/ Roadmaps

Roadmaps Continued: Approach

We actually don't know enough yet to start fixing this problem, what we need is for the smart, creative, passionate people to start building out an approach, or better yet, multiple approaches. This is a thinking heavy exercise.

A well crafted approach might be several pages, it has evidence, and it has context. To do this right you are going to need to:

  1. Research the problem, and identify things that might be causing it
  2. Identify key factors that could change to improve your problem
  3. Think through what levers you might pull to change something, and what might happen when you do

Basically you are replacing your big problem with the couplet of a smaller problem and a hypothesis of how you would approach solving it. A thing you could add, remove, change or optimize. You should include a prediction for the kind of impact this would have.

It's ideal to generate several of these for every motive, and evaluate them.

Sticking with our example motive, the summary of an approach for the abandoned shopping cart might be:

It takes 18 steps to complete checkout on our site, based on our analytics, 50% of the people who don't complete a transaction initiate the first step but by step 6 in our flow, 90% of those have given up. We are going to group steps in the checkout process so the overall process is simpler.

If you were doing this for real, you would want to include in your approach documentation what those 18 steps are, more details about how users fell off and where, identifying hot points and risks. Making this document a sort of "show your work" for a cross functional team of thinkers.

Another possible approach:

Most of our checkout process is the same information for every order, we should build an account system allowing shoppers to save their information and skip the checkout process entirely.


After reviewing analytics, it appears that a large percentage of the users who aren't proceeding to checkout are actively shopping on our site, adding items to their cart, and then remaining idle for several minutes before simply closing out of our site completely. We compared the prices in carts that did not get purchased with the same product on our competitors site and discovered that the equivalent competitor cart would be 10% cheaper than buying it from us. We believe that these customers are using our sites fantastic browsing experience to find the items they want, but then buying them in a cheaper store. We should either lower our prices in highly competitive areas, or invest in a discount program that customizes an offer for customers like this.

What's important to note about an approach is that it isn't bounded by just technology, or discipline. It is bounded by the motive. Do the research and thinking, let many approaches develop at this stage. Allow time for small cross functional teams to work through the problem and the approaches that might have a valuable pay off to emerge. Doing this well might take about a week. It's going to be almost impossible to do it well with just a single part of the organization represented in the creation process, so if you think you can just have product managers write the approach documents and present them to the team you are likely to run into a lot of downstream problems. This is where you bring reality into the problem.

One good way to generate these is to hand the motive to a cross functional team and give them a week or so to come back with several approaches. A healthy team should be able to generate $(n/2)-1$ solid, well thought out approaches in a week of fairly focused work. You can even have multiple teams working against the same motive.

As teams become increasingly skilled at this kind of thinking they may reach a point where they are able to do this research and thinking in-line with progress on other things. There is however something very nice about doing these at natural pause points when people have some time to dig into this kind of thing. It's a luxury to have that time for many teams.

If you can't make that happen, you should aim for a minimum bar of making sure that the people working on building your approach all are able to work on that development together at the same time. Handoffs are always challenging, but none more so than when you try and hand off thinking.

Process Step!

Bring all your great new approaches back to the larger group. Everyone who is participating in the process should read them all. No powerpoint. You aren't selling your approach, other people are benefiting from your thinking to get on the same page.

There are lots of ways to prioritize, pick and move your approaches forward. Some people like to put each one on a card, and let people vote, you can put them up in order and let people move them around over a couple of days or weeks. I've seen teams set up a kind of human bubble sort, where each team member gets to perform a few adjacent swaps. Some teams let people vote with their feet thinking of each approach as a thing a team could advance, and letting people work on whichever one they want. Do something that feels right to you, and the culture you want to have. It is reasonable to exercise some sort of filter on approaches at this stage, some of them might not be viable, talk them through and make sure people understand why they are/aren't viable. Remember that there is usually at least half truth in these things. So if you have an approach that says something like our prices are too high, you may not be able to lower them, but if the evidence is there, don't lose track of the business and market realities associated with that evidence.

However you do it, get teams associated with approaches, but don't go further. The next steps only the teams can do.

Continue in Rally Points