April 12, 2018

Recently I came across two approaches that claim to solve to the problem “how to succeed always with your projects by delivering always on-time, on- or under budget”: Kai Gilb’s Value First and Vasco Duarte’s #NoEstimates. As I studied those approaches a bit deeper (I joined a key note and a workshop of Vasco’s at NovaTec and I attended a webinar with Kai, besides reading their respective books and other related stuff), I noticed that both value focus approaches have some elements in common but focus different areas of project work.

In this small series of blog posts, first lets have a look at the key points of each approach as I understood. This part focuses on Value First. Second part presents #NoEstimates. Final post of the series compares both approaches.

Kai Gilb: Value First

Kai Gilb addresses Product Development. He uses “project” and “product” sometimes intermingling. I will use the term “initiative” in describing what I understood from Value First approach.

Kai’s main concern is to succeed in product development by delivering the right product on time within budget. “No one wants code, only value is wanted”, he explains. So one has to focus on customer values to define success for an initiative. This is why value First defines “success” as delivering to customer values.

What is success?

In order to get hold on the meaning of success in a given initiative, Value First approach identifies the value objectives the most critical stakeholders want the initative to pursue. Then it defines them with some detail and – most important – quantifies them. As the quantified and prioritized customer values define the success of the initiative, these values are used to lead all decisions and all efforts and actions towards creating that success. He uses a picture of ants dragging a caterpillar: the ants will only move the caterpillar if they all pull in the same direction. The quantified and prioritized customer values provide an initative with this direction.

For each value objective one defines a target (for the initiative), an ideal, an optimum and a current quantity. Value First uses this scale to measure progress towards the targeted value objective while iterating. Measurement is like a test procedure for the value, Kai states. The goal for each iteration is to make progress in delivering value with as little effort as absolutely necessary for that progress. This encourages not to implement a shopping list of features, functions or stories. But only such items that directly increase the targeted value objective. In the end each iteration delivers a value increment that some stakeholder appreciates. This in turn increases satisfaction level of stakeholders.

Three Key steps

Kai Gilb presents three key steps to succeed:

  1. To wow your customer, forget your order and your job title, ask the customer “What do you want to achieve? What improvement do you need?” – it’s usually not the first answer you get, so you should dig deeper and use e.g. the 5 Whys to come to the real needs. This reminds me of business analysis and requirements engineering having several additional methods ready to use for that purpose.
  2. Quantify the values – you can do that within 5 minutes for every value. This reminds me of several authors writing about quantifying or measuring everything: e.g. Justin Fox wrote, you manage what you measure. And to measure, you have to quantify. Or remember Douglas Hubbart’s classic book “How to measure everything”.
  3. To minimize your workload dramatically, put all key requirements on one page. Sounds not realistic? Kai clarifies: The key requirements are the quantified value-based outcomes that your (critical) stakeholders expect for success. Usually one page or slide can hold these.

Meetup and Workshop in Munich

If you’re interested to learn more about Kai’s approach, there is a meetup at Munich next Monday. For even deeper hands-on experience Kai offers some workshops this year, e.g. Munich workshop in May.

What do you think? How do you define success for your initiatives? Let us know your approach.

Don’t miss to read part 2 of the blog series!

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