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DevelopmentLeadershipSteveJ

A single set of priorities

by Steve Johnson

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.—George Harrison

crossing_guardWhen I started a new job as a product manager, my company president said, “You need to find out why development is broken. Our developers are terrible—they can’t seem to ship anything.”

So I sat down with my developers and said, “The word is that you’re terrible and never ship anything.”

(I’m so good with people!)

The lead developer said, “I’m sure that’s how it looks from the executive corner but, actually, we’re practicing what we call ‘requirements aging.’ We don’t work on anything for a month because some executive usually changes the requirements before we can begin.”

And sure enough, a few minutes later, the VP of Engineering came in and said, “Guys, stop what you’re doing. I’m getting new requirements.”

So the next week, I appeared at senior staff meeting and said, “I found the problem. It’s you. You keep changing your minds. You don’t seem to realize that one sentence from you is weeks or months of work for them. The reason they never finish anything is because you keep changing their priorities.”

I continued, “I’m setting up a new system. No one in this room is allowed to talk to the developers. If you have an idea, bring it to me, I’ll prioritize it and give it to development at the appropriate time. Here’s my promise: if you leave the developers alone, we’ll ship something in 90 days.”

And we did.

We created a process for shipping at the beginning of each quarter. Like clockwork.

It’s amazing what a “single voice of priority” can do.

No longer were the developers switching between tasks; no longer was an incomplete feature put on hold for a more important item.

Sure, we could change our priorities in line with business and market demands. But we weren’t changing the priorities daily… and we certainly weren’t changing them constantly.

Are you?

Your team needs a single set of priorities. What are you doing to keep your team focused on the most important things?

(Nowadays, I’m helping teams master the product management playbook. If you will, please share this post with a colleague or two.)

About the author

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product management community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement product management in an agile world. Sign up for his inspirational newsletter.

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