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UPGRADE, Service Pack 2: Delivering Value

How to frame deliverables in terms of business value.

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“I opened the app this morning on the train and man it was slow. Customers can’t be happy. Are we planning to fix it?”

It’s an awful feeling. You (SVP of Product) ran into the CEO in the kitchen and after some niceties they drop that on you. Yes of course it was slower, you were on the train. And you refuse to upgrade your iPhone 6 because you’re trying to show how frugally you run the company. You say all of that in your head.

“Hmm. It shouldn’t be. I’ll take a look.”

One of the key bits of wisdom from our Upgrade whitepaper is to deliver value early and often and to get ahead of expectations.

Haven’t seen Upgrade yet? Download your free copy.

The response to Upgrade has been great and we’ve been fielding lots of questions from readers. This one lands squarely within that awkward exchange.

Q: You talk about avoiding the monolith and providing value early and often, but executives don’t want to see piles of deliverables and Gantt charts. How do you pull this off without confusing them?

“Deliverables” is an alien term for many executives. It’s effective for laying out the waypoints on a product roadmap but for your typical executive “deliverable” doesn’t necessarily mean value.

Business stakeholders don’t make requests in the language of software development. Instead, they project the anxiety and uneasiness that comes with running a business:

  • Why is the customer data out of sync with the dashboard we stare at every day?
  • Support is telling me that customers are finding the app slow. What are we doing about that?
  • It takes accounting 10 minutes to enter a new customer. Why isn’t that automatic?

The promise of delivering value early and often is incredibly attractive to your business stakeholders. The key term here is “value” (versus “deliverable” or “milestone”). Frame it in terms of what the business is going to get in what timeframe. Some examples:

  • By end of Q1, customer service will no longer have to copy/paste customer status changes in the reporting system. It’ll all just happen automatically.
  • With the June update, as a result of replacing the API components in the iOS app, the customer experience will nearly double in speed and responsiveness.
  • By end of year, users will be able to receive friendly notifications when their accounts are 60 and 30 days from expiring—on both their phones and email.

What you’ll notice in the above examples is that these key milestones are described not only in terms of integration efforts and API refactoring. The language around progress is real and practical to the business: increased speed, better customer retention and streamlining of how people work.

The business will rarely congratulate you on these improvements. They mostly serve as relief, often temporary, from a longstanding chronic pain. The way to gain trust and credibility is to get ahead of those reactive conversations, set expectations around value and deliver on them.

And get your boss a new phone.

Rich Ziade is president of Postlight, a full-service digital product studio in New York City. Email him at [email protected].