Is it more important to build the “right” thing, build the thing “right,” or treat the team “right?”
I have heard many explain how building the “right” thing is paramount. As the argument goes, without the “right” thing, nothing else matters. This argument has merit. Consider if there is no market for the product we choose to build. Does it matter how well we build it or the level of engagement felt by our teams?
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.”
— Steve Jobs
But assume the market has a need for our product. We can still get into trouble if we build to the need while ignoring quality and team health. It may not happen all at once, but in time, it will haunt us and threaten the success of our product.
When you focus on only one or two of these dimensions, you create a void. And it is easy to anticipate where things go awry when you don’t give each equal attention.
- Build a product with high quality and no customer need, and it becomes expensive shelf-ware.
- People do not stand in line to be a part of a disengaged team. This remains true even if this team manages to create a quality product that meets a customer need.
- Build a product that meets the customer need as part of a highly engaged team but with a low focus on quality. You can then sit back and watch as the technical debt slows your delivery to a crawl.
A balance of all three “right” aspects are important for a successful product. Let’s take a deeper look at each.
№1: Build the “Right” Thing
How do you build the “right” thing without engaging and empathizing with the needs of your customers? You don’t.
How do you build the “right” thing if you do not understand the goal you are trying to solve for your business. You don’t.
Can you get to a positive business impact without a positive customer outcome? No, you can’t.
“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
— Seth Godin
Lead time is often defined as the time it takes for an idea to go from concept to cash. When you build the “right” thing for your customers, you are not concerned about your own Lead time. Rather, you are more concerned about the Lead time of your customers. Your concern is with how your product improves the ability of your customers to turn their ideas into value.
Building the “right” thing requires you to sift through all ideas on the table and say, “No,” to most of them. You look for ideas that improve the ability of your customers to achieve their desired value. And at the same time, you select options that will achieve the target goals of your business.
And you can only do this with:
- An intimate understanding of your customers and their workflow needs.
- A deep understanding and stewardship of the goals of your business.
№2: Build the Thing “Right”
Building the thing “right” is about getting to “Done” with high quality. In Scrum, “Done” is defined as a potentially releasable product.
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”
You automate manual tasks such as testing so that you can refactor and integrate often with confidence. Your attention to quality allows you to prevent defects through test-first methods. And when you are not successful in preventing them, you detect issues fast and fix them without delay.
- Strategic. You might make a strategic decision to take on technical debt to deliver early. The cost of delay might be too great.
- Exploration. You are uncertain about a feature. So you build an experiment without the normal levels of quality to test it with customers. You make these experiments low fidelity to enable fast and inexpensive learning. The normal quality levels are not needed. If the experiment fails, you write off the quality debt as you discard the experiment. Although, if it works, you will then address any quality needs.
- Dependency Breaking. You have a dependency on another team that will delay delivery. You decide to create a work-around to break the dependency. In time, you will replace the work-around when the long-term solution becomes available.
A focus on building the solution “right” means you do not let debt you take on stay around for long. You keep it visible and eradicate it fast as you deliver new features. And you do this because you recognize the longer the debt lives on, the more the interest hurts. It slows your feature delivery and makes features more expensive to develop.
№3: Treat the Team “Right”
A small, determined team, in control of its destiny, striving to master its craft towards a common purpose can’t be beaten. This is the magic of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to create team engagement.
“The most valuable “currency” of any organization is the initiative and creativity of its members. Every leader has the solemn moral responsibility to develop these to the maximum in all his people. This is the leader’s highest priority.”
— W. Edwards Deming
Delivering the “right” product and delivering the product “right” tends to get all our attention. Treating the team “right” to cultivate engagement is often overlooked. But it is the special ingredient that makes the other two possible.
Building the “right” product is much easier when purpose fuels the team. Purpose emerges when a team has a pulse on its customers and its business. Rather than relying on intermediaries, the team should have direct interaction with their customers and business stakeholders. This is how a team builds true customer empathy. And it is how a team gets the needed understanding to pursue the objectives of the business.
Autonomy and mastery are equally important. The team does not need to be told how to build the product “right.” A team is the closest to the work and is the best equipped to build it “right.” The team will self-organize around solving the problem with attention to quality. It will master its craft. The team does not need to be managed in building the product “right.” But it does need the support of strong Agile Leaders.
With high team engagement, your product success is within reach. Treat your teams “right,” and you will enable the completion of the puzzle.
A successful product meets customer and business needs. It is built with uncompromising quality standards. And it has the might of a highly engaged team behind it. You need all three, and you feel it when one is missing.
The importance of team engagement is often overlooked. If you have to start with one of the three “rights”, create the conditions for high team engagement first. The other two will follow. And your great product will emerge.
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