January 2022

Product Principle #4 - Business cases lie

We created Loomery to make it easier and faster to ship great digital products. We’re a young company but we have pretty strong opinions on how great products are built quickly. So, we’ve attempted to capture our approach in six principles that our team follows and promotes, six beliefs we think are important that guide our behaviours and decisions. 

You could even describe them as anti-principles; as they describe what we don’t want to do as often as they describe what we do want to do. The principles are:
1. Products not slides
2. Do then document
3. No data, no debate
4. Business cases lie
5. Learn on the cheap
6. Start by shipping

In this series of posts we dive into the six principles in turn to explain what they mean and how we apply them day to day. Today we’re discussing our fourth principle 'Business cases lie'.

Principle #4 - Business cases lie

Every organisation is on a stupid annual cycle of having to come up with a plan of what they are going to deliver in 12-monthly chunks (sometimes longer).

As part of that process they have to guess how much something will cost and how much it will return, often before it exists. That is fairytale stuff. Every business case we’ve seen has been completely made up. Not because of any ulterior motive or malice but because people are being asked to guess things they can’t possibly know.

A client we’ve worked with before had to create a 5 year projection of how much value they would get from a new mobile product before they were able to go to tender to appoint a partner to build it, let alone write a line of code. That meant making up usage numbers and predicting an impact on loyalty over multiple markets to come up with a fairytale number that satisfied an anonymous investment board. 

The better way to approach this is to fund teams that are focussed on solving an outcome or a job rather than features and specific products. And empowering teams to take responsibility for owning part of the experience rather than trying to pre-determine what the best solution is before the people who are closest to the thing have. 

Hear what our team and friends have to say about how we apply this principle:

‘The way most companies approach them is to come up with a prioritised roadmap and attempt to quantify the value those predefined ‘features’ will bring in. The unfortunate reality is some of those ideas won’t work, and others will take a few iterations to get right. At that early stage, it’s guesswork.

It’s often people who are a step or two removed from the customer who write the business case, so it gets all these weird assumptions built into it, which then impact the roadmap. So you build a roadmap based off what you’ve committed to in the business case rather than what the customer wants. The impact of that is you’re committed to a roadmap, rather than committed to solving customer need. I’ve seen it at big retailers, banks, all kinds of organisations.

We are occasionally in favour of doing a business case, particularly for ideas that need a larger investment. But they must be approached with caution and with a clear statement of what’s not known. Wherever possible, the assumptions behind them should be validated (as quickly as possible!)

We invest so much time and effort making the business cases ‘stack up’. What if instead of playing ‘the business case game’ we expelled the same effort on validating the assumptions behind the case... or just building the first version of the thing?’

- Tim Checkley, Founder

‘Sometimes businesses think they know exactly what their customers need, even if they can't necessarily prove it and that can send you down a rabbit hole that keeps you busy for weeks. A more pragmatic approach is to release small improvements often, test, learn and iterate accordingly. Only then can you truly know whether you’re on the right track.’

- Mytch Parks, Head of Digital KOKO

We’d love to hear what you think about this so get in touch. We’ll be talking about our fifth principle “learn on the cheap” next week so look out for that. Thanks for reading.

Loomery is a faster path to product progress. We deliver trusted teams, when you need them. Our community of expert makers, remote teaming approach and flexible partnership model mean we can demonstrate progress on your priorities next week, not next year.

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