mile 9

One of the hardest things product dev teams have to do nowadays is differentiate between what’s urgent, what’s important, and what needs to be ignored.

The biggest problem here is that every person has a completely different intuition about how to categorize each problem. In the absence of predefined principles that have been articulated and reinforced across the org, each person will act according to their own sensibilities.

Early on at Tonic Health, part of R1 RCM, we had been adding so many customer requests into our sprints that most of our strategic work kept getting pushed out. Everything was urgent. If we didn’t do the requests, it would either kill a breakthrough deal that was about to happen or, worse, cause a major customer to cancel their contract.

Our team was getting burned out. And everyone was pointing fingers at each other.

So where was the scoop for this proverbial poop?

First, we realized that we didn’t have a great vision for our roadmap. We did. But it wasn’t articulated well enough to our stakeholders or our customers. Once we did that, the number of urgent requests decreased drastically. Our roadmap had put our team and customers at ease.

Second, our management team banded together and worked to define what constituted an urgent request. We were all on board dropping everything and doing what mattered. But we all wanted to be on the same page about it. So that when an emergency did come up, we could all focus on solving it rather than debating if it was urgent or not.

Lastly, we cultivated the discipline to ignore (ie put it in the backlog) everything else. It was hard. But our roadmap made it easier. We were always happy to shift it, but to do it, someone else had to show why what we were asking for was more important than what was on our roadmap.

As Tonic evolved, so did our approaches to dealing with this problem. Since then, our engineering team was always able to focus on what we deemed as important, and nothing else.

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