Deciding which products to build and when is the most important decision for any high technology company. In a fast paced environment, investing in the wrong features or addressing the wrong use cases will leave you losing ground to competitors.
Which leaves the question: with so much at stake, how does any tech company decide what to build?
In my experience there are two distinct models for answering this question. Most product development is done in either marathons or sprints.
Product marathons are the long-term investments that are made in service of a core strategic vision. Marathons can be launching a new product line, building a new architecture, refactoring an old code base, or addressing a new major feature set or use case. Marathons help take the company large distances to where you believe there is going to be revenue in the future.
Sprints are the short bursts of intense energy necessary to win one specific major client. In a sprint – the requirements are fairly well established, the revenue potential is known, and the timeline is short. Sprinting can be the most fun part of product development. It’s getting a big deal on the hook and going all-hands-on-deck to get the work done. It’s throwing process out the window and getting the “win” on a major piece of new business. It’s making promises to clients you have to deliver on and stretching to win.
Marathons are about unifying the company behind a long-term direction.
Sprints are all about getting a big win.
No one builds a successful product company only through marathons. It’s not possible. Relying only on marathons is relying on an “if you build it they will come” mentality. That just doesn’t work. The purpose of each marathon is to bring your company into the space of adjacent possible so you can be positioned to close the gap with a sprint. Marathons position you for sprints.
Marathons are traveling to the right hunting ground. Sprints are the kill.
Plan your marathons carefully and choose your sprints wisely.