Chapter 2: The Productivity Paradox – Embracing Constraints

Contrary to popular belief, productivity isn’t merely a function of available resources. In fact, smaller, creatively adept teams often outperform larger counterparts, an aspect that many leaders overlook, giving rise to a productivity paradox.

The “10x developer” paradigm underscores the immense value of welcoming neurodiverse talent into organizations. Such standout developers can drive productivity levels up to ten times higher than their average peers. However, a common pitfall is managing software development projects with a manufacturing mindset, treating teams as assembly lines and seeking cost efficiency over skill diversity. This approach can be detrimental, especially in the context of new product development, which inherently requires an iterative cycle of experimentation and feedback. For start-ups, the primary objective is validated learning, not immediate scaling. Productivity ebbs and flows across different stages of a business lifecycle, and rushing to scale before establishing product-market fit can lead to inefficiencies. Therefore, it’s critical to balance resource allocation with strategic objectives to maximize productivity and value.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) proposes that a system’s productivity is limited by its weakest component. By enhancing this constraint, overall performance can improve. The five-step TOC process includes:

  1. Identify the Constraint
  2. Decide How to Exploit It
  3. Subordinate Other Processes
  4. Elevate the Constraint
  5. Repeat as Needed

For instance, a software team I worked with recognized testing as their constraint. By investing in automation and dedicating resources to optimize testing, they doubled their productivity. To implement the TOC, leaders must ensure that pivotal specialists aren’t overburdened. By optimizing their constraint with streamlined workflows and suitable tools, productivity increases. However, poorly supported delegation risks failure as does the failure to change leadership style.

Several methodologies can aid in managing constraints, such as Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, and Design Thinking:

  • Lean focuses on eliminating waste and maximizing value, improving productivity, efficiency, and quality.
  • Six Sigma, a data-driven approach, uses statistical analysis to eliminate defects and reduce variability, thereby increasing productivity and customer satisfaction.
  • Agile promotes flexibility, adaptability, and continuous improvement, allowing organizations to respond swiftly to changes and improve their processes.
  • Design & System Thinking a human-centred approach to problem-solving, views constraints as opportunities for creativity and innovation, leading to more effective solutions.

Despite the proven effectiveness of these methodologies, many leaders falter in their implementation. The crux of the problem often lies in focusing too heavily on process changes while neglecting the complementary shifts in thinking and leadership required to realize these new work methodologies fully. Changing how people work without modifying their mindset and the leadership style guiding them will fall short of achieving the desired results. Furthermore, a notable oversight in many businesses is the underutilization of these methodologies in addressing sustainability challenges. This gap represents a missed opportunity, as these methods can significantly contribute to achieving sustainability goals.

Constraints can act as catalysts for creative problem-solving, overcoming limitations without the need for additional staff. For instance, Patagonia has turned sustainability constraints into opportunities for product innovation. Similarly, budget restrictions can lead to process streamlining. Importantly, leaders must provide room for experimentation.

As climate change exacerbates supply chain disruptions, infrastructure damage, resource scarcity, and workforce availability fluctuations, collaboration between public and private sectors becomes crucial to enhance competitiveness sustainably.

The paradox is that having surplus resources doesn’t guarantee heightened productivity. Instead, potential lies in optimizing constraints. Organizations must effectively leverage their resources, just like managing road usage.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to enhancing productivity. A diversified approach coupled with an unwavering commitment to continuous improvement is critical. By leveraging the power of focused education and coaching, the seemingly insurmountable productivity paradox can be navigated successfully, preventing the hazards of uncontrolled output. Essentially, achieving sustainability requires transforming perceived limitations into launchpads for innovation. As the majority of businesses today aspire towards more sustainable business models, a deeper comprehension of the Theory of Constraints (TOC) and its strategic implementation can play a pivotal role. It can help address the complex challenge of integrating sustainability into business practices, all while maintaining financial prudence.

Exploring Frankenstein Products in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Franestine Monster with circuits, male head and shoulders with bolts through the neck, lightning

What is a Frankenstein Product: Overview

I’m not the first to have used the term “Frankenstein Product” which is often used to describe a product that is a mishmash of features hastily stitched together without a clear vision or purpose. These products often result from a lack of understanding of the customer’s needs or an overzealous attempt to incorporate every possible feature into a single product. The result is a confusing product, difficult to use, and often fails to meet the customer’s needs. It also becomes bloatware difficult to QA, manage and support. For buys, you can also tell these products if suppliers are unwilling to let you have a free trial or if the deployment is measured in months instead of days or weeks!

