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Chasing opportunities when you are resource constrained
Depending on the stage of the company, you will see executive leadership chasing way too many opportunities (at least that’s your impression). Even to an extent, you may feel that you are making little progress: millimeter distances in a million directions. Which is also an indication of stretching too thin. How do you address such a situation?
You are already drowned on the capacity front. But, it’s not the question of adding more to that capacity — adding more developers, architects, product people, et al. The question is: are you prioritizing the right efforts, strategically.
Frame the right question
Can you do anything about it? It’s a good place to start before spending way too much time on other options. Is it something in your control — executive decision-making. Usually, it’s not, if you’re in the middle management and not in C-suite. However, is it something you can influence? Often it is, if you have built enough credibility and track record.
Okay, I can influence, but how? Start by taking action.
Data-driven (does not work all the time)
While everyone argues in favor of data-driven decision-making, not everyone agrees on which data to consider and which one to discard. Even if you have data, it requires discipline to use it effectively. The web analytics are going down: bounce rates are high, for example. Do you have a practice and an established discipline to investigate why.
Another issue with data is its availability. If you haven’t instrumented your code for metrics, there’s not much you can track. More so, if you’re an early stage startup, your focus is perhaps on feature development and finding the product-market fit, and not necessarily on instrumentation and metrics. While I disagree with that approach, I can understand it.
In the long run, establish practices to connect a release with a set of data metrics. You don’t need executive permission for this. Something you can state in your product requirements about which metrics you’re tracking to validate your assumptions. For example, customer acquisition rates, activation or implementation times, conversion percentage from a free to paid user.
If you recall, I’m a huge fan of long-form writing. Even if it’s just one page of deliberate writing, it provokes thinking. In that sense, use a template, which talks about:
What problem are you solving? Be as explicit as you can. For example: As business leaders, we need to improve our distribution channels because we’re paying high take rates for the existing channels.
How do you plan to solve it? For example, a new distributional channel can help reduce take rates by X percent, or it increases our reach by Y percent.
What assumptions are you making? List them out. If possible, think about how you can validate them and as soon as possible. Mind you, you’re starting with the known unknowns and you don’t know the universe of, well, unknown unknowns.
What resources do you need to make it work? When you have a confined resource pool, which usually is the case, the decision has many facets. One of them is — by taking up this initiative, which others are you not doing. What is the opportunity cost? Also, ensure you have covered other resources like infrastructure and networking.
What other alternatives have you considered? Always force yourself to consider two or three options. It's rare to see that your first option is the best option. So, consciously write down the choices and why you discarded them.
In essence, you may feel like this is a lot of effort. Well, it is. Product strategy and management is not easy. But, by established practices and pushing your organization in that direction will reap rewards.