The what, when and who

This post is part of a series on product design patterns.

A framing that I’ve seem work on multiple occasions in designing sequencing strategies is to address your ideas in the following order:

  1. What: what should we build (and why)?
  2. When: when will each step be taken?
  3. Who: who is going to work on each step?

The reason this is an effective framing is because it sets you into a mindset of deciding what’s the right thing to do and working backwards.

This order enables you to compromise on the when (e.g. delays) and who (e.g. hiring new engineers or making part of your team useless) but rarely on the what.

For example, it is common to compromise on the what (e.g. a minimal viable product) based on an imposed when: by taking the pressure to launch on a specific deadline, you can corner yourself launching a what that have all of the properties that you need.

More often than not, I’ve seem whens being imposed artificially (though non-artificial whens exist too) and causing more harm than good (e.g. first to market is often overrated).

Another common trade-off is to start with the who and work backwards to define a what. It can lead to a sub-optimal what because it assumes that the who is fixed (i.e. that you can’t hire or sub contract) or even that you can’t trade the who for a longer when (e.g. fewer people working on a project can lead to a longer development timeframe is the skillsets are available).

Start with what’s the right things to do and work backwards. It often works.