PM's Meta Framework: How do you decide what to focus on?
Managing feature prioritization is a well understood & well-documented challenge for a PM. But as a PM, you are responsible for much more than prioritizing features; you are responsible for a team that is aligned, focused, learning & delivering continuously. Given each of these are rabbit holes of their own, how do you find the right balance? On a given day, how do you ensure you are focusing on the right problem?
In the early days of GO-JEK, I found myself lost & juggling multiple of these priorities that all felt equally critical. I constantly felt guilty that I am prioritizing the wrong things. I needed something that will solve this problem for me, easily & consistently. Over a period I came up with a checklist that worked for me & my team; I call it the "Meta Checklist".
I used the Meta Checklist my attention every time I felt lost. Going over this framework every 15 days became an exercise in reflection for me. Over the period I wrote this framework it down & encouraged my team to use it themselves. The result was a team that kept me honest & asked the tough questions.
I hope you also find this framework a useful starting point.
The Meta Checklist
- Is the team aligned? Does everyone in the team believe in the metrics tree we are attacking right now?
- Metrics is how we understand the product space. We use it for prioritization as well as compromises. If the team does not believe in these metrics & their relationship with each other, the team is not on the same page.
- At this point, we either have an unmotivated team which is just doing what they are told OR we have a motivated but misaligned team, which is trying to pull the project in different directions. Both are unacceptable.
- If such alignment doesn't exist, our Highest ROI Activity is to redefine metrics in a way that has the whole team's buy-in.
- It's also important to have a pragmatic team that understands the reality of insufficient information. The team is expected to Disagree & Commit in such situations.
- Is the team focused? Is the team working on the biggest bottlenecks identified as per the metrics tree?
- With clear metrics, we get a clear understanding of bottlenecks. Team's mindshare & timeshare must be focused on these bottlenecks, to get the highest ROI. Working on other metrics do not really help us achieve our objectives faster.
- Many times the team will find itself focusing on the non-bottleneck metrics. This can happen due to external pressure or shiny object syndrome or simply because our understanding of the domain has evolved since the last prioritization.
- If we do find ourselves doing so, reprioritizing pods to focus on the most important metrics is the Highest ROI Activity.
- Are we effective in our delivery? Are all pods methodical in their execution? Are they following the best practices required for tight execution?
- Be it feature prioritization, code quality, user research OR system uptime; putting thoughts, decisions & plans on paper is the single most effective way of clarifying as well as communicating them. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure we have Inefficient Execution.
- Splitting large work in smaller chunks that gets to production frequently is critical to mitigating any type of risk early. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure there is Wastage in Development.
- Having moderately frequent planning meetings & retrospectives is critical to learn from our mistakes. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure that we are Repeating the Same Mistakes again & again.
- Are we efficient in our learning? Are all pods iterating through a healthy rhythm of low-cost learning, productizing & scaling?
- Effective product delivery is faster delivery in the right direction. Unfortunately, in product development, our understanding of the market/customer is never complete & thus our understanding of right direction is never final. Effectively; we have to take continuous learning as a first-class problem.
- If we are constantly able to maintain the rhythm of low-cost learning, productizing & scaling; we can be sure that we are course correcting as efficiently as possible.
- If we are NOT in that rhythm, unless we have an exceptionally good reason to stop learning, it's better to slow down delivery and focus on getting that rhythm back.
- Are all the external stakeholders aligned with the metrics & roadmap of the team?
- Other stakeholders & their metrics need to be aligned with this team’s metrics. If not, there will be friction & wastage at some point in the future. The farther down the road we align, higher the existing wastage & more difficult to change people's mind.
- This includes other teams like sales, marketing, ops, etc. & also individuals like CEO or COO who are not executing directly, but aligning rest of the organization & external stakeholders.
- If such alignment doesn’t exist, it is critical that it gets fixed ASAP.
- As a PM, prioritizing features is just a tiny part of your overall responsibilities
- Having a framework to prioritization what to focus on helps you think about your product holistically
- Having a shared prioritization framework will enable your team to think of the bigger picture constantly
- Use the above checklist only as your starting point; you should absolutely change it as you & your team sees fit.
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