fwd: your ships are lost at sea
Welcome to Forward. Our unfiltered take on the world of digital products & strategy. Every two weeks, we're committed to providing you with highly opinionated content that will broaden your perspective and help you stay ahead of the curve.
This week: by downsizing your digital program in a smart way, you can actually increase its outcome.
By now, successful digital companies have realised that they are playing a long-term game. That requires a sustained commitment. Industry leaders have invested in their own software factories (or partnered with product studios).
Unfortunately, those teams are often not used to their full potential. Rather, they are reduced to feature factories. Output still trumps outcome. Static Excel sheets are still preferred over dynamic user feedback. (Looking at you, Roadmap2021-2025.xls.)
With the economy being weird, many companies will manage costs more strictly. Just look at all of the layoffs at nearly every tech company, and you know we have entered a new era in tech: one that is more tethered to business reality.
Customer-facing digital products are by their very nature business-critical. So those can’t and won’t be cut. But when it comes to how they are made, it is my fear the red marker will come for the wrong things.
"Devoid of a north star, your ship will just drift in some direction. Just not necessarily forward."
In this imagined fright, a hypothetical manager will want to cut waste. Everything that distracts from shipping software needs to go.
“Research? Well, we’ve been in this business for decades, so it’s pretty clear what we should build. Product management? Heck, that’s what we have our quarterly planning for.”
These are all things this imaginary manager would say. (I have a weird imagination.)
Ultimately, they will end up with only the software engineers. (Now don’t get me wrong: great engineers are a crucial asset to any business.) And yes, those engineers will — free of any distractions — ship away.
But, devoid of a north star (as all research and product people have left the building), that ship will just drift aimlessly. In some direction. Just not necessarily forward.
Building software is more than, well, building software. At least, if you value outcome over output. Or moving forward over simply moving.
And if you’re not a fan of my poetic musings on motion, I’ll let one number speak for itself. It’s estimated that up to 50% of development efforts are wasted on features that nobody wants. So, actually adding 1 user researcher doubles your development team. That is to say: the value it creates.