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Projects-to-Products: Defining Value

By Brian Nathanson posted Oct 09, 2019 06:18 PM

In my last two posts (here and here), I focused on defining what value is and the typical categories of value out there. Here I want to focus on the most effective method I've seen so far for articulating and measuring business value -- since that's what most of our organizations are really after.

In most cases, customers articulate value in terms of a common value element. What's a value element, you ask? It's a breakdown or decomposition of a goal or outcome that is big enough to be easily understood but small enough to be delivered within a fairly short timeframe.

Value elements are often given different names: Epic, marquee feature, and sub-epic are three common names -- especially among agile groups. The list of value elements represents the agreed-upon set of items that will deliver value to the organization if delivered within an agreed-upon period of time. (Note that this does not mean that a particular element is tied to a particular date; it just means that the basket of elements will be worked and delivered within a given timeframe, like a quarter or year.)

There are two key aspects to the successful use of value elements for product management (and really for scaling agile):
  1. You should either (a) agree on a common term for value elements across your organization or (b) know what each part of the organization calls their value elements (and have the translation recorded)
  2. Value elements should be defined/described in terms a reasonable non-technical person in your industry will understand.

This clause is purposefully built:
  • Reasonable -- We're not looking for perfection nor looking to cater to craziness; the average (wo)man standard should suffice
  • Non-Technical -- Value elements are intended to serve as the bridge between the business and technology. Thus, the business side of the house needs to understand what they are and what they mean.
  • Person in Your Industry -- You don't need to make it so simple that any child or non-familiar person will understand it. Some value is industry specific. As long as the average person in your industry would appreciate the value, that works.

I'll repeat a sentence I just used in that explanation: Value elements are intended to serve as the bridge between the business and technology. In many cases, especially as part of our organizations' digital transformations, business people are having to work with and guide the efforts of technology workers in making the latest technology deliver business value. Value elements, such as epics, become a key tool in holding people accountable for delivering that value.

Make sense? Sounds reasonable? Have a better method for measuring or articulating the handoffs between the business and technology? Sound off in the comments.