TBM 33/52: Challenge Proxies
How far away is your team from the things that matter? When and where are you using stand-ins?
Does the team connect directly with customers? Or is information about customers relayed through a chain of filters?
Does the team think about done in terms of customer impact? Or is the team done when code shows up in production and nothing explodes?
Does the team have detailed strategic context? Or a watered down version of the strategy?
Does the team focus on a metric (or a set of metrics) that measures the efficacy of the product strategy? Or does the organization focus on a high-level metric like Daily Active Users?
Does the organization consider the drivers of sustainable, differentiated growth? Or is everyone focused on something like near-term revenue?
Do team members trust each other? Or does the team use replacements for trust like "firm commitments" and a go-between manager?
We could think of these things as stand-ins or proxies.
Observation: “product thinking” is often about challenging proxies.
Sometimes proxies are unavoidable. It might be all we have at the moment. And sometimes proxies are desirable! Say that when X happens, we're pretty sure Y will happen at some point in the future. In that case, we don't need to wait for Y to happen. Make X happen! If we see a decrease in X, pay attention!
But we should always ask ourselves:
How many hops and leaps of imagination are we making here?"
What leaps of imagination are we making here?
Why are we using the proxy?
When applying lean thinking to software product work, we find that “waste” is most often invisible. Where does waste have a penchant for piling up in our context? Proxies.
I sometimes encounter companies that swimming in "distant" proxies. Everywhere. POs representing customers. Story points representing efficacy. No one is sure what is a proxy or not. The relationships between proxies and what they are proxying is unclear. It's a mess. The trouble with proxies is that you start believing them (or at least some people start to believe them). They believe that’s the best you can do, and that there are not other options. The new normal.
We don’t want that!
So that's it for this week. Question proxies whenever you can. They aren't inherently BAD, but always signal opportunities to reduce waste and improve outcomes.