A few weeks ago I read a book called «Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less» by Greg Mckeown. It is a great book for all of us who, more often than not, feel overwhelmed and need an escape from the never-ending ‘busyness’ of day-to-day work. It provides a set of principles and tips for sorting through the noise and figuring out what it is truly important, what it is “essential”.
From all the things I’ve learned while reading the book, I want to highlight the idea of one decision that makes a thousand. McKeown argues that often companies mission statements are vague and indistinguishable one from the other. Here it comes the Essential intent, which has to be, in the author’s own words, concrete enough to answer the question, “How will we know when we have succeeded?” […] Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions.
Two personal decisions that make a thousand
For that time, I was trying to reduce my daily intake of sugar for the last 6 months. It wasn’t a great deal of difficulty for me to avoid the most dangerous processed food such as crisps, candy bars, cookies, etc. But I kept struggling a lot with sugary drinks (mainly Coke®) and with not adding sugar to the coffee. Each time I was in a restaurant and the waiter came to ask for the order, there was a battle in my brain between doing the right thing (ask for water) and ordering a refreshing sweating bottle of Coke®. The same fight happened day after day with my morning coffee: to add a little spoon of sugar or not.
After reading this idea of one decision that makes a thousand, I made the following 2 choices that had a great impact on my health:
- Always drink Diet Coke® instead of the regular one.
- Never again adding sugar to the coffee.
No more struggle. These two simple choices have liberated me from having to make the good decision one day after the other, turning on the auto-pilot mode.
One product decision that makes a thousand
After the success of using this approach to my personal life, I thought how can I also apply it at my work as Product Manager. Soon I discovered a scenario in which I found myself having to make a choice between two options over and over: low priority bugs.
Critical bugs are a no-brainer, you must fix them ASAP. But, what about that kind of bugs that are mostly cosmetic or that only annoys a really small percentage of your users/customers or that happen in rare corner cases? You, as Product Manager or Product Owner of the team, don’t want to “stop the line” unless it is strictly required to avoid getting the features in development delayed.
Ok, don’t panic. “We will fix them in the next iteration/sprint” — that’s what I usually tell to myself. But then next sprint comes and you have a Backlog full of interesting things to deliver… and the damned low priority bug. Here is when your product manager’s brain is spending energy to choose whether to prioritize the bug over the shiny new feature that comes next or to let the bug stay at the bottom of the backlog, forgotten forever. That second option wins more often than not. And after a few months, your backlog is cluttered with these bugs, generating noise and complicating product backlog forecasting and analytics.
The first thing that came to my mind was, ok, let’s create the rule of always plan low priority bugs for the next sprint. Problem solved, right? Not in the real world. Maybe you’re on a tight schedule to deliver what you’re customers are expecting. Maybe the next feature has a dependency with another team.
After giving it some more thought, I ended up with a decision that, at least for me and my context, is working pretty well: once a low priority bug falls into my hands, I have to (1) plan it for one of the next two sprints or (2) reject it.
After making one decision that makes a thousand, no matter if it’s in your personal or your work life, you don’t need to spend energy to actively think of what you need to do next anymore.
“One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten, or even twenty years of your life.” – Greg McKeown