Failure Ain’t Nothing but a Learning Thing: An Agile Perspective
I’m a product manager, and I pulled the plug on a feature about midway through our release cycle. This wasn’t exactly painless: I had reached out to nearly a dozen customers for input so I had to circle back and tell them the news; the team had already completed stories around the feature so we had to hit the undo button; and I had to stand up before my peers at our go-to-market meetings and remove the feature from consideration.
I realized that I had fallen into a trap John Cutler (@johncutlefish) describes in his blog “Faster. Faster. Faster.” I had become so obsessed with building the feature I had lost perspective on solving a problem. I was living on the right side of John’s diagram:
Unfortunately, this realization doesn’t hit you like a two-by-four. Instead, it buzzes around the periphery like a mosquito in the room. The nagging indicator in this case was our struggle to agree on a UI.
We’d get smart people in the room, full of smart ideas, but we’d continuously get dragged down into the same lousy UX. Eventually, it became obvious that we were forcing ourselves into contortions because we were starting with the solution and then trying to retrofit the problem definitions to align with our preconceived notions.
Learning from Failure: The Agile Way
If failure ain’t nothing but a learning thing, then what was learned?
Specifically, I wish I had been more diligent when I created an A/B survey for my customers. Instead of pushing to discover specific use cases, I fell into the “everything for everybody all the time” strategy that led my customers to agree with every possible option.
Generally, beware once your ego takes a seat at the table—that way lies a feature factory. Also, don’t think of impediments as things to be overcome. Impediments aren’t the enemy; they are indicators of where your energy needs to be focused.
We’re taking another look at this feature, or more probably some approximate facsimile feature, concentrating on defining critical use cases and getting agreement from our stakeholders on the problems to be solved. Already, things are going noticeably smoother.
One final takeaway. Alexi Pappas is an Olympic runner who has gone fairly viral on Twitter (@AlexiPappas). She spends a lot of her time instilling confidence in high-strung high school cross-country runners. Turns out her advice is pretty good for product managers, too.
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