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Relentless Rescoping & Saying "NO"
(2 Min Read) How to focus and deliver what matters without burning out.
"We don't have enough people." "We can't get this done in time." "Team is overwhelmed." "Team is spread thin and working extra hours."
With recent layoffs, these statements are becoming more pervasive. Team members ask these questions every week from their leadership and themselves. And without an "answer," the only viable and default solution seems to be to work harder and longer.
We all agree that's not practical or sustainable in the long-term solution. And, given current 2022-2023 market conditions, it's not in the short term either. So then, what's the correct answer?
Relentless rescoping and saying "NO."
Yes, I know you have heard a version of this as well. But hear me out. I will give tips on implementing this today or in your next work planning exercise, like sprint planning.
How to Rescope Work
Create a laundry list of requirements, features, projects, and initiatives.
Do impact sizing and, more specifically, business impact sizing for each item in the list.
Find numbers that represent the impact. Financial metrics are always better, but improved productivity, increased reliability, and reduced outages are also good.
For things that don't have a number, ask WHY? Please don't put them on the list until the impact is identified.
Sort the list by impact sizing decreasing.
Perform 80/20 or Pareto principle on the list.
Move the top 20% onto a separate sheet and say NO to everything else.
Repeat this every cycle if the scope is higher than what the team can support without burning out or needing more resources.
How to Implement Rescope
More than creating a list is required if you are at a big company. You must gain alignment with the leadership and cross-functional partners. To implement:
Set up a meeting with cross-functional partners and gain alignment.
Explain the context of rescope and problems with the current scope.
Get their input on prioritization and scope sizing.
Iterate with them until they agree with rescoping.
Set up a meeting with leadership, stakeholders, and cross-functional partners.
Explain the context of rescoping (Leadership is likely expecting it).
Share that it's a joint exercise between the team and cross-functional partners.
Iterate with them until they agree (usually, they will as they get the most impactful work first)
Share the rescoping exercise broadly.
Get to implementation.
Reasons Why Teams Don't Reduce Scopes
The company incentive model is designed to recognize "more work" than "more impact work."
Companies, leaders, and team members must distinguish between busy and actual work.
The team has too many people, and reducing the scope means reallocating a few members. This will lead to challenging conversations, and who doesn't like to avoid an unwarranted complicated conversation?
Team manager(s) or skips or up the leadership chain is using "minimum number of people" as a metric to justify a specific role such as Director or VP or XX of whatever.
Why Say No
This may seem cheesy, but this was true in 1997; it's true now and will say true forever. We need to get comfortable with it.
And if your company refuses to rescope and you refuse to work on bullshit work, find a new role at new company.