TBM 46/53: Think Big, Work Small

Successful product teams figure out how to think big and work small.

Doing both is an art.

Some teams end up leaving their waterfalls for whirlpools. They iterate to nowhere in particular. There's no real strategy, and no holistic end-to-end thinking. For them, it's a random walk (punctuated by stand ups and sprints)

Other teams are all big-picture thinking, cohesive strategies, and vision. Often it is good thinking! But the problems arise when it comes to making it all work. They haven't figured out how to work small. To figure out thin-slices. To de-risk. To show tangible progress. To learn as fast as they ship.

You need both. Without both, it is easy to diminish one or the other.

Some people diminish strategy. Why? My guess is that in the past they experienced prescriptive plans, not strategies. Or hand wavy, "bold" strategies with no depth. Or "to get your budget approved we need a magic slide!" Often their teams weren't given the autonomy and support to work small ("we just need to execute"). So the strategies failed. Skepticism of strategy is understandable.

Other people diminish working small. Why? Many people beat up on agile because in their environments it is used solely to ship stuff faster. That's it. The MVP bait-and-switch..."time to move on folks!" No care and attention to gardening, cleaning up, and thinking holistically across experiences. With so much focus on shipping and moving quickly, there's no time to step back and think big. Skepticism of working small is understandable (“what if they never let us think big!”).

Again, you need both.

An anti-pattern is dividing up the organization by people who think big, and people who work small. That is a mistake. Why? If you lack experience working small, you'll not be a good big-picture thinker. You'll be too prescriptive. If you lack first hand experience thinking big, you'll miss the forest for the trees.

That's not to say that we should spend all of our time thinking at all levels. Rather that it doesn't pay to segregate your org. It is a loop ... the working small will inform a continuous attempt to think big. A continuous attempt to thinking big will inform the working small.

So with that I'll leave you with a question. How can you support your team in its efforts to think big AND work small?