Team Objectives – Commitments
While most objectives are meant to be aspirational, where we aren’t sure which will succeed and to what degree, and we can vary the degree of ambition the team strives for, there are always certain cases where we need the team to make what is called a high-integrity commitment.
Few people like what I’m about to say, but if you haven’t learned this yet about the commercial product world, it’s time you do:
In all businesses there are occasional situations where something important must be delivered by a specific deadline date.
The deadline might be a major industry trade show-driven date, or it might be a partner-driven date due to a contract, or a calendar-driven date due to tax days or the holiday period, or a marketing-driven date due to a purchased advertising campaign.
Realize that one of the main reasons leaders gravitate towards the command and control model of management, especially with old-style roadmaps of features and projects delivered on dates, is precisely because of this need to know when important things are going to happen.
So a key condition to moving to empowered teams is that the teams are able to provide dates and deliverables when necessary, and further, not just the low-integrity dates of the roadmap era (because we really had very little understanding of what was being committed to), but dates the leaders can count on.
If you’re used to conventional-style Agile processes, you probably know that coming up with a high-confidence date is very difficult if not impossible. However, if you’re used to the model of doing product discovery in parallel with product delivery, then you know that coming up with a high-confidence date is not hard, so long as the company is willing to wait until the necessary product discovery work has been done before the date is provided.
Now, if a company has too many of these date-driven commitments, it is usually a sign of more serious issues, but I always try to explain to product teams that some amount of high-integrity commitments is necessary when trying to run a business.
Even if you don’t have these external commitments, there will be cases where you depend on other product teams – the most common example is when you depend on a new capability from a platform team.
In these cases, we need to know with very high-confidence if a team can deliver on this promise.
In the event your product team is asked to make a high-integrity commitment, you will need to investigate the commitment, which typically involves doing sufficient product discovery on the item that your product team (especially the product manager, product designer and tech lead) can determine whether the solution will be valuable, usable, feasible and viable.
This often involves creating a quick prototype, such as a feasibility prototype, to ensure the engineers understand the scope of the necessary work to produce the necessary deliverable.
Once the product team believes they understand the solution sufficiently, they can estimate with high-confidence how long it will take for them to deliver on this commitment (feasibility), and also whether that solution will work for the customer (value and usability) and work for your company (viability).
In the case of an experience team depending on a commitment from a platform team, where that platform team may need to provide an API or a new service that the experience team will build upon, the platform team can inherit from the experience team their objective and key results.
Most importantly, for high-integrity commitments, the actual deliverable which is the commitment needs to be noted and tracked independently of the key results.
Tracking High-Integrity Commitments
These high-integrity commitments are given special treatment. We do not talk in terms of how ambitious the team is to be. These are binary. The team either delivers what they promised or not. And a team that makes a high-integrity commitment is absolutely expected to deliver, or if at the first sign of trouble, they need to raise the flag early and ask for help.
Further, we normally track these high-integrity commitments explicitly. In some companies, the CTO must agree to each high-integrity commitment, because it is her reputation on the line.
As I’ve said many times in my writing, empowered product teams are predicated on trust, and high-integrity commitments are one of the important ways that product teams build trust with leadership, so when you are asked to come up with a high-integrity commitment date, it is essential that you and your team are sure you can and will deliver on this commitment.
One final note of warning, high-integrity commitments and deliverables should be the exception and not the rule. Otherwise it is a slippery slope and pretty soon your objectives are nothing more than a list of deliverables and dates, which is little more than a reformatted roadmap.
Next we’ll discuss the various ways we may need to collaborate on especially difficult and important problems.