Slicing ideas – choose your weapon!

[Warning: this post is a work in progress]

One of the cheapest ways to tilt the playing field is to reduce the batching together of features and requirements. It was a big part of what we did at Maersk Line – which led to delivering in half the previous lead-time, 80% reduction in quality issues and delivering significantly more value.

Often though, ideas and opportunities don’t arrive naturally broken down into features. A well-functioning idea pipeline will see all shapes and sizes and the arrival is random. Some ideas will need to be sliced and diced in order to deliver value early and often.

If you’re slicing and splitting user stories, Richard Lawrence has written a guide to help at the user story level that you would typically see within a team. But how do you approach the sort of ideas or strategies that we typically see at the organisation or portfolio level?

Here’s a few options and angles that you might want to consider when attempting to choosing how to slice – and figure out where to start. It should go without saying, but ALL of these should be aligned with maximising the value delivered as quickly as possible. Which you choose, and why, really depends on your context. There is no one-size fits all. Sometimes you need a tiny paring knife, other times a butter knife is perfect. Sometimes a serrated edge makes a huge difference. Out in the wild, sometimes you need a machete. In some cases, the blade on a bull-dozer is actually the perfect tool for the job.

(This is an incomplete list which I intend to add to along the way. If you’ve any angles or perspectives that have worked well for you, let us know in the comments).

I’ve grouped the slicing perspectives into three rough areas. The problem, the target and the solution. These areas are only working titles:

Why – the problem

Job-to-be-Done – What jobs are customers going to hire your product or service for? If it is more than one, then you may want to consider focusing on just one of these first. Which job is currently the most under-served or painful?  Which is the slowest, most expensive, least accessible, or with the worst user experience? Which job has the widest initial reach? You also need to consider not just the user’s perspective: which job is easiest for you to make faster, cheaper, or improve along the parameter that is currently underserved? Perhaps you could start there?

Parameters that matter – Using the JTBD thinking, what are the parameters that matter for doing the job? Can it be faster? Can it be cheaper? Can it be lighter or smaller? Persistent jobs-to-be-done can be automated, but they are rarely eliminated. What are the parameters that matter for doing the job you’re focusing on? Speed, Cost, Weight… If your product doesn’t serve the job-to-be-done better than others on one or more parameters that matter it will struggle.

Who – the target market

Demography – Is there some subset of the target market, users or “persona” that you could concentrate on first? Which user group is currently churning fastest? Which is the least risky; growing the fastest; youngest; oldest, etc? You might even want to choose a single stakeholder (the CEO, or whoever is paying the bills) or perhaps an anti-stakeholder (the competition). Which of these could you start with?

Geography – If you could choose to serve only one geography, city, town, street or building or segment of the market, which would you choose? Perhaps you should start there?

Profitability – which is the most profitable single element that a customer could actually purchase? Perhaps you could start there?

Time sensitivity – Is anyone’s life at risk? Is there a situation Where are the fires burning the brightest, customers according to whichever

What – the solution:

Testability – what is the smallest thing we could do that would allow us to reduce the uncertainty of technical feasibility, market-fit or other risk?

Usability – Which individual step of the workflow makes the most sense to start with? Which steps of the workflow are the minimum to actually do anything useful? How about to satisfy a regulator? Perhaps you could start with one of these?

Commercial Viability – Which element do we need in order for the product to be worth paying money for?

Virality – which element would generate the most attention and spread the furthest with minimal input. Perhaps you could start there?

Risk sensitivity – What is the riskiest part? Which technical problem could make or break this? Is there some aspect of the market that is greater than others? Perhaps you could start there?

You can combine one or more of these slicing approaches to find something small that represents the most valuable starting point. Ultimately, ALL of these should attribute value to one or more of the four value buckets. In the end, they are all about value.

Comments 1

  1. Thanks for the link to my story splitting stuff.

    For the last couple years, I’ve been working on this same problem of slicing big ideas to find the first few minimum marketable features. The key, I’ve found, is to get people representing both business and technical perspectives to pool what they know about value, complexity, risk, and uncertainty for the big idea, with the goal of finding early slices that will provide some value, risk mitigation, and/or learning without taking on all of whatever makes the big idea big. Your heuristics describe several of these intersections.

    More often than not, when we go through this exercise, it turns out that the thing that contributes most to the size of the effort only adds incremental value, risk mitigation, or learning. In other words, there’s an 80/20 pattern where you can defer a lot of the difficulty.

    I’ve formalized a way of facilitating this conversation into something I call Feature Mining, which I teach in my 80/20 Product Ownership online course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *