Four foes of focus

Focus is one of the superpowers a product team must have to build great stuff. It’s the ability to say Yes to whatever gets you closer to your goal and No to everything else.

Sounds simple, is hard.

There are multiple reasons why teams don’t focus, but four stand out.

You don’t know what to focus on

“We’re in sprint 7 of 15 and we still have 302 Story Points to go. Keep on trucking!”

Life was easy when the Waterfall guided our software development. Your analysts drafted 10 use cases. When you only had 2 more left to build, you were about 80% done. Beautiful!

We’ve learned that that’s too good to be true. We’re all doing Agile these days because we’ve accepted that we can’t know everything up-front. Yet we still treat those User Stories like Use Cases. They are The Scope. The more we finish, the closer we are to Done. If only…

Sprints, projects, iterations should all have a goal. A theme. If you can’t say what you are building in the coming weeks, you’re not focussed.

Just picking up tickets to burn Story Points is a losing strategy.

Make sure each iteration has a theme and stick to it. If your sprint has the goal of “improving the marketing metrics report”, then work only on that. The other stuff can wait.

You’re multitasking

Don’t. We’re all bad at it. One team, one theme at a time.

The roof is on fire

Ah, firefighting, that good-old time management classic! If you keep working on the urgent, you won’t have time for the important.

Sure, if the production environment is down, you might want to fix that first. But that contact form that’s not working?

Think about it this way. If your team is working on the most important next step, what can be more urgent than that? How likely is it that the newly discovered bug is more important than the goal?

Development aid

We’ve all seen this. The team is finally picking up speed. They are en route to deliver on time. Morale is high and the pressure has been lifted a bit. Since things are going smooth, a project manager might be tempted to re-allocate some manpower to another project. We’re on track, right?

Never move resources from a successful project to alleviate the pain of another. There’s a reason the one project is doing well: a focussed team. Break that up and you might have two dumpster fires on your hands instead of one.

A team that can focus on a goal instead of a list of tasks can change the world. Make sure they have the tools to keep their eyes on the price.