When I was around 16 years old I had a job in a bicycle storage at a railroad station. This job paid very well for a young guy and you mainly had to sell tickets so people could store their bikes for the night.

The thing was that shifts where Saturday evening and Sunday morning. This means, being a young guy, I would go from the late shift to the city and have a beer with friends.

The boss was not impressed with me and my colleagues lack of energy each Sunday morning. So he told us we had to make up the display on Sunday and polish 10 bikes. So we did. We did, however, have no clue why we needed to do this apart from the fact that it seemed he wanted us to appear busy.

We made up the display exactly like you would expect: Quick and easy. You could describe it as messy and not very appealing.

This reminds me so much of how we create products sometimes. In the case of the display we weren’t told about the different goals of the display. For instance if there were three bikes of an older series, we should make them more visible in the display so that people would buy them and we could start promoting the new and improved series. Create some buzz around them since it would be in the benefit of the company to sell them as fast as possible.

But we didn’t know the goal. And we didn’t ask. And we just threw some items in the display. It was a truly goalless display.

So looking at most development and maintenance teams I see the same kind of outcomes because of lack of (shared) business goals. We don’t know the goal. And we don’t ask. And we focus on clearing the backlog.

Business goals and objectives are rarely stated. Or they are but they are not shared. (Maybe that’s even worse. Since there seem to be time spend on creating them.) And with lack of goals the justification of why we are doing what we are doing is often in the line of:

  • The Product Owner told us,
  • The business want’s it (and who the hell is this mysterious “business” we can always refer to but we never see and meet?),
  • We do it like this the past 10 years,
  • If we do not do this, person x will get mad,

From goalless to purposeful

To turn a goalless display to a purposeful one we need to start at the beginning. What do we want to gain from it? What are our goals? Which problems are we going to solve?

And after setting the goals and setting up the display physically, we should measure the effectiveness of the setup. Did we sell these three bikes like we wanted? How many people did ask for the brochure? If not, we might have to slightly change the display and try again in order to reach the goals.

In order to prevent feature gluttony and unused features in software products we need to do just the same. Defining objectives and measuring the outcomes.