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Watch “Creating Value and Flow in Product Development” with John Cutler

In this 7-minute video, John explains why limiting work in progress can increase flow and value in product development.

In this short video, John Cutler — Product Evangelist at Amplitude — invites to consider the time it takes to go from agreeing to do something to a customer receiving value. It may come as a surprise, but most of that time is not spent working. It’s spent waiting.

In this 7-minute video, John explains why limiting work in progress can increase flow and value in product development.

Creating Value and Flow in Product Development

My Takeaways on Creating Value and Flow

When I wrote about prioritisation, I mentioned that we grumble that there just aren’t enough hours in the day and that someone else seems to have a lot of free time. But we regular mortals only have twenty-four hours in a day. The problem is that we don’t protect our hours from being stolen. We allow thieves to steal time from us, day after day. Who are these thieves of time? The five thieves of time that prevent you from getting work done include (DeGrandis, D., Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow, 2017):

  1. Too Much Work-in-Progress (WIP): work that has started, but is not yet finished. Sometimes referred as partially completed work.
  2. Unknown Dependencies: Something you weren’t aware of that need to happen before you can finish.
  3. Unplanned Work: Interruptions that prevent you from finishing something or from stopping at a better breaking point.
  4. Conflicting Priorities: Projects and tasks that compete with each other for people and resources block flow and increase partially completed work.
  5. Neglected Work: Partially completed work that sits idle on the bench.
pen calendar to do checklist
Learn more about Prioritisation in Strategy and Prioritisation (Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com)

John makes the argument that actually the less intuitive stuff helps, like:

  • less work in progress
  • smaller batches
  • fewer hand-offs
  • cross-functional teams
  • more flexibility in terms of scope
  • fixing underlying issues impacting flow
  • and cross-training people.

Then John delivers my favourite quote of the year:

Crap delivered quickly – even if we deliver it sustainably – is still crap; unless we learn something and act on that learning

John Cutler

John makes the case that there are three stages in creating flow and value in product development.

The first is systems optimized for busy-ness—saying yes, the illusion of certainty, and individual survival. There’s no flow. Everyone’s busy, but with little to show for it.

The second is the well-oiled feature factory. We have a sense of momentum. The team delivers usable features. There’s sustainable flow and instead of ignoring impediments, the team addresses those things head on.

The third is the value creation system. The team is optimized for learning and innovation, for value creation velocity. They try to avoid feature puke whenever possible. So danger of getting stuck on stage two is that with all those features it is easy to fall back to stage one, which is why I advocate for tackling stage three, becoming value focused.

When it comes to value creation, I’ve spoken in the past about the need of quantifying and qualifying strategy while making a case for a set of tools that helps teams find objective ways to value design solutions to justify the product experience investments in that bring us ever closer to our vision and goals.

measurement-millimeter-centimeter-meter-162500.jpeg
Learn about ways to objectively measure the value of design in The Need for Quantifying and Qualifying Strategy (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

On a high level, John suggests there are three steps to get there:

  1. Come up with your best guess of a model for how value is created and how a created value is monetized.
  2. Focus on where you want to intervene. This is your opportunity. It’s a place where you see the most leverage.
  3. Finally, come up with some things you want to try. Try them. Then amplify what works, and dampen what doesn’t.

Here is where design strategy comes to your help: it is crucial that designers engage with their business stakeholders to understand what objectives and unique positions they want their products to assume in the industry, and the choices that are making in order to achieve such objectives and positions.

Six Strategic Questions, adapted from "Strategy Blueprint" in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020).
Six Strategic Questions, adapted from “Strategy Blueprint” in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020)

One way to facilitate the discussion with stakeholders around what objectives and unique positions they want their products to assume in the industry is to make sure we’ve got the right framing of the problem space around the 3 vision-related questions (as per the Six Strategic Questions illustration above):

  • What are our aspirations?
  • What are our challenges?
  • What will we focus on?

Furthermore, it will be difficult answer these 3 vision-related if the team does not have a shared understanding of the vision, making discussions around prioritisation go round-and-round.

beach bench boardwalk bridge
Learn more about creating product vision in The Importance of Vision (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

About John Cutler

John Cutler is the product evangelist at San Francisco product analytics software developer Amplitude. In his twitter handle, he describes himself as someone who loves wrangling complex problems and answering the why with qual/quant data.

Recommended Reading

Cutler, J. (2019). “Creating Flow and Value in Product Development” in Amplitude Blog, retrieved 30 Nov 2021 from https://amplitude.com/blog/creating-flow-value-in-product-development

DeGrandis, D. (2017). Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow. Portland, OR: IT Revolution Press.

By Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Director of Design Strategy at SAP.

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, The United Arab Emirates, United States, Hong Kong) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles.

During his 7 years in China, he promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

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