Fixed Skateboard Management

credit: https://unsplash.com/search/skateboard?photo=4_QbgDuj8z4

So many software projects (apps, websites, bots, etc) set for greatness fall flat. You had a great idea but your developers failed you. Or you ran out of budget. Or you built the wrong thing.

Why? How? What can be done about it?

I’ve spent my career designing, building, and managing software projects. I’ve seen projects fail. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars get wasted.

I’ve started two companies in the software development space which have done millions in successful work for companies big and small.

Most projects fail because they’re terrible ideas or because of terrible product management. I can’t fix your bad ideas but I’ve got some thoughts on product management:

The philosophy to get behind is Fixed Skateboard Management.

Customers who embrace this idea tend to spend less than half of what customers who ignore it spend (or waste).

Whether you’re working with your own team, freelancers, or other outside vendors: this strategy will get everyone aligned for efficiency and success.

This isn’t my idea. I’m stealing two great ideas and combining them.


First, why Skateboards?

Skateboarding is a philosophy of building what matters most first, forgetting the rest, and delivering a smile to the user as soon as possible. Henrik Kniberg from Spotify popularized this method.

This graphic sums it up:

Products should be built like Skateboards, not cars. 
Think about the absolute minimum requirements to deliver value.
Don’t get lost in the details prematurely.

Products should be built:

Instead of imagining a perfect future and assembling parts of a product to have them magically come together in the end: focus on what matters most, first.

Example: Email and Facebook login or Email and LinkedIn login?

Wrong. It doesn’t matter. You aren’t building a login app. Have the app login automatically or fake it with a placeholder screen. Focus on what actually matters for your product. If you absolutely require a login, pick one type and move on until circling around after a skateboard is complete.


And then why Fixed?

Jason Fried and 37 signals popularized Fix Budget, Fix Timeline, Flex Scope. It’s made its way to both of my companies and the most successful customers, product managers, engineers, and designers I work with embrace it fully.

Fix Budget, Fix Timeline, Flex Scope.

I want to build an app. I want to be able to get pizza at the touch of a button. My skateboard is “I touch a button and receive a notification that my order has been received”.

That’s still not enough. You’re still giving engineers too much flexibility in terms of how they think about solving this problem alongside you. This will result in time being spent in the wrong places without knowing the time or financial constraints of your expectations.

Now, let’s try it again:

I want an iPhone app.
My skateboard is “I touch a button and receive a notification that my order has been received”.
Budget = 5k. Timeline = 4 weeks.
“Let’s work together to make the most of it.”

Budget equates to hours someone can spend on something. (ex: 100$/hr freelancer = 50 hours of budget. 100K/yr team member = 100 hours of budget.)

Timeline equates to speed. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming everything has to get worked on for 40 hours per week. This is hardly modern or efficient. Things can get done with 5 or 50 hour per week commitments. Plan appropriately.

Flex Scope:
Always define what’s most important and edit this for correctness as often as necessary. This will align the team around where time should get spent and stop you from wasting precious time and money.


To put it all together:
Fixed Skateboards will save you a ton of time and money when building your next software project.

Describe your skateboard, Fix budget, Fix timeline, Flex scope.

Follow these steps:

  1. Define your skateboard as best as you can, and as simply as you can
    ex: “I want an iPhone app. I touch a button and receive a notification that my order has been received”.
  2. Define budget. 
    ex: 5K (make this budget only as much as you’re willing to spend to test the next step).
  3. Define timeline.
    ex: 4 weeks (5K spent over 4 weeks will give you a lot of flexibility in finding resources, because they may not have to work full time to help effectively).
  4. Allow for scope to flex and update priorities as often as necessary.
    ex. You learn something new that affects your plan. Adjust your plan.

and study up on skateboards and fixing budget/timeline, flexing scope.

Fixed Skateboards help alleviate some common issues:

  • Building the wrong thing.
    You’ll know pretty quickly if you’re building the wrong thing. This way, you spend less making the mistake.
  • Going over budget.
    You can’t. There’s a fixed budget. You’ll flex scope instead.
  • Going past deadline.
    You can’t. There’s a fixed deadline and time stops for no-one. You’ll flex scope instead.
  • Misaligned incentives.
    This is a big one. So much work fails because of misaligned incentives. Sometimes, that’s due to bad intentions. More often, it’s due to never setting expectations as clearly as Fixed Skateboards will.

Disclaimer: Skateboards should not be used for “products built for millions”. You need to go through a lot of iteration before your product will be ready for millions. Skateboards will help get you there.

Happy producting,

Vlad

Want to submit your story to Product Management Insider? Click here for details.