Learn to Say No More Often and Focus Instead

Saying ‘No’ can make agile software teams and their companies more successful. How can that be? Doesn’t the team have to deliver what the business wants? Let me explain.

Obviously, when a business stakeholder makes a request, the team has an obligation to evaluate the request and add it to the product backlog after appropriate analysis. That’s fine.

When it comes time to select product backlog items to be included in a release or a sprint, it gets tougher. Clearly, the business stakeholders want everything they’ve requested. Wouldn’t you? It may not be quite so clear that the development team cannot deliver everything requested in the target timeframe. Now what?

  • You can add people to the team and hope they quickly fit in and improve the team’s performance. (A risky bet.)
  • You can ask for more calendar time and hope the requirements don’t change (much) during the expanded project. (A riskier bet.)
  • Or, you can just say no. (Well, not quite that bluntly.) The point is to be honest that not everything requested will make the release timeframe with sufficient quality to be included.

Staying focused and not trying to do too much creates winning products and companies. Here are a couple of examples of technology companies that stayed focused and a couple that did not.

Apple – The company has never tried to be all things to all people. They have always had a consumer and small business focus. They have always catered to non-technical users. At times, they have been severely criticized by enterprise IT departments and technologists for not catering to their needs. Apple is sitting on boat loads of cash!

Google – The company is primarily an advertising broker. They do Internet search very well. They offer many other services and applications, including the Android OS, always with an eye toward advertising revenue potential. They have been the target of severe criticism for limitations in all of their non-search offerings. Google remains phenomenally successful.

RIM – The company was the undisputed market leader in mobile messaging. They offered the best pager available and migrated into mobile phones, primarily for corporate users. Then they decided to go after the consumer market (Apple’s iPhone, in particular) and broaden their vision to include all market segments. RIM now faces severe financial pressures.

Yahoo – The company started out in Internet search and now has many faces. They do many things well and therein lies the problem. They lack a clear identity. As a result, none of their offerings have established a dominant position in any market. Yahoo is struggling to stay alive.

What about your company or product? Is it focused? If not, help them out by saying ‘No’ more often. Focus instead.

Updated: April 5, 2012 — 10:33 pm