Start with Why
Avoid the feature factory mentality with a simple inspiring question.
We believe that the first step in building best practices is to avoid reinventing the wheel; it’s far more effective to stand on the shoulders of thought leaders. To this end, we try to approach every challenge with Simon Sinek’s resounding bit of simplicity: Start With Why. For our team, this is the practice of uncovering, understanding or reminding ourselves why we are working on something. The concepts of Start With Why apply daily to our internal workstreams and methods, but in this post we’ll discuss how we enable and encourage our clients to find their why and build around it.
When our clients propose a new problem set, we always start with the same question. The goal of asking “Why?” is to inspire our clients to change or build with purpose. This “purpose” should not be to release a product or feature. Instead, the “purpose” should be to deliver meaningful ROI and inspire our users to loyalty.
Note: We can often determine what is meaningful by examining our team or business OKRs. We’ll address OKRs in a little bit.
One core mission for our Product Managers is to maintain stakeholder focus on outcomes over outputs. If we release a slew of features on time that return very little — or even worse, are not measurable — they are far less valuable than a single release that can be measured accurately and further optimized.
If we understand why we are building a thing for our users, then we can determine what we want to build and subsequently how we will go about building and measuring that thing. In other words, we can only know what it is we want to measure when we can clearly define why we are measuring it at all.
“Teams today are all too often feature factories, with little regard for whether or not the features actually solve the underlying business problems.
Progress is measured by output and not outcome.”
This feels obvious, right? In many cases, an “obvious” solution is not a universal truth. In the standard Product (and consulting) mechanism, stakeholders vying for visibility oftentimes become emotionally attached to their product or feature deliverable. They will tie their success to the delivery of a product that is reasonably within budget and on time. Anything else will look like varying shades of failure, and the user reaction or adoption is relegated to secondary importance.
To address this, we keep our stakeholders inspired by the “Why” at all times. By inspiring others we establish a following. Whether they’re clients, employees or users, excited followers are the most loyal. Backed by loyalty and a shared understanding, we have the capacity to deliver effective change.
To summarize, “Why” helps us with three key goals:
- Understand the value we are working to deliver for our users
- Determine if we actually delivered that value
- Motivate, captivate and inspire our stakeholders