Backward Deadlines, One Chart Strategy, Priority Principles
Edition #23 - Monday 3-2-1
Welcome to the Monday morning ideas newsletter ☕️.
Every Monday morning, receive 3 ideas on how to work more effectively in product and dev teams.
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💡 3 Short Ideas
Short ideas on how to improve working with devs and product teams.
1) Backward Deadlines
The first hard deadline of my early product career was intense.
I had to deliver a brand-new product in less than 6 months.
At the time, I was working as the PM lead with the engineering team to migrate the old Angular platform to a new React tech stack. Including a new segmentation feature built into the system from the ground up.
The problem was the scope of our work. The team needed to validate, build and release a working app version with segmentation. This included the Christmas period. Which is always a slow month.
It would take years to rebuild the platform. We had less than 6 months.
Luckily, I had a fantastic manager. He suggested the team work backwards from the deadline.
This boundary-setting method changed everything. Instead of focusing on the impossible task of releasing a new app. We narrowed our scope and the steps needed to solve the problem.
The result? We did it.
The team built a beta version of the product for our customer base. And I learned an important lesson: working backwards from deadlines helps to deliver projects on time.
Why is working backwards from deadlines important?
It helps reduce project scope and unnecessary complexity when building solutions. And forces teams to ruthlessly prioritise delivery.
An anti-pattern I’ve experienced is that teams will try to solve problems that do not yet exist. Because there is no clear deadline or scope when the project starts. This results in the scope of the project growing in size. As teams try to fix inevitable unknowns that pop up.
This way of working can cause teams to miss deadlines. And allow projects to go on forever.
Instead, working backwards from deadlines forces a team to identify:
The scope of the project (including constraints).
The problem they are trying to solve.
The milestone that the project needs to be completed.
The priority of work: must-haves, should-haves, could-haves and won't-haves.
The particular sequence that the work needs to be implemented to hit the milestone.
This way of working isn’t new. James Cowling at Convex talks about working backwards from deadlines to deliver complex projects.
How can I apply the working backwards deadline framework to my work?
The simplest way is to:
Create a table in a PRD or product brief.
Write down the deadline for the project at the bottom of the table.
Then write down the tasks or events that need to happen.
Sequence the events that need to happen to meet that deadline.
Get feedback on the order of events with your dev and designers.
This method turns disjointed delivery into a set of clear milestones and stepping stones for your team. It also forces you to better understand your release plan for a feature or project.
For example, I’ve been working on revamping the main navigation for a client’s website. It has happened in three phases. The final phase is building functionality into a custom CMS that allows admins to make changes to the new custom main menu.
The backwards deadline method allows the team to better understand what can be done within a time period. As a team, we can better prioritise the main menu CMS specifications so we can hit a deadline. This helps reduce risk and avoid optimising problems that don’t exist.
All by just writing down the milestones and stepping stones before the project.
2) One Chart Strategy
If you struggle with crafting SEO strategies, this is for you.
One of the big problems with SEO strategy is that:
It can be difficult to communicate your vision to stakeholders.
It can be difficult to connect delivery to your vision.
It can be difficult to show the business value.
But what if I told you that for many businesses, you can explain the SEO strategy in just one chart?
I call this a One Chart Strategy.
For example, I worked with a B2B finance client a few years ago to identify a strategy to help them drive qualified leads to their website. It was a few months into the retainer, and I was still getting to grips with the business.
During the discovery process, I jumped on a call with the client to discuss sectors. It was during our call that the client said, “Everyone in our market focuses on generic business loans, but the real money is made in niche sectors. They are better quality and not full of tyre kickers.”
It was that one sentence that helped craft the SEO strategy.
The client had a custom CRM which tracked everything. Including the value of the business loans across the different sectors. I was able to create the following graph using both business and SEO data points:
This simple one-chart became the SEO strategy for the client.
Just by looking at it, we can see that:
Short fat-tail keywords drive more SEO traffic but drive lower-quality leads
Niche business sectors drive less SEO traffic but drive higher-quality leads
It’s important to understand that the client makes % by helping their clients get different types of business loans. The bigger the loan, the more money the client makes.
Also, the short fat-tail keyword sectors were more competitive. And would need the client to invest a lot of resources to drive business results. In contrast, the niche sectors were less competitive, and the client needed to invest in less resources to drive business results.
I pitched the strategy to the client (in the usual slide deck fashion). And they loved it!
This graph also clearly communicated the which choices the client needed to win:
The client must become the no. #1 resource for niche sectors within business finance.
The client is an expert in niche sectors in business finance.
The client needed to focus on building content hubs that target niche sectors.
The client needed to invest in writers, designers, and devs to build content hubs.
The client needed to build content and editorial process to publish relevant content.
This strategy (set of powerful choices) started from a single client conversation and one chart.
So, next time you are struggling to communicate your SEO strategy. Spend some time to create a single one-chart strategy that can combine SEO and business data.
The one chart strategy might even write itself.
3) Three Principles of Prioritization
The three principles of prioritization help teams sequence and order work.
The three principles are as follows:
🗼 #1 Prioritize initiatives: Ensure you sequence your SEO initiatives in the right order to maximise the team’s resources.
🏠 #2 Prioritize opportunities: Ensuring the opportunities within an initiative are always being prioritised.
📋 #3 Prioritize tasks - Prioritise tasks to get opportunities executed.
The three principles of prioritization are a continuous neverending process. They need to be applied on a daily, weekly and monthly cadence.
It’s not just a one-off exercise.
Why is it important to use prioritization principles?
Complexity and unknowns are inevitable in any software or SEO project.
As new info, data or facts become available, these unknown problems appear at any level. If the team fails to prioritise, it will slow down the delivery of a project.
For example, when working on an initiative, an investigation by the dev team finds that the estimation for a component for a new template is way off. The team now must discuss if this needs to be prioritised first or sequenced in a different order. Failing to prioritise means the team will delay building the page template.
How can I practice the three principles of prioritization?
It is important to understand that prioritization is a skill.
To gain this skill, you must continuously ask yourself these three questions throughout the lifecycle of any project:
What should we be working on?
In what order should we build our initiatives?
When can initiatives be executed?
Only by practising answering these questions and reprioritising work at different levels will you build up a “sense” of how to apply the three principles of prioritization.
How did I do this week?
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