Create Clarity by Defining Success

Definition of Success

One surefire way to increase your odds of success is to articulate what success actually looks like. In the Humanizing Work Three Jobs of Management model, Definition of Success is one of the focus areas under Job #1: Create Clarity. As Yogi Berra famously put it, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

However, defining success can be difficult to do directly in the complex domain. We played with this idea in last week’s Product Owner Community of Practice session. The question we were tackling: What’s the right level of detail on each time horizon in the PO Board? The PO Board tells you, for example, that the top two sprints worth of backlog items should be user stories or similar-sized items, but how much detail should be in those stories?

Try to specify the right amount of detail directly, and you’ll struggle or just plain get it wrong. We have to sneak up on that question. So we brainstormed…

  • Indications of too little detail
  • Indications of too much detail
  • Indications of the wrong detail
  • Decisions you need to make at each column
  • Info required to make those decisions
  • Key stakeholders on that time horizon

The answers helped us triangulate on the right amount of detail for a particular backlog in a particular context on that time horizon.

It’s similar when defining success for a complex piece of work. You may able to describe the general outcome you’re going for, but you may need to demo and get feedback on work-in-progress. Not just to check “is it done?” but, often, to triangulate on what we even mean by “done.”

In this week’s Humanizing Work Show episode, we talk through a Sprint Review agenda designed for getting useful feedback on meaningful, complex work. (You can use the agenda for other work-in-progress reviews, too, not just on Scrum teams.) Check out the episode and let us know how this approach works when you try it on your team.

Related Show episodes to check out as well!

Not so key idea (that’s sort of related to the key idea):

Know what you’re looking for when asking for feedback. Like most businesses, we’re experimenting with AI writing tools. Do your own first draft, since that’s where the thinking happens. Then use the tools to ask for advice on how to make it better. Don’t ask it to rewrite it for you, just ask for advice.


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