Keeping Your Product Teams Focused

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Why Focus?

Focus is an important superpower for product teams to have. At its simplest, focus is about selectively concentrating on one aspect of something while ignoring the others. As we build digital products our customers love, we want to be able to focus on their most important problems or needs. Without focus, we can easily drift into a rhythm where we try to address too many customer needs or problems at the same. If you’ve ever worked on a product team that lacks focus, you probably got the feeling that it was taking a long time to (or never) really finish anything. That’s not a good feeling.

Focusing on What to Solve

Part of focus is identifying a few problems or needs that your team wants to lean into and solve. These should hopefully be aligned with your product vision and any business objectives your team may have been given. Once your team has pinpointed a specific need or problem to focus on, your next step is to identify insights that will help your product team decide what to achieve. Those insights can come from your customers, product data, competitor research, industry insights, etc.

Next, your team should come up with actions to take in your product that can achieve the need or problem you decided on. These actions state an outcome you want to accomplish in your product that’s measurable in some form. Typically, an action is captured in the form of an Objective and Key Result (OKR). An OKR simply states what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure that you successfully achieved it. Make sure your leadership team is on board with what you want to accomplish and what your team is going to focus on.

Identify Solutions to Focus On

With a solid goal in place, your team can now focus on achieving it in your product. This is where we let our teams get creative in figuring out potential solutions. A good way to do this is to follow a discovery process where your product manager, engineering lead and product designer start to uncover potential solutions that can be tested and that will help reach your objective. And don’t forget the rest of your engineers! Make sure your engineering team is speaking into the process as well. Having them take part in some of your discovery sessions with customers will help uncover new ideas you may not have thought of. Product teams often overlook this part.

Focusing on Thin Slices of Value

As you validate each solution, the team can quickly break it down into iterative slices of value. One great way to do this is by using value curves. A value curve helps us slice a solution into thin versions of functionality  that we can deliver to customers over time. A simple example of slicing a solution is creating a bank transaction screen for your customer. The first version displays a simple list of transactions, the second version groups transactions by date, the third version provides the logos of the companies, and the fourth version lets you to search for specific transactions. Thinking about solutions this way ensures that we keep delivering small chunks of functionality to our customers quickly to get feedback to see if we’ve solved their problem or need. Value curves can help us do that.

Your team can break down each slice of the value curve into a set of customer stories that the team can focus on delivering. After we deliver a slice, we move to the next stop along the value curve and break down that work. We’ll continue to evaluate along the way to see if we have completed enough or if we need to keep going. An important part of this process is that we limit the focus to a single slice in the value curve. As the team delivers new functionality from the value curve, they’re staying focused on finishing that work only. They aren’t working on two or three different slices of the curve at the same time. They’re finishing one as a team and then moving to the next slice.

Your product team can continue this flow until they’ve reached their goal. If you need more ideas or solutions to accomplish the objective, that’s okay. That’s expected and normal. We usually never get it right the first time. Your product team should continue to validate other potential solutions through your discovery process and then use the steps above to break that work down into thin slices.

Develop Your Focus Superpower

Encourage your teams to develop their focus superpower. Keep them focused on a single problem or need that your customers have. And resist the temptation to work on lots of potential problems at the same time. Pick the most important one and let your team come up with solutions to solve that problem or need. Then, help them focus on delivering thin slices of customer value quickly. Don’t try to deliver your solution all at one time. Roll out small chunks to your customers and get the needed feedback to see if you’ve solved their problem.