The journey has been everything but easy. Björn and Ivar thought several times about dropping the towel, but a leap of faith encouraged them to keep trying. Finally, after an exhausting sequence of ups and downs, teams Jorvik and Kattegat gained confidence in how to focus on outcomes.
Have they already figured out the secrets of creating value beyond features?
After twelve Sprints, Odin Enterprises was in a stable situation. Loyal customers became promoters, and new customers started coming in more often than imagined. Onboarding new partners wasn’t a hassle any longer. On the contrary, it was smooth and fast. Björn and Ivar led both teams to achieve the Product Goals they envisioned with Ecbert and others. What should they do next?
Björn was skeptical; he thought it couldn’t be that easy. Just six months and everything changed; he expected something terrible to happen.
Ivar was calm; he felt he could settle down and continue doing what they were doing. Meanwhile, Ecbert was thoughtful. As bankruptcy became a less significant threat, he doubted they had to embrace uncertainty forever. The last six months were too stressful for him. Too many sleepless nights and constant fear of failure hunted him. Ecbert was anything but sure that was the life he wanted.
Reward and Punishment
On a lovely Summer day, Ecbert called an all-hands meeting. Everyone was excited and curious about what he had to share; but it wasn’t going to be good news. However, morale was high, and team members were confident they could continue to create value. As everyone arrived, Ecbert took the mic and started the speech:
“Seven months ago, I feared a tragic fate was inevitable. I didn’t know how to turn this ship around; I was powerless. But today, the story is different. You made the impossible possible. You transformed our business. I’m proud of you. In the name of Odin Enterprises and all of our customers and partners, I want to say thanks for your relentless hard work. I value what you did. As proof, all of you will be rewarded with a surprise bonus by the end of the month.”
Everyone cheered up. The room exhaled happiness, excitement, and a feeling of achievement. Odin Enterprises employees were proud. Yet, Björn was emotionless and lacked enthusiasm; as if he was still waiting for something. After a few minutes passed, Ecbert said he wanted to share one more thing.
“During the last few months, we have collectively worked harder than ever. We moved out of our comfort zone and had to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Today, I’m glad to say we don’t need that anymore. Nobody deserves to live with uncertainty. Nobody deserves to come to work without guidance. We will make your life easier. Yesterday, I talked to our board members, and we’ve crafted the roadmap for our next quarter, and I am glad to tell you: no more uncertainty.”
Björn couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He freaked out and aggressively challenged Ecbert, “You must be joking. We almost went bankrupt because we focused on creating features instead of results, and now you’re telling us we will be back to this working model. Are you serious?”
Ecbert: “Björn, I remember how stressed you and everyone else were. Times are different now. We don’t need to suffer any longer. Let us help you with certainty, and you help us with delivery. That’s how we gain peace of mind.”
Björn: “Peace of mind? In half a year, we will be brainstorming how to avoid bankruptcy if we retake this path. I cannot believe that.”
Ecbert: “Sorry, Björn. The decision is made, and I trust this is best for all of us. Also, I’ve got to inform you that Lagertha left us yesterday too. She was a consultant and did a great job. Now, it’s time for us to walk on our own.”
Mad, Björn walked away, grabbed his things, and left the office. Ivar was angry but took a conservative stand. He thought, “If we fail, we can argue with Ecbert, but I don’t want to have a factless discussion with him.”
The atmosphere was mixed, some people became suspicious about the future, but others enjoyed the fact they wouldn’t carry a heavy burden anymore. Uncertainty isn’t for everyone.
Back to Stage Zero
From outcome to output, believe it or not, that’s what happened. Björn couldn’t digest this decision. He didn’t show off to work for a week after that. As a close friend, Floki visited Björn to bring him back. They had an intense conversation and surprisingly, Floki did something to get Björn back. What that was, nobody knew.
Teams Kattegat and Jorvik had a highly prescriptive roadmap to follow. Items had no relation to each other, and none mentioned the expected outcome. Yet, Ecbert believed it to be the right way of working, at least with a plan, he could measure progress easily and sleep well at night.
Against their will, Ivar and Björn adapted their Product Backlogs to address stakeholders’ wants. Refinements have never been more dramatic; developers were against Björn and Ivar telling them what to do. Developers got excited about creating outcomes, they could be more creative, and now they had to suppress their imagination and do what they were told instead of what they could do.
After coming back to work, Björn acted differently. He neither picked fights nor challenged managers. It seemed he was playing a game. Whatever Floki said, that changed Björn from a rebel to a rule follower. Nobody could understand that.
Nothing Better Than Time
Two and a half months passed after Lagertha left, and Ecbert fell back to his old command and control style. Yet, something was off. Teams Kattegat and Jorvik reached a third of the quarterly roadmap, and business wasn’t getting better as Ecbert predicted.
Björn and Ivar strictly followed the roadmap. Ecbert was satisfied with the delivered features as they matched his expectations, but it seemed that didn’t resonate with customers. On the contrary, Olaf reported an increase in complaints and Haraldson was concerned by the amount of partners that had left.
Ecbert wanted predictable outputs, but now unpredictable outcomes surprised everyone. It was time for another analysis. Ecbert got Product Owners and Business Directors together. As the meeting started, Ecbert said it would be a session to evaluate what was going wrong and take action. Björn began by writing about what they delivered lately.
- Implement partner tiers: low volume = 35% commission, medium volume = 22% commission, high volume = 28% commision
- Tour recommendation: notify customers of upcoming tours related to what they booked with us
Haraldson didn’t wait and said that 35% of partners decided to leave the platform because the commission changed abruptly, which was unfair to them. Ecbert looked astonished and said, “Why aren’t they encouraged to sell more? We used to have a standard commission of 26%, and now they have the chance of going down to 22%?” Haraldson explained that the numbers were suitable only for Odin and horrible for partners and they perceived that as unfair.
Olaf was the next to bash, “Customers are mad at us. They receive too many notifications against their will. They call us spammers and don’t want to do business with us again.” Ecbert looked surprised, “I don’t understand. I would be glad if I rate a tour as five stars and receive something similar.” Olaf said, “Yes, maybe one notification when it makes sense but not three per week when you’re unable to take the tour because you live in another country.”
Björn didn’t miss the chance, “So it means we’re losing partners and customers all together. What can we learn from it?”
Olaf: “Talk to customers before assuming they want something.”
Haraldson: “Empathize with partners before thinking about money first.”
Ecbert took a long and deep breath, and then said, “It seems if we implement the other features I agreed with the board, we will crash our business.”
Olaf and Haraldson nodded heavily.
Ecbert: “Ok, Björn, you can say that I’m wrong.”
Björn: “I don’t want to say anything. My friend Floki told me something that convinced me to return to work, ‘People only learn from their mistakes. Life is always the best teacher.’ That expresses everything.”
Ecbert: “As much as I want to disagree, I cannot.”
Björn: “Let’s do what Lagertha taught us.”
Ecbert: “That makes me uneasy, but I guess there’s no shortcut to success. I must make peace with uncertainty.”
Rinse and Repeat
Björn was playing a game, he understood words wouldn’t convince Ecbert to change, but the bitter taste of failure would. Now, Björn had room to use the lessons he learned from Lagertha. He went to the board and wrote simple words:
Rinse and Repeat
Ecbert had no chance but to throw his plan away and empower teams Kattegat and Jorvik. Once again, they would return to empowered teams and could move from output to outcome for the second time.
Months ago, Björn had to accept the unacceptable, but he understood that this game had to be played differently if he wanted a real change.
There are no shortcuts in product development. Uncertainty is the only certainty.