Scrutinising the product vision

10 September 2019

Head of learning and culture Sheena Widdowfield explains how to approach scrutinising a product vision

Why fix something that’s not broken?

Or so goes the old saying. When implementing change in business, there are often a wide range of reasons that the choice is made to do so. Often there is a need to react to an ever growing market of competition and to keep up with the digitalisation of services. Sometimes something breaks and it’s decided it must be fixed. In some cases it’s someone’s job to come up with snazzy new ideas that cost the company millions of pounds, and any new idea gets sanctioned regardless of its business value.

What we call the “product vision” is whatever it is we are setting out to change and attached to this should be a problem statement, ie what are we trying to solve? If I make a change to something in my personal life, I tend to weigh it up very carefully. Granted, if it’s a choice between a pizza or an Indian takeaway on a Friday evening, I’m more frivolous (I might even have both). However, if I’m changing broadband supplier for example, I analyse the options very carefully indeed. How much is it going to cost? What is the impact of me switching over? What happens if I do nothing and stick with what I’ve got?

"As a business analyst, I find projects are much more successful when given the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal as far as I possibly can, asking the all-important “why?” questions."

What experience has taught me

From working across a variety of businesses over the years, I’ve noticed how commonly these fundamental questions get overlooked. Do business case templates get populated and sanctioned? Sure. Do those business cases get revisited throughout the project lifecycle and adapted appropriately as things change? Sometimes. Do those business cases get revisited at the end of the project to see if we achieved what we set out to? Significantly less often.

As a business analyst, I find projects are much more successful when given the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal as far as I possibly can, asking the all-important “why?” questions. Often this leads to the proposal becoming something completely different. The product that was first proposed has transformed. On some occasions it turns out there isn’t actually a problem to solve.

Change can be very attractive for statistics, to be seen to be “doing something” and an attempt to make a business better or more profitable. However, the time taken over the scrutiny of an idea at the beginning is one of the most valuable exercises any business can execute. It’s always tempting to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, but taking time to talk with the right people about the problem statement is not something to be overlooked.

Some of the best pieces of work I’ve been part of have concluded with the business collectively saying, “We actually don’t need to change this thing we thought we needed to. We’d be better spending our money on this other thing that’s cheaper and more effective than a multi-million pound project.”

If you set off in your car and you realise you’re driving in the wrong direction for your destination, do you change course? Even the most stubborn of us would admit we’d get back on track, so why do so many businesses decide not to stop, think about things and look for the right direction?

A time to scrutinise

Similarly, it’s never too late to scrutinise the product vision. Granted, it’s much more lean and effective to do so at the start, but it’s certainly not too late once a project is in flight.

It can be scary to be the one voice saying that something isn’t right. It’s difficult when you’re paid to improve business performance, to admit that we need to change how we do things. Or we got this wrong on this occasion. But think how much more can be achieved if we do use that voice.

Be honest, transparent and realistic, and dare to drive the car to the place you actually need to go to.

Let us know your thoughts.


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