In the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age, the risk of creating Frankenstein Products is even greater. With the vast array of AI technologies available, it’s tempting for businesses to incorporate as many features as possible into their products. However, without a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and why the customer will use your to-do list over the competition’s; and a strategic approach to product development, these products can quickly become unwieldy and ineffective. I could name some examples, but maybe that is better for people to leave in the comments.

The term “Frankenstein Product” is derived from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, in which a scientist creates a monster by stitching together parts from various bodies. Just like the monster in the novel, Frankenstein Products are often seen as abominations, lacking in coherence and functionality.

Why AI will lead to an explosion of Frankenstein Products

AI’s emergence has revolutionized product development. It enables the analysis of massive data volumes, prediction of customer behavior, task automation, and personalization of experiences. For developers, AI enhances speed, bolsters QA procedures, and aids in code refactoring. However, this acceleration could lead to an overabundance of features. Without collaboration between a product manager and a product designer skilled in UX and CX, this risk escalates.

Speed does not equate to value if quality or usefulness is missing; a principle acknowledged in Agile, where building irrelevant or unused features quickly is the most significant form of waste, moves you further from the goal of product-market fit. Hence, the emphasis should be on outcomes rather than output when creating products that customers will love.

The problem lies in the fact that AI is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each AI technology has its own strengths and weaknesses, and not all of them will be relevant or beneficial to every product. Furthermore, the integration of AI technologies into a product requires a deep understanding of the technology and its implications. Without this understanding, businesses run the risk of creating products that are confusing, difficult to use, and fail to deliver on their promises.

Moreover, the rapid pace of AI development means that new technologies are constantly emerging. This can lead to a constant cycle of adding and removing features, resulting in a product that is constantly changing and lacks stability.

How to Avoid Frankenstein’s Monster: Product Market Fit

To avoid creating a Frankenstein Product, businesses need to focus on achieving product-market fit. This means developing a product that meets the needs of specific customer segments and creates value for them which in turn creates value for the business building them at a price that the market is willing to pay.

Achieving product-market fit requires deeply understanding the customer’s needs and desires. This can be achieved through customer interviews, surveys, and market research. By understanding the customer’s pain points, businesses can develop a product that provides a solution to these problems. To do this good product managers and product designers need to spend a minimum of 20% of their time interviewing customers. Yes, that one whole day a week? Are you spending that much time a week interested in the comments below?

Know your customer’s Jobs-to-be-done.

The final guard against creating Frankenstein Products is deeply understanding the customer’s Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD). The JTBD framework is a way of looking at customer needs not in terms of products or services, but the jobs that customers need to get done. By understanding the customer’s JTBD, businesses can develop products that solve these jobs. This can help ensure the product is relevant and valuable to the customer. Mapping your product blue ocean strategy canvas can also help you avoid the monster.

The concept of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) was popularized by Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, in his book “The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth,” which was published in 2003. The book was co-authored with Michael E. Raynor.

The JTBD theory is a framework for understanding what causes consumers to adopt new products or services. According to Christensen, customers don’t simply buy products or services; they “hire” them to perform a job that they need to get done. This idea has influenced a wide range of innovation and product development practices.

In conclusion, while the advent of AI has opened up a world of possibilities for product development, it has also increased the risk of creating Frankenstein Products. By focusing on achieving product-market fit, understanding the customer’s JTBD, and being strategic in using AI technologies, businesses can avoid this pitfall and create valuable, relevant, and loved products. Next time I will wring about Zombie products, why they exist and what to do about them. Tip: Traditional projects have a lot to answer for… 

Productivity Paradox: Embracing Constraints to Drive 10x Performance

To achieve a 10x productivity revolution, it’s essential to challenge the belief that more resources lead to greater productivity. Not every resource request must feel like a tug of war when you make fewer of them. A focus on the skill level and effective utilisation of your resources make all the difference. Constraints can be helpful, especially when developing a product with undefined scope. By defining a set of constraints, you can keep your product on track to meet your desired outcomes.

The Theory of Constraints is a systematic approach to improving a system’s performance by identifying and addressing its limiting factors. Your organisation’s productivity is limited by its most critical constraint or bottleneck. By identifying and addressing these constraints, you can boost your productivity significantly. For example, in a manufacturing company, optimising the production line constraint can lead to improved overall productivity, knowledge work is not manufacturing to be however.

Another common constraint in many businesses is a key person everyone turns to for specific tasks. This individual may be one of the best on the team, with unique knowledge or the one who knows the process best. However, this can lead to a bottleneck if that individual is overworked or unavailable. Identifying such constraints and addressing them can lead to a significant boost in productivity.

By embracing the theories of constraints and other productivity approaches, like agile, lean, six sigma, design thinking, and systems thinking. You can drive a 10x productivity revolution in your organisation. Join me on my blog for more insights and tips on increasing productivity and achieving more with less. My book will be out in the next few weeks.

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