My post about the capabilities a product management tool should offer was good as far as it went, but perhaps a little wimpy in terms of coming to grips with the complex nature of product management. So I’m going to dive back into it.
One aspect of complexity is “emergence” and it’s certainly true that designing and developing a great new feature is an emergent activity.
A Complex Process for a Complex Outcome
I write a user story as a crappy first draft, based on a few inputs (customer suggestions, my own insights). Then I go and edit it, and it gets better. Then I have some people review it, and they give me comments, and we start to incorporate those comments into the design process, which often means big changes, like cutting out whole chunks, or dividing the story into multiple features, or creating a whole new epic. At the same time, the team (because it’s a collaborative process) is not just “elaborating” the story, but elaborating its relationships to other things in our world, such as customers who will be affected, or competitors we may be able to respond to.
And there’s always the situation that when you first try the design out in working code, it just isn’t that nice to use. It might just be a matter of tweaks, but sometimes your fundamental concept of the interaction turns out not to work in reality. At some point, after a multitude of changes like this, you have a feature that’s usable, and engaging, that has been tested by users (perhaps in an MVP), and delivers value to the users – and is likely very different from your original concept.
Every input has the potential to drive not just a small change but a large change
The process this feature went through was far from “here’s a suggestion, implement it.” It was far from simply elaboration. Every input had the potential to drive not just a small change but a large change (a familiar aspect of complexity). Some inputs, indeed, resulted in eliminating parts of the design.
How Tools Can Support This Process
In my experience, this is the normal way features come to market. But I have yet to see a product management tool that recognizes that the entity is going to change a lot of over time, and which supports and aids in that process. Sometimes you have to be able to say to the team, “All that stuff we talked about before was interesting, but forget about it – the feature is now these new things.” And if the tool supported semantics like that, it would be a load off my mind.
Other related capabilities that I would love to have:
- Transcluding other information
- Helping break the story up in a useful way if it gets too big or unwieldy
- Versioning stories or groups of stories
- Combining the story with other stories that are related or overlap
- Creating dependencies between stories
Existing tools don’t support these capabilities well. Of course, you can do all of this in nearly any tool, even Microsoft Word or Excel, but the point is that means you have to manage it all, track the relationships in your head, find the duplications, make the copies, whatever it might be. But these are things that computers are good at. If the application took care of them, you’d have more cognitive capacity for being creative.