Thursday 9 October 2014

Project Goals using Effects or Feature List

Dear Junior

There has always been two ways to set goals for a project, either you can define the goal of the project to be a list of feature to be implemented, or you can define some effect you want to see. Both of these have been around for a long time, and effect goals have always been superior. 

Setting goals as a feature list is actually pretty simple - you simply state "these features I want to see before we consider this project closed". An online bookstore could say that it wants search-by-author, categories, and others-have-bought recommendations.

Following up during the project will simply consists of checking how far on this check-list the development team has progressed.

Effect goals are a little bit harder to set. You have to figure out and express why you want to have work done, what purpose it fulfils, in what way it makes your world better. Said bookstore must then express that it hopes people each customer will by 0.35 more books per checkout on average, or that it will increase its customer base with 10 000 new customers.

Following up during the project using this approach will consist of measuring the business parameters and watch the values change. A tricky part is that the full impact of the project might not be seen until the development work is "finished" (whatever that means), or even not until some time thereafter.

To put things a little bit into context, it is not the "bookstore" that starts a project - it is always a person involved, in this case probably the product owner of the online store. And, this is the person who should explain why she is about to spend a lot of peoples' time and a lot of the organisation's money.

I have always found that measuring success on effect, or impact, is the more intellectually honourable approach. To be frank, setting goals as a feature list does really say "this much work I want to have done" or rephrased "this much money I want to spend", nothing about what value it should result in. And if you want to have a group of people to work to bring your ideas to come real, the least you can do is to explain to them the value you think it will bring. Setting goals on effect is really about that - bringing purpose to the work.

Now, these two ways of setting goals and measuring success have a fundamental impact on how to manage projects in an agile manner, but that will have to wait until a later letter.



PS An agile project cannot be feasibly measured using feature lists; agile projects should be measured by setting a target for a business effect.