Delivering little or no value to the customer or organization is one of the most frustrating of the seven risks I write about.  It was the risk that first came to mind.  Much has been written about and is what the Lean Startup movement is all about.

Jim Highsmith “Given that studies show over 50% of software functionality is rarely or never used, the idea that focusing on scope and requirements yields value is mistaken.” [from the book “Agile Project Management” (p. 18)]

Steve Blank “Webvan. Groceries on demand: the killer app of the internet. The company spent money like a drunken sailor. Even in the Internet Bubble costs and infrastructure grew faster than the customer base. Loss: $800 million.” [from the book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany“, chapter 1 goes into detail about the Webvan case-study]

Webvan’s lesson learned:  validate assumptions (e.g., customer demand) before scaling a business plan (a.k.a., Lean Startup thinking).

What can we do to avoid building out an useless feature?  Validate assumptions (e.g., customer acceptance) before building out any new, large feature.

But this is hard for us because (1) we are often VERY sure of our great ideas and (2) time-to-market pressure.  So we move forward anyway because we rationalize our decision for immediate action:

  1. Why waste time on customer validations?
  2. This idea is a sure thing!

Of course, we will not validate every new feature / user story we choose to build out. However, we need to be doing a better job of vetting the larger items in the product backlog for customer and stakeholder success.

Marty Cagan (product manager and blogger) writes about Dual-Track Scrum and using both a Discovery sprint and a Delivery sprint.  Working on both the current release and figuring out if upcoming items in the backlog are worth building out.

For new products or prized new features, use Dan Olsen‘s Product-Market fit six-step methodology for innovation and discovery, as detailed in his book “The Lean Product Playbook“…

  1. Determine your target customers
  2. Identify underserved customer needs
  3. Define your value proposition
  4. Specify your minimum viable product (MVP) feature set
  5. Create your MVP prototype
  6. Test your MVP with customers

Dan describes these six steps as “The Lean Product Process guides you through the formulation and testing of your hypotheses” (p. 277).

If #6 checks-out, you are ready to build out the product or new feature.  Going through these six steps transforms your  idea and will help create successful products through a structured learning methodology.  So by the time you are ready to build out for delivery, the risk of delivering little or no value to the customer or organization has essentially been removed.

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”
W. Edwards Deming