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Aligning Purpose

October 14, 2009

In August I was fortunate enough to attend the Agile 2009 conference.  I saw two excellent sessions presented by Pollyanna Pixton.  I later found out that four other sessions (attended by Tefon) included recommendations of the book Stand Back and Deliver, authored by Pollyanna and 3 of her colleagues.  These presenters were so convincing Tefon even purchased the book while still at the conference.  It was a good read, but the chapter on the “Purpose Alignment Model” was by far my favorite.

The Purpose Alignment Model is a simple tool designed to do exactly that – facilitate an alignment of purposes.  The underlying premise is all product features or development that a company performs can be placed on two scales:  how critical and how differentiating they are to the operation or success of the company.  With everything placed on these scales, they can then be combined into a graph.

Purpose Alignment Model

Purpose Alignment Model

This simple graph can make discussion about any number of product features or work processes significantly easier and more effective.  When discussion about a feature starts by first placing it on the graph above, it is placed sharply into perspective.

What constitutes a mission critical differentiating feature?  One simple method for determining this is to ask ‘Could this feature be the center of an advertising campaign for the product?’  These features are the driving force to a product’s adoption and define the identity of the company.  If every feature gets a ‘yes’ answer to this question the model is being used wrong.  Trying to differentiate with every feature will result in little more than a mediocre product.  A select few features should be placed in the ‘Invest’ quadrant and these are the features that, naturally, should receive heavy investment.  If these features aren’t the most polished and solid in the product, get to work.

If an honest assessment of everything about a product is completed with this model, the majority of what might initially have been placed in the investment quadrant will end up falling into the parity quadrant.  The parity quadrant is interesting.  Most of a product’s features will invariably not be differentiating, so why waste resources trying to develop them?  These features are mission critical, make no mistake about it, they have to work and they have to work well.  Parity features will drive the sticking power of an application, thus it is still critical to get them right.  The key point, however, is that parity features only need to reach parity.  No wheel reinventing required.  Parity features aren’t innovative.  Look at what the market is doing.  What is the accepted best practice?  Do that and nothing more.

If a feature is differentiating but not critical to the success of the business, find a partner.  Don’t waste resources that could be spent getting parity features to parity and investing in mission critical differentiating features.  Find a partner who is investing in the feature and use them.

If a feature is not mission critical and not differentiating, who cares? If a feature in this quadrant is being worked on, ask why.

If every feature to be worked on is placed properly relative to each other on this graph the result is an amazingly powerful communication tool.  Suddenly everyone from the CEO to the developer implementing the feature can easily be on the exact same page.  With an aligned purpose across the whole team, from executive to business to development to IT, more time is spent making a profit and less time debating about how to make a profit.

By: Dustin Bartlett

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