Hey PM, still doing ad-hoc trade-offs to release on time? STOP RIGHT THERE!

Making hard decisions is the part and parcel of being a Product Manager. We imagine great product designs and dream of it to be the next big thing until the engineering team which is working hard to bring your dream to reality brings you back to reality and crushes your dreams with a hammer. The hammer says, “Don’t think we can get it done according to these specs in this sprint. Can we push off to future releases?” There is not enough time. The release date is close by. The go to market plans are already in motion. You can’t spend a few days thinking it through. So, what do you do?
You improvise! You take just a minute to reply, “Why don’t we do it this way? Can we adjust this to make sure that fits?” You think your inborn design thinking skills found you a quick workaround until the hammer strikes back and in your face this time when your customers call out your shabbily designed workarounds.

Do we all do it? YES!

Have I done it? Definitely YES!

So, how do we fix this?

Meet the Designated User Story — the user story that drives your product home when it’s wasted.

Designated user stories are well-thought Plan Bs for every story in the sprint. They need very few or no engineering resources, consume very less time, are very simple to implement, and take into account how to compensate for the user’s experience in case of a trade-off. Let’s look at an example.
Imran is the Product Manager at an app-based startup that runs a ramen noodle subscription service delivering different varieties of cooked ramen noodles every day to the hungry souls at college hostels. The subscribers pay their bill at the end of every month by posting a cheque to the company. Imran identifies that most of his customers are too lazy to find, write and post a cheque which led to delayed payments and multiple follow-up calls. Therefore, Imran writes this user story, “As a subscriber, I should be able to pay through the app every month so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy.” Few days before the release date, Imran comes to know that the integration with the payment gateway is broken on the app and there is not enough time to fix it. This is the perfect time for a trade-off and one person suggests that the company should hire some collection agents to get the cheques. However, Imran has a different plan. He pulls out the designated user story for this user story which says, “As a subscriber, I should get an Instamojo payment link on my email id every month, so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy.” The designated user story helps Imran make a quick trade-off which doesn’t ruin the user’s experience a lot.

However, a designated user story comes with some statutory warnings:

  1. A trade-off is a trade-off. So, don’t leave the designated user story hanging in the product long enough to become the ultimate solution.
    A designated user story works best with a user story that is independent of other stories. If there is a dependency on other stories, take that into account.
  2. Do not run prioritization meetings and review cycles on designated user stories. Actually, do not let people know that they exist. Keep them hidden until required.

I hope this article helps you become a better Product Manager. Do leave your comments and feedback. Share and recommend if you like it.