Cultivating Good Luck

“We just got lucky.”

“That was bad luck.”

Hoping for Luck Luck feels like a thing that just happens to us, whether good or bad. But what if good luck can be cultivated? What if bad luck can be avoided?

Ultimately, good luck is just benefiting from surprise, randomness, or emergence. It’s experiencing the upside of unpredictability. Bad luck is the opposite.

In our Product Owner Community of Practice last week, we explored this notion of cultivating good luck on product teams. We brainstormed examples of good luck (upside) and bad luck (downside) product teams can experience. Then, we fleshed out a “luck matrix,” a visualization of things product teams can do to increase or decrease their exposure to the upside or downside unpredictability.

Possible downsides or bad luck included:

  • Doing something that’s no longer needed
  • A key team member leaves
  • A dependency fails
  • Competitor beats us to market with a cool new feature

We decrease our exposure to these by, for example:

  • Having T-shaped team members
  • Keeping the system in a shippable, “done” state as often as possible
  • Limiting work-in-progress (WIP)
  • Abstracting from dependencies
  • Having a strong vision and strategy

We increase our exposure to these by:

  • Building up tech debt
  • Having a low “bus factor” or “lottery factor,” just 1 person who can do key things
  • Being tightly coupled to dependencies
  • Having unclear decision-making authority

On the other side, possible upsides or good luck included:

  • Exploiting a time-sensitive opportunity
  • A dependency has an unexpected improvement
  • A competitor drops out of the market or messes up their product
  • Meeting a helpful collaborator or partner

We decrease our exposure to these by:

  • Following long, detailed plans
  • Needing to coordinate multiple teams to deliver increments of value
  • Not-Invented-Here syndrome, having to build everything ourselves

We increase our exposure to these by:

  • Having a well-refined backlog (see our PO Board episode)
  • Creating a culture of experimentation
  • Pursuing multiple small bets simultaneously
  • Self-contained (full stack) teams
  • Staying in close contact with customers

Cultivating luck just means organizing your team to be on the correct side of these practices. Decrease your exposure to downside. Increase your exposure to upside. This makes the negative events less likely or less of a big deal. It makes the positive events more likely or easier to exploit.

Of course, most of these things are just good Agile practices. Which is sort of the point. As we often say, Agile is just a set of practices to help humans collaborate with other humans to solve complex, meaningful problems.

Learn More About Great POship

Certified Scrum Product Owner Workshop (virtual, instructor-led)
Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner Program (virtual, instructor-led)
80/20 Product Ownership (online, self-guided)

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