Measuring Value: Direction and Intent
By Matt Ring ,Jeff Gallimore ,Betty Junod ,Andrew Davis ,Dwayne Holmes
This post is excerpted from the DevOps Enterprise Forum paper “Measuring Value: Navigating Uncertainty to Build the Right Thing for Our Customers and Our Business.”
Understanding Direction and Strategic Intents
Unless you operate as a member of your company’s C-suite, much of your company’s direction is beyond your control. Therefore, the better you understand the direction and context in which you’re operating, the more likely you’ll be to identify how you and the teams around you can help. So, the key questions to ask are:
- What is our company’s (or line of business’) vision and mission right now?
- Where are we headed?
- What specific challenges are standing in the way of reaching our vision?
- What problems can we address to tackle these challenges from a digital product (or product portfolio) perspective?
These are questions you should be able to ask any senior leader in the organization. And, if they are unable to articulate those, that is a clear first problem to solve. Most likely, they have thought of answers to these questions in their own minds, if not also stated them explicitly (verbally or in writing). If not, these questions can prompt further reflection and exploration. After all, if senior leadership cannot articulate the direction and why it matters, then why should we expect the rest of the organization to know what they should focus on?
Most product teams will not be able to impact a company’s financial goals directly. Therefore, product teams should instead focus on the product outcomes that they believe will move the business forward, using the company’s strategic context as their north star. The more you understand the context in which you’re operating, the more likely you’ll be able to identify problems or opportunities in which your product can help the company to achieve its goals.
Share This Direction and Relevance with Teams Often
It is critical for leaders to translate how the work of the product team contributes and aligns with higher-level company or business goals. Offering statements like, “We need to help increase revenue” will often feel too vague and disconnected for most teams to grasp—at least those that do not engage directly with customers or sales as part of their daily work. Teams need to understand the impact of their work on customers and colleagues. It is the role of leaders and managers to continuously translate an organization’s purpose into terms each team and individual can understand.
Once teams understand the overarching purpose of their actions, they can more easily make independent decisions to generate ideas and solve problems in service of that aligned mission. As David Marquet says in his book Turn the Ship Around, don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.* Do this by giving teams both the technical competence and organizational clarity to make decisions that align with higher-level business goals.
For example, let’s take the statement “we need to help increase revenue” from earlier and show how this might apply from an output → outcome → impact standpoint. As mentioned, this goal is likely too distant for any single team or individual to feel they can directly impact. When defining what is valuable, it is important to speak at the right level of specificity, depending on the level of the organization. This is not the same as making solution-based decisions and then handing those down. For example:
- A senior leader may create a goal to increase revenue for the organization through increased sales via direct-to-consumer channels. This is an impact goal with the strategic intent included (i.e., we want to increase revenue specifically through our direct-to-consumer channels).
- The e-commerce product value stream (containing multiple technology product teams) may identify that one way to increase revenue is by processing sales quicker after a customer has made their decision. This would decrease the time to process and purchase and increase customer satisfaction. These are outcomes.
- An individual product team may identify that, for purchases requiring financing, the credit decisioning process could be automated. This is an example of an output.
- The more that teams understand what is within their sphere of control and influence, the better they can go after meaningful value opportunities. The more clearly leaders can articulate the higher-level direction and strategic intents, the more easily technology teams can align in that direction.