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Leadership

Not Fit for Purpose

When we work in a agile fashion for long enough, we always almost encounter the “Not Fit for Purpose” complaint. I’ve certainly seen it in a number of different contexts, and depending on your organisation, you might be stuck with it almost every single day.

When we work agile, we aim to launch new iterations early and often. We are very clear that our product will not have every single feature from day one, and that it may never have every single feature a user could desire. We recognise the cost of adding and maintaining each new feature, and balance it against the benefit it brings.

“Not Fit for Purpose” raises its head when you encounter someone stuck in a closed mindset, usually a person who is looking for the perfect solution, rather than something that is better than they have today. This can really drain excitement from a new product, so you need to counteract it quickly and decisively.

Your first move is to force the complainer to get specific. Generic grousing like this is easy to do and hard to address as you are aiming at a moving target. Any justification you bring will be countered like a reed moving in the wind. Instead of letting the negativity frame the conversation, take it on. “What do you mean by that?”, “What exactly is the issue?”, “What specifically are you missing?”.

By taking the vagueness out of the conversation, you are able to squash the nebulous negativity, and move towards positive problem solving. Even asking these questions can kill off a lot of general negative feeling. People who are just complaining for the sake of it will often just go away when put on the spot like this.

Now you get to start unpicking some more genuine concerns. For the perfectionist, they may be unhappy that some features aren’t available yet, or they aren’t complete. Combat this by showing progress, and setting expectations based on the previous progress you’ve made. This challenge quite often comes from people who think in terms of projects, chopping and changing from different streams of work. They aren’t thinking in iterations, and they think that v1 is also v last.

As you’re working in an agile fashion, you’ll have previous launches to show (even if they were initially just to internal users). You’ll also have your prioritised list of future work to show. This progress is a powerful tool. If your naysayer is also your decision maker, then you can give them control by agreeing what is “Good enough”, launching when you hit it, and continuing to iterate to make it great. This is also a good point to specify and experiment, so that “Good enough” decision is driven by data, not the feelings of the perfectionist.

Also, you can use the “Is it better than what you have now?” approach. This brings you away from abstract perfection, and down to the brass tacks of the real day-to-day. It’s hard to say no to something that’s better than you have right now, even if it’s not what you want in the long run. Again, I’ve seen lots of complaints just go away when the complainer sees what they are getting is an improvement on the current status-quo, even if the gap to what they hoped for is still large.

Finally, you might have a purpose mismatch. The complainer has a different vision, or a misalignment of what’s important. What they want is not what you are going to give them. For these people you need to hear that concern, and address it by reminding them what the goals of your product are, and what the problems are you are going to solve. With this mismatch, sometimes you just have to fire a customer. If they are never going to be a good fit, then it might not be worth the effort to serve them.

To recap, “It’s not fit for purpose” is a poisonous phrase, often deployed by those who aren’t able to embrace the agile journey. You need to counter this actively to stop them sucking the energy out of your powerful change:

  1. Force them to be specific, drive out any real concerns so they can be addressed, and silence the serial complainers immediately.
  2. If it’s just “not perfect”, then show your pace of progress, and what’s coming in your next iterations.
  3. Next, agree “Good enough”, and use an experiment to put data into the decision.
  4. If your purpose doesn’t align, don’t hesitate to fire the customer, putting half your effort into 1% of your users is not a winning strategy.

Agile methods are simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Watch out for these types of challenges and combat them effectively to drive significant high-value change and launch truly impactful products.

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