Translating Business Goals into Product Software

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When creating custom software or building a software solution, it’s critical to make sure your development efforts align with your business goals. By aligning your development with business goals, you can accomplish several things:

  • Ensure your development spend is actually solving the problems that are most relevant to your business objectives

  • Motivate your development teams by giving them confidence that they are providing true value to your business and your end users, thus improving quality and value delivered

  • Enable the measurement of development efforts against your goals

With loosely defined goals and/or loosely coupled development initiatives, you leave room for your team's efforts to stray from the activities that will produce the most value and diminish the sense of accomplishment for the entire organization. You will continue to invest at the same rate, but your returns will decrease as the team produces low value results. Your teams will continue to work each day, but without strong goals they will begin to lose their sense of purpose, creating a negative feedback loop.

By defining your business goals and translating them into well-coupled development initiatives, you can maximize the output of your teams and your organization as a whole. Your bottom line is improved via increased value delivery and your team’s sense of accomplishment is maximized. In order to achieve this, your goals must be well understood, well communicated and translated into initiatives that facilitate efficient execution.

Aligning business, product, and marketing goals

It's imperative to have business goals documented and understood. The following assumes you have established and documented high level and tactical (SMART) business goals.

Your goals and Initiatives reflect the strategy and problem and should come from the Product Vision and Business Leaders. This is where the direction and vision is set. Business leaders set achievable goals that can be delivered to your product leaders to create product vision. This is achieved through consistent collaboration and alignment between product and business leaders in the form of roadmapping and quarterly planning. Business leaders set targets and the product team is tasked with creating initiatives that facilitate meeting those targets via product features.

“Product vision must be aligned with your marketing team’s ability to generate interest in the product.”

In many cases these targets will also require coordinated efforts between the product and marketing teams. In some organizations, the product team reports to the CMO for maximum alignment of product and marketing. While you may have a different org structure or may not have a CMO, this coordination should not be overlooked. Product vision must be aligned with your marketing team’s ability to generate interest in the product.

Turn business goals into actionable initiatives

Once the product team understands the strategic and tactical goals of the organization, it is their job to take these goals and turn them into actionable initiatives for the development team. This is the work breakdown process. The product team will take the goals and begin the process of translating goals into initiatives and, with the development team’s help, translate initiatives into Epics and Stories. Epics are high level units of work that express and align with the theme of an initiative and Stories are the low level units of work that make up an Epic.

“Any unit of work being done by the development team should be easily justifiable when the question is asked - why are we working on this?”

Breaking down work in this way serves a couple of purposes. First, it ensures that the strategy and purpose behind a development initiative is well represented and well understood by the development teams, the product teams, and the business leaders. It also ensures the deliverables from the development team can be linked back to the overall business goal. By using this approach, you have a documented and traceable alignment from Stories to Epic, from Epics to Initiatives and from Initiatives to business goals. Any unit of work being done by the development team should be easily justifiable when the question is asked - why are we working on this? It should be easy to say a particular unit of work is being worked on because it supports X business goal by tracing it back from the story through to the high level goal. This creates accountability at all levels of the organization. This level of accountability enables both organization scalability as well as individual satisfaction as each contributor understands why they are working on a unit of work and how they fit into the bigger picture.

Fueling a motivated and creative development team

When the development team understands the purpose of the work, they are more:

  1. motivated because they can understand how their work and individual contribution directly helps the business

  2. creative because they understand the user’s position, problem, and what they want to achieve and can therefore come up with solutions that do just that.

Therefore, the development team delivers solutions that are more likely to delight the user and solve the user’s problem. This maximizes the effectiveness of everyone involved and increases the quality of the product by enabling everyone to make well informed decisions and encourages team members to speak up when the goal is not clear. Excessive waste is introduced into the software development process when individuals do not understand why they are doing something and thus have to wait on others to decide how to proceed. Well understood goals allow individuals to propose solutions rather than wait for directives.

Encourage autonomy and maximize development cycles

Organizations benefit from these aligned efforts by encouraging autonomy and maximizing development cycles. Development teams are tasked with understanding what problem they are solving and why, well before they sit down to write the first lines of code or even propose solutions. Disrupting a flow and the cost of distraction is high. Development teams can raise concerns and ask questions without disrupting their coding flow; development teams can stay “in the groove” for much longer periods of time. Anyone that has written any kind of software, or done any other type of thought and context intensive activity, will be able to talk a length about the benefit of being “in the zone” or “in the groove”; productivity is drastically higher when this state is achieved and sustained.

Equally as important is the confidence this process instills in leadership that investment dollars are being spent to build the things that will create the most benefit for the organization, using the business goals as a beacon or guiding light along the development roadmap.

Tell a story and put the customer first

So, what does “translating” business goals actually mean and how can you do it effectively? It all comes down to telling a story and putting your customer front of mind when discussing features, functionality, or requirements. Let’s imagine you’re building a blog page and your goal was to increase the number of users to sign up for your weekly newsletter. You could dictate to the development team that “we need an action button centered on the page that says ‘Sign Up’ that users can select.” That statement seems clear and easy to understand. However, the development team doesn’t understand the motivation behind the request and the user has been lost. Instead, focus on why the user is there and what the user wants to accomplish. Instead try, “how can we allow the user to engage more with our content when they visit our site and increase the number of users that sign up for our weekly newsletter”. Not only does the development team understand what the user is trying to achieve, but they can now be involved in forming the best solution for the problem and goal at hand.

Tools to help translate business goals

“Soon, your team will start talking about the user and problem first, and then moving on to possible solutions.”

There are a number of tools to help tell a story and put the user first when building a product.

User stories are formulated in such a way to put the user first and focus on the goal to achieve or problem to solve. A common format is the following:

As a [user/persona]

I can [goal/need]

So that [why/importance]

Building out personas for different types of users and ensuring development teams deeply understand these personas is another useful tool on its own or as a starting point for more advanced tools. The personas developed for your product and their goals become memorable and assist you and your team in using a common language.

Customer journey maps utilize personas (putting the users first) and bring out a user’s motivations and pain points. Customer journey maps visually represent the process a customer goes through to achieve their goal, when applied to your existing product or future enhancements.

Even starting with a small shift in the language you use when discussing product enhancements or features starts to make a big impact. Soon, your team will start talking about the user and problem first, and then moving on to possible solutions.

There are many tools to ensure you and your team are along for the same ride and have the same understanding when it comes to tackling problems and building solutions together, and ultimately, delivering value for your customers.

In Summary

By outlining clear business goals and utilizing a repeatable process to align your development team behind them, you can increase productivity and developer engagement. Failure to do so can lead to added expenses and developer unrest when development initiatives do not achieve the desired outcomes. Implementing a repeatable translation process is not hard but it requires discipline and buy-in from many levels of the organization.

Need help translating your business goals for your product? Already defined your requirements and need help building your product? Reach out to us at Onion River Consulting and we can help you with your custom development project - connect@onionriverconsulting.com.