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I’m currently consulting a retailer on a large omni-channel E-Commerce project. We’re right in the midst of the discovery phase, discussing thousands of requirements with different stakeholders at the customer and trying to tie up many lose ends. In one of the first sessions, in which we also analyzed risk, someone expressed the risk as “doing that which is possible, instead of that which is right.” I had to smile, for, far too often, I have found that the magnificent visions everyone had at the start were replaced later in the project by those things that could just be accomplished. And I found this to be true particularly in such large, rather rigid companies.
What we had here was someone who understood this and expressed it accordingly. Now, it’s true that, by definition, one cannot do more than that which is already possible, anyway. What remains, then, is to redefine that which is doable.
I’ve often experienced, for example, that the ERP department rejected a specific requirement with the reason that it was technically impossible. As a consultant or PO one can either question such assertions or accept them at face value. By questioning the claim I call the boundaries of that which is possible into doubt. If I’m successful and able to develop a different and better solution based on my doubts, then I shift the “possible” in favor of the product. It becomes better for the customer. More lovable.
In the ensuing workshops we repeatedly used the term “minimum lovable product.” Jokingly, at first. Later, we got more concrete. More and more it’s becoming apparent that we are adopting a particular mindset within the project: Can we shift the perception of what is possible to the benefit of our customers (and to our own benefit in the process)?
Astoundingly, this is possible in many cases. A few people have to leave their comfort zones, and usually some homework must be taken care of that was put off far too long. Without repeated inquiries this would not have gotten done.
As in all larger companies where some administrative and organizational dust might have already settled, this project was also divided into two camps: the visionaries and the legionaries.
Whereas the visionaries, as the name already implies, have a vision and want to grow both the company and its products by driving change and taking risks, the legionaries take the approach of securing the existing status quo or, at best, developing it a little.
With the visionaries one normally finds open doors after inquiring about issues again. Or one addresses issues that have been a problem for some time. In either case, one can question deadlocked situations more readily as an external team member.
On occasion legionaries feel insulted by such an approach. This is no surprise, as one is challenging both the competence and the authority of the person in question. I try to avoid this by showing everything that is possible if the limitations expressed were to be removed. Usually the legionaries then come up with new suggestions on their own. It’s always a good thing when people bring their own solutions to the table.
I think it is our responsibility within the digital economy to provide exactly this sort of rather persistent (some would say “stubborn”) consultancy. No, this approach doesn’t always cut like a hot knife through butter. It’s far more exhausting. But we owe our customers our best effort. After all, they pay us for exactly that. And that is what transforms mediocre solutions into good ones. Precisely Minimal Lovable Products instead of Minimal Viable Products. And BTW, this is also what turns average consultants into good consultants. So, give yourself a jolt the next time and “stubbornly” stick to the issue at hand. It pays off.