Seeing the product as a constraint

Last week I wrote about separating the value of a project from the constraints that set its context. But sometimes it’s also useful to see the development of a product as a constraint for a larger goal.

Some time ago I was discussing success metrics with a team that was developing a product. The product was one part of a much larger operation, which was also in the early stages of development. We were debating not just what the success metric should be of the overall operation, but how that metric should relate to a success metric for the product.

One very obvious worry was of “local optimisation”—that is, that the product team might be motivated to improve the success of the product at the detriment of the overall operation.

In this situation a useful solution was to see product development as a constraint of the overall operation. In this view there is only one success metric—the success metric for the overall operation. The success metric of the team working on the product was that overarching metric, but they needed to improve this while working on the product. That was their constraint.

This solves the problem of local optimisation. But I’ve also seen it help in other ways. I once worked in a similar situation where several teams, working on smaller parts of an overarching operation, all shared one overarching success metric. It fostered not only a strong sense of mutual support across teams, but when the weight of need shifted, and people had to move from one team to another, then there was very little sense of resentment; very little “them and us”.

A common purpose, and common success metric, helps common cause. The particular job we do today may be seen as just a constraint within which we must achieve that greater success.

Photo by Joe Haupt