breaking things on the Internet for the last 12 years in London, Berlin and now Edinburgh. Having so far made it to 40 countries, I’m passionate about building products that help people explore the planet.