Not Even Wrong – The Holistic Product Dashboard 8

June 2014
Stockholm, Papas Deli

One of the most important insights of the new systems theory is that life and cognition are inseparable. The process of knowledge is also the process of self-organization, that is, the process of life.
– Fritjof Capra

Yes, it’s yet another model. I must confess that I revert to blogging about my models when I don’t have any new decent writing – which is actually from the book – to present. I’m currently entrenched in research mode and spend a lot more time reading than writing.

I’d like to talk somewhat about holism by way of an example. The topic of holism will run like a red thread through this here book I’m writing, so I thought it might make some sense to write about something related.

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The first image you see is my attempt towards a holistic dashboard that visualizes an organisations efforts to reach their product vision, and ultimately move the organization to the larger, grander super ultra vision.

The model presents “Vision Pillars” that are answers to the question “what do we mean when we say the best X in the world” (or in what ever terms we chose to express our vision).

Many organisations don’t work towards their vision – even on paper. The reasons for this usually has to do with money, which can be quite frustrating and demotivating for the people involved. In those cases, the vision starts to feel disingenuous after a while, and people begin to wonder if we should perhaps just be true to ourselves and replace the nice sounding vision to something like “make money for shareholders”, or “reach the goal of the most influential member on the management team” or “what the CEO wants”. At least then people get an opportunity to see the direction that the decisions support, and then they don’t have to suffer total confusion each time new announcements are made. This could dampen some frustrations.

The problem is of course that truthfulness and transparency in this area also allow people to assess if they want to spend their work life pursuing this actual vision, when they were recruited believing that they would work towards the pronounced vision. Truthfulness opens up for a “like it or leave” choice. This is probably why we see so much lip service in connection to visions, which is a rather disturbing lack of honesty towards the staff, if done on purpose. Most of the time though, I wouldn’t suspect foul play. If you hear the words “We’re a profit-driven business, after all. Nothing strange about that”, I’d say you’re dealing with someone who has never asked questions such as “What is the purpose of this organisation?” or even “What is the purpose of any organisation?”.

If you spend some time reflecting on such things, you might end up believing, as I do, that we need profit in order to survive. And just as in life, the only point of surviving is so that you we can keep on having fun, keep growing and do some good in the world. Corporations provide economic safety to people so they can feed themselves and their kids and pursue their dreams. In organisations, as in life, the journey is the goal. But I digress.

Suffice it to say, for many of us it’s important to feel that there’s a higher purpose than money. Modern motivational psychology seems to agree with that sentiment. Vision Pillars are in my experience a good way for us to make sure we feel that we’re actually working towards our vision, as we can follow the assumed causality.

Now, most Product Managers live far to the left in the model, in the vision pillar I’ve chosen to call “Most Usable”. This is where features live. Product people love features. For good reason. It’s fun to build new stuff that helps solve people’s problems and make their life easier or more joyous. It’s also very clear that many dive into “feature-by-feature” comparisons with the competition and then somehow think that if we match or excel at a feature level we must be “better” and that this would somehow ensure that we “win”. This places a lot of unhealthy trust in our competition that they get things right, and reduces us to reactive followers in the market place.

So this model is actually in some sense a response to the feature fanatics. Any product have a collection of aspects that all need to be taken into account when developing products. If you build products that are enjoyed online,  as many of us do, the most usable kick ass feature in the world is worth absolutely nothing if the site goes down, or if it’s terribly slow, or if the customers can’t figure out how to use the feature. Furthermore, most products have a core offer and the rest is “just” nice to have add ons. There might be more value in improving on your core value than adding new stuff. The Kano model can be a helpful thinking tool when you assess your product from that perspective. We’ll get back to Kano later.

In this example I have chosen the following vision pillars:

  • Most Usable – solves customers problems.
  • Usability – easy to understand and use.
  • Performance – Uptime, speed etc
  • Look and Feel – visual design, transitions etc
  • Most Accessible – works on all screens

Below the Vision pillars you see cells representing stuff we do in service of the goal the pillars represent. The things we find in these cell are preferably expressed as questions. As in “How can  we help our users achieve X”. A green frame around a cell signifies that this is the question that we’re currently trying to answer. This then, means it’s work in progress, which makes this model a nice companion to a Enterprise Kanban board (see image two)

Above each pillar you see three cells: “Current State”, “Goal 2014” and “How we measure”, together with the possibility to grade our current state and our desired state, inspired by the scaling approach found in Solution Focus. It allows for us to ask “today we grade ourselves as a four, and we’d really like to bump our grade up to a six this year. How can we close the gap between our current state (four) and our desired state (six). What can we do? Any ideas?”. I’ve come across quite a few people who think that this is a very simplistic approach, upon which I reply “thank you”, choosing to hear “easy to understand and use” instead. You would have to prove to me that making this more complicated is in any way helpful.

Above that you see two enablers. The first is “Team, Process, People”, and here we concern ourselves with the development of these three important aspects, as I believe that we need to have an eye on the  long term development of how work works and the development of the people doing the work. It would be rather difficult reaching any grand “best in the world” vision without this investment in continuous improvement and development of people. Taking the long view is key, I believe, and I very much disapprove of short-termism.

The second enabler is “Customer Service”, as I believe that how we help our customers could well be considered a feature of our product. Both these “enablers” could be placed in vision pillars of their own, but I chose to present them this way to explain my position that there’s much worth to be found in thinking about what we need to have in place in order to reach our goals, not just what we have to “build”.

Above these enablers you see the Product Vision and the Organisation Vision.

So, we have now reached the point where we can clearly see how it all fits together. Everyone in the team can see that the current assumption is that IF they work on feature A THEN we can raise our grade from a five to a seven, which means we are “More Usable”, and this takes us closer to our Product Vision, and we assume that by doing that we move closer to our Organisation Vision.

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In image number two you can see how the Holistic Product Dashboard integrates with my proposed organisation structure and the three aspects of what we should do – the trends – what we want to do – the product vision – and what we can do – the kanban board, which illustrates how we keep an eye on our capacity. The green framed work items you see in the WIP column, is the same value options we see in the Holistic Product Dashboard, and they’re also shown as label in the yellow “Plan-Do-Learn” cycles, which is where our cross functional teams work their iterative magic.

Earlier posts on “Not Even Wrong”