Think Big, Work Small
My company observed MLK Day this year, so I'm probably enjoying the rain from inside my apartment, with my dog sleeping by my side.
I hope you had an uneventful weekend and managed to recover for this new week! We're on the second week of the year. I hope your first week was amazing.
We assign so much value to these arbitrary dates, like the end of the year, the beginning, etc. I enjoy these dates and feel compelled to change something, but I'm not sure if my approach is the right one right now.
Who knows? Anyhow, enough about liminal spaces, and over to this week's topic.
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Thinking big and working small is one of the "ethos" of good product management.
It's about having a general direction and strategy and being good enough to distill that vision into more manageable milestones and deliverables.
This "mode" of working is opposed to other ways of working, like thinking big and working big, which is how waterfall takes on projects. You can expect a large batch of work moving through these phases.
The other "mode" would be thinking small and working small, which I sometimes live through. There's no direction to what we're doing, but every sprint, we have a bunch of work and a backlog to go through, but nothing seems to be going somewhere.
Now that the year is getting underway (even though I consider January the Sunday of the year), we've been thinking about yearly goals, vision, strategy, etc.
In the past I've also written about the Messy Middle if you're interested in reading about all that happens in the middle of projects.
Let's take a look at how this mode works.
Divide and Conquer
How do we start "working small"? You first come across this when talking about "divide and conquer". We're taught to break down large problems into smaller ones that are solved more simply.
The human mind tends to get overwhelmed with large scopes because we cannot hold all of them at a given moment.
We naturally learn to break down problems and, with that, simplify progress tracking.
Importance of Small Wins
Another aspect that comes into play with large projects is when you can break them down, which is the benefit of small wins!
Wins, regardless of size, but consistently delivering them keeps the team's spirits high and the stakeholders confident that we can deliver what we promised.
It makes decisions or asks for help if you trust your stakeholders and leadership.
Consistently delivering helps stakeholders because they can see progress. But another aspect of consistent delivery means that we can demo everything we do, and getting feedback faster allows iteration and improvement over time.
It also helps with the impending questions from leadership: where are you right now? how far are you from delivering? If you consistently deliver and talk about it, the earned trust will benefit you with fewer questions.
Small and consistent deliveries allow for more maneuverability of the project.
Room for Uncertainty
You unlock the space to experiment when you consistently deliver in small batches! And with that, it means that we allow room for uncertainty.
When we start a project, we never know all the possible scenarios or things that could happen. There are always "unknown unknowns," as we call them.
Instead of trying to solve it on the first try, we can add experimentation, do a/b testing, or ramp up features. This greatly reduces the risk of new features coming out.
It makes it easier to communicate with leadership, "We don't know, but we'll confirm with this experiment." You can come back next sprint with your answer, which is a powerful position to be in!
If you're in a leadership position, you might be able to set the strategy or vision of an organization. If not, you'll be given one.
In either case, helping your team break it down, to be able to consistently deliver small batches will greatly benefit all of you.
From a trust, team morale, and influence perspective.
Things I discovered in the past week
- Engineering Management: Just a Detour? - Charity Majors, CTO at Honeycomb, is an interview with Charity Majors, and I always enjoy the discussions around engineering management and the "pendulum."
- Publishing your work increases your luck is a post by Aaron Francis about how publishing increases your presence in the minds of people and, by extension, your luck. You make your own luck type of thing.