How to Do More with Less

David Pereira
David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
Apr 18, 2023
Updated on
Apr 23, 2023
Table of Content

5 Ways of Adding by Subtracting...

Do you know what we all want? A bulletproof, step-by-step recipe for success that we can thrive on whenever we follow it. We long for shortcuts, and we want to avoid pain and risks.

What’s the problem with that?

It doesn’t take long to complicate our work by adding processes, techniques, and quality gate checks. Instead of figuring out which problems we want to solve, we start to create other problems we shouldn’t have by establishing ill-fitting processes and techniques.

Our fear of the unknown and risk-avoidance attitude eliminates our creativity and efficiency. We easily fall in love with processes and techniques; we barely know why we use them, yet we don’t dare challenge them.

Failing to become efficient will drive costs up and make business inviable. I encourage teams to step back, reflect on their work, and simplify it. In difficult times as those we’re in right now, this isn’t optional; it’s a matter of survival. 

Let me give you a magic wand. You can add efficiency to your work by subtracting many things you don’t need, even though you may be blindly attached to them.

#1. Complex Workflow

Technology often gets in the way of collaboration. Nowadays, we have highly flexible tools which you can use to do almost everything you want. Take Jira as an example; you can have highly advanced workflows and create reports to track the time spent on each status. But it’s a double-edged sword.

Look at the following workflow. How helpful is it for collaboration? I can tell you what happens when you have such a scenario because I’ve been there several times. You will face a lack of collaboration, accountability, and interest. People will say, “It’s not my issue, I sent it to QA.”

The more complex the process, the less collaboration you get:

Complex Jira Workflow

What can you do about it? Simplify.

Look at the following workflow. It might seem very simple, but it will bring several advantages. People will get problems solved because they are forced to collaborate. They will care about what matters most — creating value together.

Simple — Jira Workflow

#2. Definitions of Ready

Every user story must match the following before entering a Sprint:

  • User story format
  • Minimum of five acceptance criteria
  • Design available
  • Estimation done 
  • Technical solution defined
  • Concept approved by the business

As silly as this looks, I wrote it around a decade ago when I thought that Definitions of Ready would prevent wasting time. I admired this technique as our backlog items could be implemented by anyone without talking to me. It didn’t take long to realize that DoR got in the way of collaboration.

As a team, we continuously reviewed user stories before entering a Sprint and dropped what didn’t match our DoR. Several times I got in trouble with stakeholders because something we learned over the last weeks was highly relevant, and we should address it immediately. But we still lacked one or another criteria of our DoR; thus, we “couldn’t” work on it.

Let me be direct: 

No matter how much you like DoR, ditch it, and you’ll be better off without it. DoR is an anti-pattern that diminishes collaboration and decreases efficiency.

Curiously, by removing DoR we started to deliver value faster, and our working atmosphere improved. We solved problems together, and we became a stronger team.

#3. Pre-Refinement

Refinement sessions are often exhausting, but that only happens when the session is done wrong. The goal of refinement isn’t to get answers on how to implement solutions, but to build a shared understanding of the problem the team is supposed to solve. Yet, too many teams misunderstand refinement, and it gets complicated.

Most refinement sessions mistakenly deal with the solution space without knowing the problem space. This format tends to confuse and exhaust everyone because a critical piece of the puzzle is missing. 

To address such problems, another meeting is created, a so-called pre-refinement.

The pre-refinement is a secret session with three team members: Product Manager, the Designer, and Tech Lead. They go item by item, make decisions, shape the backlog, and prepare for the refinement session. What’s the result of that? A siloed communication and a feature factory.

Dropping the pre-refinement is another opportunity for adding by subtracting. Instead of creating a meeting to address a dysfunction, it’s better to solve the dysfunction itself.

I’ve run many pre-refinement sessions. Although I thought I was saving other team members time, I was leaving them out of critical discussions. Focus on having valuable refinement sessions instead of creating secrecy with pre-refinements.

#4. Multiple Backlogs

How many products are you working on? How many product backlogs do you have?

Some years ago, I was about to plan the roadmap for the next quarter. I reviewed the opportunities and had clarity in my mind about the direction to go based on our product strategy, but I was surprised by our CTO when she said, “Let’s have a look at our Tech Backlog. I’ve got some must-haves there.” And then, the CPO followed by saying, “We have to look at our User Experience Backlog as well, I reviewed it last week, and we have critical items to tackle.

I stepped back and asked, “That’s the first time I heard about such backlogs. How come?” The CPO and CTO explained that they didn’t want to mix with the Product Backlog and kept their backlog. The result was siloes, lack of communication, and collaboration.

Multiple Product Backlogs will force the behavior of multiple teams and massively hurt efficiency.

The solution is simple: keep a single Product Backlog for each product. 

#5. Dinosaur Backlog Items

Another opportunity to add by subtracting is to simplify backlog management. Let me ask you a couple of questions:

  • When was the last time you deleted a backlog item?
  • How often do you clean your product backlog?
  • How long do backlog items live in your product backlog?

Be careful. Product Backlog items age like milk, not wine.

It’s common to treat the Product Backlog as a wish list and keep everything there. This is counterproductive and will trap you in the past because you must review old items every now and then. To create successful products, you must look forward and not backward.

Here’s my approach:

  • Create a cleanup routine to remove the clutter
  • Remove items older than three months
  • Remove items unrelated to your product goal
  • Don’t ask for permission; just do it

Dinosaur items will block you from addressing your learnings. Focus on the now and future, not on outdated wishes.

Final Thoughts

I understand that we fear failure and don’t take risks easily. That’s why we commonly get trapped with too many processes and techniques around us. Be careful. This will make you less productive and creative.

Focus on getting things done instead of discussing how to get them done. Progress as quickly as possible and learn from results.

Stepping back and finding opportunities to add by subtracting will boost your efficiency. 

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 15+ years of experience. Currently located in Munich, Germany and striving to help companies create value faster. I'm a Partner at Value Rebels and Interim Chief Product Officer at omoqo. My passion is helping product teams overcome their challenges and deliver REAL value faster. Almost every product team is trapped somehow, untrapping them is what drives me.

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