Have you ever painstakingly built a roadmap for the quarter, but on week 1 something important completely knocked everything off the rails? Then, at the end of the quarter, someone comments that you didn’t follow your quarterly commitments. We live in a world of learning, chaos, volatility, and change. Is there a better way to predict the future? WorkStep CPO Tommi Forsström shares tactics to use data and sound agile principles to get a clearer crystal ball and more fluidity to react to the chaos. 

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On the trust battery

In order for any team to function, there needs to be a level of trust and commitment. Shopify founder Tobias Lütke coined the term, trust battery. Every relationship, whether personal or professional, has a trust battery. If product managers and leaders want to successfully predict future outcomes, they need to build trust in their team and with their stakeholders. This is how building trust can help prepare you for the future:

“I’ve spent a lot of time with troubled product leaders and product managers. And almost every time that I dug into why these people are flailing or suffering, it was because they had completely ignored and depleted their trust battery, leading to a vicious cycle of never-ending hostile stakeholder requests.”

“There’s this constant defensive stance and need to prove why my PR priorities are what they are, like the nightmare version of product management. But when you operate at a full trust battery, when people around you people trust you, your work becomes incredibly fun.”

“Reed Hoffman defined trust as consistency multiplied by time. It really captures the true essence of trust. And also the nature of it is a multiplication because if either of these factors goes to zero or near zero, the actual result of the multiplication is very close to zero. So, especially with the time factor, you cannot fake time, you have to be able to show up and do the reps.”

On utilizing agile to better predict the future

There is much debate when it comes to the success of agile methodologies. Some people claim them a waste of time, but is that just due to laziness? The product world is chaotic, and the future changes constantly. Agile may be time-consuming and at times tedious, but it is necessary for creating calm in a sea of product chaos. This is what Tommi had to say about how agile can help predict the future:

“Agile definitely isn’t thrashing. It isn’t just doing whatever on a whim. It’s definitely not done when it’s done. And it for sure isn’t no estimates, hashtag movement.” 

“The mindset’s core is that we take as a given that the environment in our understanding of it, is in constant flux, it’s in constant evolution. And as such, we have to be able to make changes in a calm and controlled manner. So it’s almost like a sense of serenity. Amidst chaos.”

“[With agile] you can take all this incoming signal, you can take this incoming change, and evolve and adjust with it without skipping a beat without coming across as like thrashy, and so forth.”

On algorithmic vs. heuristic work

In the industrial era, the type of work people did was more algorithmic. It was predictable, low velocity, there was a high premium on efficiency and linear progress, and it was all about the reps. Now, in the 21st century, we have been propelled into chaos or heuristic work. The market is volatile and hard to predict, there is a high value in learning, it requires constant reflection, and it is nightmarish to plan and predict. Check out what Tommi had to say about predicting the future in this heuristic age:

“Most of the industrial era has been based on algorithmic work, essentially a conveyor belt work. Things that are clearly predictable, low volatility, and efficiency and management are at a very high value. It’s all about the reps and you can manage the hell out of that.”

“However, the 21st century and especially our world is mostly revolving around heuristic work, which is far less deterministic. It is it’s much more probabilistic, which means that you know where you need to get to, but you don’t necessarily know how to get there.”

“Now, there’s high volatility. There is a constant need to reflect on a steady approach. And it can be very janky or jagged in how you progress…it is incredibly hard to plan and predict and forecast that type of work.”

On story points & velocity maps to predict the future

Certain things, we do not have to be psychic to predict. We know when holidays, birthdays, and vacations come because we plan for them. And we can plan for how to work efficiently during those slump periods each year. Story points are units of measure for expressing an estimate of the overall effort required to fully implement a product backlog item or any other piece of work.. By using story points, you can quite literally predict the future. This is what you need to know about story points and predicting the future:

“Story Points are meant to capture all of the things that influence how long it takes, complexity blockers, dependencies, all that fun stuff.” 

“It’s a team metric. It is the metric around team value creation. And most importantly, the best way to make this a train wreck is to use story points in any way that’s non-neutral. Basically, using it for individual or team performance, performance benchmarking, a big number of goods, a small number of goods, that’s a really bad idea. It’s supposed to be a neutral indicator that is free from being perverted.”

“All planned work is things you choose to do to improve on your product either for customer value, operability, or efficiency. It’s things you choose to do that should be prioritized against each other. And it all should be planned in the same way.”

About the speaker
Tommi Forsström Teachable, VP of Product Member

Growth stage Product leader, specializing in life after product-market fit.

About the host
Maheep Bhalla AT&T, Product Management Lead

Maheep is a customer-focused Product Leader. He believes that a Product Manager wears multiple hats but should always champion the voice of the customer.

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