Long Pressed #7: Now, Next, Thinking About

A recurring theme of Long Pressed is optionality. At interesting time scales we introduce patterns that help teams discover and make trade offs transparently. We strive to make bets on the right “whats” because of the right “whys” and are flexible on the “hows”. So, what do we do when we’re asked about the “whens”? Now, Next, Thinking About, is a pattern leaders can use to keep stakeholders appraised of what the team is working on right now, what the team might work on next, and what they think about the future, without sacrificing optionality.


Now, Next, Thinking About

It's inevitable, at some point you'll be asked to officially write down what you think you're going to do in the future. It's scary, the future is going to arrive and what you thought you were going to do isn't what you think you should do now. Don't panic. Don't start googling product roadmap templates. The fact is, there's work you're doing right now, work you're considering doing next, and a bunch of other stuff you've recently thought about. If those things are already recorded in some layer of your Writing Stack then you're 90% of the way there. The other 10% is framing that what you think you're going to do next could change and what you're thinking about is most likely going to change.

The actual contents of each category of this pattern depend on the time scale in which you actually commit to and complete work. For example, if your smallest work increment is 6 weeks, then what is committed to the current 6 weeks goes into now, and what might be committed to the next 6 weeks goes into next. It's helpful to make the time scale and team size clear up front so that your audience has a sense of how many "Nexts" can fit into the next "Now".

Now

  • This work cannot be changed unless there is a major problem in stakeholder Alignment

  • Updated at the beginning of every work increment to reflect what is now being committed to being completed

  • The team is accountable for this work

  • Everything in this category has already arrived at the design or engineering level of work

Next

  • Stakeholder feedback is welcome

  • Updated at the beginning of every work increment to reflect what is being considered and shaped next

  • No commitment to do something if we happen to find out it's not the right thing or the best thing to do next

  • Everything in this category is currently in the product management level of work

  • Not everything in this category will fit into the next "Now"

Thinking About

  • Your conversation starter, where you need to gauge interest and alignment

  • Keep it to about 1 year max

  • If you're not thinking about anything beyond "Next" then leave it out, don't make it up!

  • Only needs to be revisited if your highest level product strategy changes

Problems

Teams are struggling to find themes in upcoming product work to represent as a roadmap, or roadmaps are disconnected from the Source of Truth of their ideas.

Long term plans used to lead discourse about potential future product or business scenarios can easily be misconstrued as Commitment by stakeholders, resulting in an unintentional loss of Optionality.

Bigger Problems

This pattern requires sufficient discipline of a Writing Stack in order to remain connected to a Source of Truth.

This pattern is extremely difficult to implement if product teams work off of backlogs using scrum or kanban style patterns due to an inability to discern ordered themes of varying levels of fidelity from an ordered list with a single level of fidelity. Instead, we recommend working on Fixed Time Variable Scope projects.

Observations

Whereas Objectives and Key Results and Hill Charts are about Making ProgressShowing Progress, and Seeing Progress, this pattern is about reporting status. The difference is that the progress patterns are designed to be dynamic, updating in real time, rather than static (hence "status"), updated on a specific cadence.

Many of our patterns Draw Clean Lines by passing different levels of information at different time scales via an interface or a protocol.

Related Patterns

Engineering and design teams are encouraged, via Discovered Work, to expose their thinking, make trade offs, and aren't committed to doing something if they happen to think it's not the right thing to do in the moment.

Tools

Writing Stack can help teams more efficiently leverage their Source of Truth of information for what they think they'll do next and what they're thinking about in general.


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