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Product book club 2 - Escaping the build trapProduct book club 2 - Escaping the build trapProduct book club 2 - Escaping the build trap

Product book club 2 - Escaping the build trap

First published in 2018, Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perri, has quickly become core reading for both new and experienced product managers. Product managers love its simple, principles-focused approach, and that when applied properly, the concepts can help with every area of product management, from prioritizing what to build, to developing your own career.

The ‘Build trap’ is the situation so many product teams find themselves in, where they are focused on output – how many features they build, rather than outcomes – building the right thing. In the book, Melissa Perri provides guidance on how to break out of that cycle and move towards a more impactful outcome-focused approach.

Even though it’s been out for a long time now, product managers still get a lot out of the book, even more experienced product leaders, who find it a useful reminder to take a step back and ask the fundamental questions of their product, such as ‘What value does it give the user, and the company?’

In this session, we welcomed readers from Brazil, India, Sweden, the UK and the USA. It was a small group and we focused on practical tips and advice for escaping our own build traps. This article is a summary of the tips and advice we discussed in the session.

Key challenge: Escaping the build trap

The most popular challenge participants wanted to work on was around managing the shift from working on outputs to working on outcomes and encouraging that shift in your team and with your stakeholders.

This challenge is often made more complex for larger product organizations when product mangers are working on things that seem to be several steps away from business goals, or where the business goals are very high-level. In smaller companies, sometimes outcome-focused work can be pushed out when short term necessities trump longer term strategy.

With this in mind, we came up with the following tangible tips to help with the move from working on outputs to working towards outcomes.

Understand the metrics you can shift, and how they might relate to business goals

If the business goals seem far off, start with what you’re already working on. What metrics is it possible to shift with your area of the product and how do those relate to the business goals?

For example, if you are working on part of the product that serves end users, you could look at how frequently they use the product and how well it helps them achieve their goals. This might tie back to business goals such as increasing customer lifetime value. If your product serves internal customers, consider how well it helps them achieve their goals. For instance, the speed and reliability of an API might relate to broader goals on reducing costs or have a second-order impacts such as performance improvements for end users or enabling other areas of the business to deliver on outcomes they are working on.

Define outcomes and metrics for the features you’re working on already

Think about the items from your backlog you are already working on or due to work on. What are the outcomes you think each of them will create. Work with stakeholders to define those outcomes and how you will know whether you have achieved them.

For example, one attendee who works on a medtech product. They want to grow their customer base, so making the product as useful as possible for doctors is key to their business goals.

They are working on a set of features that serve up several key pieces of information for doctors, so outcomes they could look at are how easy it is to access the information and how useful doctors find it, as indicated by how quickly they get from searching the patients name to the information, and what percentage of patients in their total caseload they use it for.

For writing your outcomes and the metrics you expect to shift, strategyzer’s test card format is a simple, accessible way to get started. You can write your expected outcome in the ‘We believe that…’ box. For a more comprehensive look at working with outcomes, Josh Sieden’s Outcomes Over Output: Why customer behavior is the key metric for business success is excellent.

Once you have defined these outcomes and agreed them with stakeholders, it makes it much easier to prioritize your backlog and know whether the work you are doing is helping achieve those outcomes.

Focus on shifting one metric

Now that you have more idea on the outcomes and metrics associated with the items in your backlog, focus on shifting one of them at a time. That might mean ordering your work slightly differently.

By focusing on one thing, you’re more likely to have an impact, and if you manage to shift that metric, it gives you evidence that by working on one thing, an outcome you can focus on for the business, you can create more value.

Use what you have achieved as evidence for a trial of outcomes-based working

If you’ve followed the previous steps, you will have evidence that defining outcomes and using them to prioritise what you work on helps you create more value than you did by focusing on outputs alone.

Get some time with your manager, or whoever else you need to get permission from, and use this evidence to make the case for making a shift to outcomes-based working for the next quarter. During that quarter, gather the evidence you need to make a permanent shift to outcomes-based working a logical choice for the product team and the business.

In summary

When we wrapped up the session, everyone made a commitment to do things differently and the overwhelming majority of commitments were to implement one or more of the pieces of advice above.

With such a diverse group, that we were all able to find something worthwhile to commit to doing in our day-to-day work is testament to how valuable the advice in Escaping the Build Trap continues to be.

If you’d like to join or product book club, you can find out about upcoming books and sessions by signing up to our newsletter.

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