The Overlap is a newsletter somewhere between product development and organizational development. The Overlap will continue to hit your inbox every other Wednesday.
Some photos from my trip to Patagonia and Colombia here.
Do you know the saying “ideas are cheap”? Ideas are cheap… to add to a board. They’re just expensive to do.
Software helps us create work more than it helps us complete work. Add a ticket to a kanban board. Write the job-to-be-done. Assign an owner. Boom. Work captured.
This naturally results in a ton of tasks to do . Because they’re under to do , we feel beholden to complete every 👏🏽 single 👏🏽 task. Teams get overwhelmed. They don’t hit their projected velocities. So they work longer. And grow resentful.
All while managers create timelines around these to dos and frame them as their “roadmap” to their colleagues. Less gets done than managers expect because there’s tons of work in progress. So managers also grow bitter.
What if we relieved ourselves of the burden that every single task under to do needs to be done?
Create clean boundaries between ideas and committed work
It’s actually not software’s fault that we can’t deprioritize committed work—most tools have a delete button. It’s our fault.
When we delete a task we created, we feel like we lost a part of ourselves. When someone else deletes a task we created, our egos get bruised. When we think about deleting someone else’s task that they created, we feel like we’re stepping on their toes.
We make it personal. Or interpersonal.
When it’s often not.
It’s not a personal/interpersonal problem. It’s a process (or strategy) problem. Your team or organization has not built a practice of prioritizing work.
Separate creating tasks from prioritizing tasks
If you’re in this situation, the step you can take is this: separate the act of creating tasks from prioritizing tasks.
One way you can do this:
Invite your team to add ideas for what they can work on to a shared board.
Use the framework to prioritize them!
Recap which pieces of work aren’t worth pursuing at the moment.
Of course, doing steps 1-4 is more nuanced than how it’s written above. But the key here is to coach your team on how creating tasks is different from prioritizing tasks, and that separating the two “modes” will help your team get more done (and not burn themselves out)!
What if my team is busy? We don’t have time for more meetings!
If your team is time-crunched, repurpose an existing meeting on your team’s calendar to do steps 1-4. While separating the “creating tasks meeting” from the “prioritizing tasks meeting” creates a clear boundary, you don’t need separate meetings to separate creating from prioritizing.
Open, explore, close
Daniel Stillman, a master facilitator and friend of mine, frames meetings (or portions of a meeting) in one of three ways: open, explore, and close.
Open means we welcomes all ideas. The purpose is to get as many ideas out there.
Explore means we discuss the ideas. We get curious, inquire, and ask questions. We improve the ideas so that we’re equipped with the information to prioritize them in a future meeting.
Close means we prioritize ideas. We get ruthless and choose the ideas that are most impactful and feasible. Then we commit!
What do I do if our organization doesn’t have a strategy?
Many product managers don’t have a clear organizational strategy to work off of. That’s okay. Do what you can to create a product strategy, and use it to guide your prioritization. Even if your organizational strategy is unclear. Your product strategy will create more awareness around the fact that an organizational strategy is needed, too.
More on articulating a product strategy here.
Prioritize your prioritization framework
By separating creating work from prioritizing work, we prevent the resentment that occurs from taking on too much low-impact work. We can focus on the work that matters. We can be assured that the time we’ll spend will go towards the most impactful thing.
There are plenty of frameworks to prioritize work. Don’t overthink which framework to go with: choose a framework, try it, and improve the framework. Then try it again.
What I’m Reading
Pace Layers of Organization — a weave of distinct ideas that describe different levels of work. Clay always comes with the heat.
How We Operate: The Teal OS — love when companies open source their ways of working.
Microsolidarity — Rich Decibels writes about microsolidarity: a community-building practice. I think Rich’s writing and work is great. For any readers in Belgium, he’s hosting a microsolidarity gathering on May 9-14.
Are you a baby? A litmus test — avoidance is a common behavior in organizations (and in life). A nice read on how to be aware of when you’re acting avoidant. Hilarious and insightful.
See you in two weeks,