Strategy vs. Planning, Cone of Uncertainty, Context Switching
Edition #22 - 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) Strategy vs. Planning: What’s the difference?
Strategy is a term that gets thrown around a lot. But what is strategy?
Well, based on strategy theory, we know what it isn’t. A strategy is NOT:
❌ A plan
❌ A goal
❌ A set of actions
According to Professor Michael Poter in a fantastic short YouTube video, strategy is:
“A strategy is not a plan. Strategy is an integrative set of choices that positions you on a playing field of your choice in a way that you win. A strategy must be coherent and doable.”
In this video, he outlines that strategy is a set of choices that link together and reinforce each other to increase your odds of success.
These choices include:
Costs, Tradeoffs and Systems
Growth Model (Market-Led or Product-Led)
Roger Martin, the author of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, outlines the five most powerful choices using the Strategy Choice Cascade.
But how can you use this framework to create SEO strategies for your company?
Well, as SEOs, we need to remove technical bottom-up thinking when creating a strategy. This means we can’t hand in an SEO audit Excel checklist and call it a strategy. Focusing on tactics is a plan.
Instead, when asked to create a strategy. I want to create a new Google Doc and write down the following questions:
What is our winning aspiration? (Why are people getting out of bed to work on this)
Where will we play? (Market, target audience, product categories, channels)
How will we win? (Value proposition, competitive advantage)
What capabilities must be in place to win? (Activities, teams)
What management systems are required? (Business systems, processes, outputs and reporting)
Try to make each answer no longer than a tweet. This will mean you’ll need to really think about the operational choices that will help the company win the game of SEO.
This isn’t easy.
It requires understanding the business, target audience and the market inside and out. That requires doing research and talking to internal and external stakeholders. But will help you identify a set of smart choices that will cascade.
Once you’ve started to identify a strategy (set of choices). You can begin to identify the SEO tactics that can be used to help you win.
Do you want to see an example of these questions in action?
Then check out Bryan Casey’s newsletter. How IBM used the Strategy Choice Cascade (as well as other frameworks) to drive $50M of annual organic traffic value 👇.
2) Cone of Uncertainty
Estimating projects is a broken process.
According to The Standish Group research, a staggering 52.7% of IT and software projects will cost 189% of their original estimates.
Well, because devs and product managers fall into the trap of giving inaccurate estimates at the start of a project. Which always sets up the project for failure. And when they begin working on a project out of scope, problems always arise.
But what if I told you there is a straightforward way to get accurate estimations for your projects?
Enter the cone of uncertainty. A way of narrowing down uncertainty to provide clarity.
So, instead of trying to provide estimates upfront for an initial idea. You and your team need to investigate and research to refine the idea. And narrow down the scope and understand specific details to give accurate estimations.
How can you use the cone of uncertainty to get accurate estimations?
You need to turn vague initial ideas into smaller actionable requests.
Instead of immediately asking for estimations from devs as soon as you present an idea. Or asking them to fill in t-shirt sizes in an action list.
Try this instead.
Ask them to work with you to break down an initial vague idea into specific smaller requests. Then ask them to estimate these smaller requests. It becomes a lot easier for delivery teams to estimate smaller requests than a big vague idea.
To do this you need to:
Scope out the requirements (i.e. write it down in a brief and share it)
Identify the must-haves to accomplish the goals (i.e. prioritise the requirements work)
Slice down the project into releases (i.e. use a tool like Miro to break the projects)
Basically spend time with your development, design and product teams to dig into an idea. Estimations become a lot easier when teams have a better idea in their own heads what you are asking for.
3) Why Context Switching Kills Your Projects
Context switching is the silent killer of getting SEO projects executed.
Study after study has found that simultaneously jumping between tasks kills productivity.
For example, Gerald Weinberg calculated that you can lose 20% of productivity by focusing on multiple projects/tasks at once. And if you juggle 5 projects/tasks at the same time then you could be losing 80% productivity.
That is a lot of wasted time and effort jumping between tasks.
But why does context switching matter to getting SEO projects executed?
Because developers are forced to context switch all the time:
🥱 Forced to get their head back into coding after another meeting
🤨 React to requests from the business team that aren’t planned out
😫 Switch between different projects without rhyme or reason week after week
The constant context switching isn’t always the developer's fault. A lot of the time it is because the business has no clear plan or strategy in place. So developers are forced to react to requests of the business team.
Which kills productivity. Slows down projects to a crawl. And makes developers want to get a job somewhere else (I’ve seen it happen).
All the while your SEO projects are sitting in the backlog. Just waiting to be implemented.
So, how can we help reduce context switching?
There are a number of ways we can help reduce context switching while working with developers. But the top 5 ways I’ve found to reduce context switching on projects are:
✅ Clear Roadmap - Create a clear up-to-date roadmap of projects that helps the dev team understand what you want to work on in the next 3-6 months.
✅ Reduce Requests - Do not send low-priority requests or initial ideas to the development team, unless they are related to the projects in the roadmap or a very high priority.
✅ Ruthlessly Prioritise - Keep the team focused on delivering 1 project at a time and continuously work with your dev team to prioritise upcoming tasks or projects to reduce unnecessary tasks.
✅ Mandatory Meetings - Make sure every meeting has a clear agenda, recorded actions that can be shared and that the meetings are relevant to the projects.
✅ Scope Requirements - Work with your dev team to scope out the initial idea into smaller realistic requirements that can be turned into realistic release plans.
All of these activities have one thing in common.
They help dev teams understand what you need from them ahead of time. This helps them think ahead, plan their schedules based on what is needed, and stop the sudden need to react to SEO requests.
So the next time you think a project is taking too long. Just ask yourself a simple question.
What other projects did you or someone else ask the development team to work on?
How did I do this week?
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