Focus is critical for product managers in modern times of disruptive change. The ability for organisations to be agile depends on what will help them pivot in a responsive and resilient way.
Focusing on what will create agility by measuring outputs like “velocity” often results in what professional agile trainers refer to as Mechanical Scrum – a superficial business transformation where there is no real invitation for improvement, or even a notion of what improvement would really look like.
Traditional metrics like “on time” and “on budget” are also not especially useful when markets and customers are constantly changing. This type of focus typically results in delivering solutions to problems that no longer exist and needs that have passed. These metrics also don’t measure whether what was delivered was truly valuable or useful to the customer.
Traditional development metrics such as "on time" and "on budget" don’t measure whether what was delivered was truly valuable or useful to the customer.
Ultimately, product managers can increase the business agility of their operations by being responsive to customer needs, reducing waste and non-value added work, and empowering teams to improve their delivery capabilities.
Evidence-Based Management (EBM) helps product managers improve their products these areas by helping them to:
EBM started as an idea that Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of Scrum, began to pursue almost a decade ago to help teams and organisations focus on valuable outcomes. Organizations wanted to be Agile, yet had little understanding of why or what value meant to them. He suggested that product managers revitalise their agile efforts by examining their current value in the marketplace in conjunction with their ability to sustain or increase that value. EBM is defined in the Evidence-Based Management Guide. Scrum.org has developed a course for those who wish to learn more about EBM and how to apply its concepts in order to increase business agility.
Setting up goals is scary, because it can feel like you are setting up conditions for potential failure. But to me, agile initiatives or well-intentioned businesses making decisions based on gut is scarier. Those scenarios often remind me of this 20 second scene from the 100-yard dash for people with no sense of direction by the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Ultimately, goal setting is an opportunity for us to collaborate, align, (re)focus and learn from the market and the organization. How specific and the scope of goals depends on their timescale.
The EBM Guide considers 3 categories of measures when framing goals: Activities, Outputs, and Outcomes. Understanding what we measure and why can help us improve our capabilities and move toward customer outcomes and better business results especially in uncertain conditions. This is especially important when using the popular OKR technique. OKRs benefit from EBM because EBM provides conceptual tools to help product managers improve toward their goals.
Product managers can do amazing things when guided by customer outcome-based goals. In one organisation using EBM, an Agile Coach noticed a significant jump in team morale as they focused on their progress toward outcomes. The outcomes provided the team with a clearer picture of success and removed the pressure of performance toward output. In turn, management also shifted their focus to removing impediments for the teams. This relationship is important to understanding empowerment, self-management as well as a reflection of what a product managers and their organisation values.
EBM provides product management organisations with an opportunity to use empiricism to improve customer outcomes by delivering greater value. It helps to improve collaboration by elevating conversations from opinion-based discussions to evidence-based discussions and decisions. EBM may feel awkward at first, but it will be rewarding. The seeds of learning and changing are there.
Evidence Based Management (EBM) Guide from Scrum.org
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