How to scale yourself: the ‘99/50/1’ framework

Manage products and scale yourself in chaotic environments

Robleh Jama
Jun 14, 2016 · 8 min read

I was having lunch with my friend Brennan, from SoapBox, and we talked about growing a company. He mentioned this great method for managing multiple products in a chaotic environment (typically startups).

Being a founder, product manager or director can be tricky. The more stuff there is to build and manage, the easier it is for stuff to slip through the cracks. Quality declines or backlog builds up.

You need to scale yourself.

In order to avoid both those unpleasant fates, Brennan told me about the 1/50/99% framework — I’ve since flipped it to the 99/50/1% method — which he uses to stay on top of multiple projects. The method is a framework for when you should check in with your product teams. I’ve taken it and adapted it to my own studio.

If you want to use this method, you should check in with your product team at these critical points:

  • During the beginning of the project, when there’s still 99% of the work left to be done
  • The halfway point, where there’s around 50% of the work left
  • Just before the finish line, where there’s 1% left to complete

Of course, you should be available to support, provide direction and get your hands dirty at all times and help eliminate roadblocks or clear up any confusion.

99%: High Level Strategy (Problem and Solution Definition)

You want to get involved to help set the direction of the product. This is an extremely important phase. It’s almost like hitting a golf ball. If you make an adjustment to your swing early on and change where you hit the ball by a few degrees or even millimeters, the ball will end up in a very different place as an end result.

Typically, this involvement happens as a kickoff meeting(s) and/or initial design sprints.

The most important outcome of this is for you and your team to set your vision and goals (“We want to be the best at…” or, “We want users to say [this] about us”).

You also want to clearly communicate what success looks like. Most of the time, we try to make it as simple as possible by jointly setting objectives and key results (OKRs).

Once the team is on the same page and understands success metrics, we get a bit more concrete. Here, you want to figure out deliverables, timelines, and milestones for the product. You’ll also want to start defining the team and roles.

During this kickoff meeting, you want to start considering the look and feel of the product. More importantly, you want to define the fundamental product and set direction for its features. There are generally three features we talk about in this kickoff meeting, which are based on the KANO model:

  • Basic Characteristics: “These are the characteristics we take for granted. Customers don’t typically mention them, simply because they are so important or basic to the value equation.”
  • Satisfiers: “Satisfier characteristics are those that customers want as opposed to expect. The more we deliver, the happier the customer. Doing well here allows us to create satisfied customers.”
  • Delighters: “Delighters are those characteristics that represent a positive surprise to the customer. They are totally unexpected. As such, if they are not present, they cause no dissatisfaction. Moreover, customers will not mention such things as important on customer surveys because they are, after all, totally unexpected by definition. But when delivered to the customer, delighters raise satisfaction and loyalty.”

This kickoff meeting is a group exercise that involves the entire product team. We typically end up finding consensus, but if the situation calls for it I will make the final call. That’s your responsibility as well.

By the end of the kickoff meeting, if all goes well, we’re all marching in the same direction, we have a very clear idea of what we need to do, and we have a very clear goal we’re all working towards. Everybody should feel enabled to get the project done, and should feel really great about starting and getting from 99% incomplete to 50% incomplete.

Ideally, you should also allocate some resources to figure out launch planning. A great launch starts from day one.

Here are some of the activities that typically keep my team busy between 99% and 50%:

  • Technical scoping
  • Competitive research
  • Lightning demos
  • User research and insights
  • Wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing
  • Building basic features

You can contribute to each of these exercises by providing references, critiques or sitting in on certain workshops, but you’re not required for it. Jump out!

50%: Provide Feedback (Course Correction)

So your team has been working hard on product, and is now ready to provide feedback. It’s the 50% mark. Hooray, you’re almost more or less halfway there!

At this point, your team should have gone through some design iterations. Ideally, there’s a functioning prototype for you to try out. The product has evolved and it’s actually tangible. Naturally, to prepare for this phase, you should actually use the alpha or beta product. This feedback stage can be two meetings — one that’s more about design, and one that’s more about development.

Design Critique

With the design meetings, you want to provide specific product feedback. Look for things that don’t feel right — perhaps they’re not moving your user closer to their goal, or don’t fit in with the vision and objectives. Remove those things or fix them so that they fit in with the rest of the product.

You’ll also want to share feedback on the UI/UX of the product. Review the user research and testing that has happened earlier, and look at whatever data has been collected. Figure out the key insights, what you’re learning from your activities and how you’re implementing it.

In terms of visuals, look at the details and consistency. Make sure that the user experience and flow, or architecture, of the app makes sense and that there aren’t any gaps.

Development Feedback

This feedback is all about functionality, performance, speed, stability. Make sure that certain elements are where they’re supposed to be and that the app looks like it was meant to (we use Zeplin for this.) Similar to the design feedback phase, you still want to keep your eyes peeled for elements that you can take out.

At this point, the product is still incomplete, and there’s probably still quite a long way to go. Check that you are on schedule with the milestones you set at the initial kickoff meeting. You might have to readjust some estimates.

Looking forward, here are some of the activities that keep our team busy from 50% — 1%:

  • Product design iterations
  • More research
  • Usability testing
  • More development
  • Completed basic features, adding satisfiers and delighters now
  • Launch preparation

By the way, chances are it’s not all going smoothly and that there will need to be some calibration on estimates. That’s okay. Going into this review, you must be prepared to allocate some more resources or put in more time if the project isn’t unfolding as planned. Sometimes, you might personally need to be more involved and get more hands on with management or contribution.

If all is going smoothly, then jump out!

1%: Finalizing the Product

Oh wow, the launch is just around the corner! That was quick. But don’t get fooled. As any seasoned developer, designer, or product manager knows, the last 10% of the product is critical. It always takes a lot of time.

It’s actually called the ninety ninety rule:

“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.” — Tom Cargill, Bell Labs

Here, you want to really examine the tiny details closely (look at the app’s polish, copy changes, positioning tweaks, and pixel perfection details).

For the most part, here you want to be preparing for the app’s release and launch. You could be enjoying the fruits of planning for your launch earlier (unfortunately, you’ll most likely be scrambling to figure out plans).

Closing thoughts

One last piece of advice from Brennan is to work this method into the language of your company. It’s important to set expectations on the type of feedback you’re looking for. If a project is at 1% (remaining) make sure you state that before asking for feedback. The only things that should be coming up at that stage are critical blockers — anything else is a separate conversation.

The 99–50–1 method enables you to get a lot more out of your time and make sure your work guides the delivery of great product.

Although I’ve listed out the specific meetings that work for me and my team, I also think the method is adaptable enough to work for teams of all sizes and industries, and should be tweaked accordingly. Try this method of management as your responsibilities change and grow. (Which is a good problem to have!)

If you like this post, you might also like:

Robleh Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning product studio. They make their own products like Next Keyboard, Wake Alarm and Quick Fit — as well as products for clients like Plantronics and Philips.

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Thanks to Brennan McEachran 👨‍🚀

Robleh Jama

Written by

Product @Shopify. Previously founder @tinyheartsapps — an award-winning mobile product studio acquired in 2016 by Shopify.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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