Killing Babies or Sizzling Steak?

I thought I would share this story, with one or two key metaphors.  Perhaps useful to you.  I use the story in classes quite a bit.

OK, the PO is trying to optimize on the Pareto idea (80-20, the vital few). (More about the Pareto idea elsewhere.)

It is Feb 1.  At the beginning of the project, the team looks at the release plan and says: “OMG, if we try to get all those stories done by Aug 15th, we’ll die!”

Clearly a problem.  So the PO, realizing that even more (new) work will be identified later, gathers the business stakeholders for a meeting the next day.

“Guys [speaking to the business stakeholders], we have to cancel from the release in August the bottom 30% of the stories. We just won’t get them done, or at least can’t guarantee them by that date. And we know new stories will be identified by then. I need your agreement they won’t be in the Aug 15th release.”

They look at him in disbelief.  And then the BSHs (business stakeholders) get upset.

“What the…! You haven’t even started work!  I fought and fought with my team to exclude other stuff and I fought to get those babies in the Release. And now, before you even have started, you want to kill my babies!”

Suffice to say, it is not a fun conversation and they don’t want to agree.

Now, I do think the PO should make them aware, as soon as possible, that getting all stories done will be a big challenge. And if the PO can show a true Pareto curve, it is a much better conversation.  But don’t try to get them to agree at this point. Too much pain, too little gain.


Now, imagine later, in early March.  You have built two Sprints of the top stuff. You serve it up very seductively in the demo. You can see the top BSH (business stakeholder) drooling.

You say: “George, do we have all the top stuff built for you?”

“Well, I need story 23 and 47 too. But yes, this stuff is all the top stuff. And it looks good. I mean, aside from those missing stories, it looks very good…give me a second to wipe my mouth…it looks r e a l good.”

You: “After the next sprint, when we complete some other stories and stories 23 and 47…  George, how about we then serve you up some of this sizzling steak, fresh-off-the-grill? How about we give you a release then?”

George: “Well, how about the broccoli and the mashed potatoes and the creme brulee?” [Some other features further down the product backlog.]

You: “Yes, we can give you those later, in later releases.  But how about we release you the sizzling steak _now_ (well, next sprint)?”

Now it becomes George, and not you, who gives the other BSHs the look… “guys, I think this is the best for the firm… I need you to take one for the team, and let us do this release now… you’ll get your stuff real soon.”

And he looks at Mary (the #2 BSH): “Mary, we already have a bunch of your stuff in there too. What do you think?”

Mary: “Well, it does not have everything our group needs, but, yes, I think we could make use of what’ll be there by the next Sprint. Are we really gonna get the later releases?”

George: “I think so. Heck, they never had this much working software before by this time.  I think we can trust those SOBs now.  Sorry, Mr PO, I meant SOB in the nicest way.”

Mary: “OK. How about the rest of you guys?”  ….


So, you can see that it is a totally different conversation. But with the same effect. That we execute and release more on the Pareto idea than on the 100% – 100% rule (where we often die in the death march).

And all because we served up the sizzling steak seductively.  We did not win on logic, but on the emotion of the drool.

Now, serving it up seductively is a fine art.  Seduction.  Well, there is Joe the geeky PO and then there is Casanova or Mata Hari, the ‘seductive’ professional Product Owners. (Ok, yes, an exaggerated comparison…)  Do I need to ask which one is going to serve up the sizzling steak more seductively?  Thought not.

Now, one of the key benefits of the ‘sizzling steak’ technique is that the Team now has a better life (no death march, and they are seen to be victors). Which means they are more creative. Which means everything should be better.

The story and the metaphors work for me. YMMV.

The metaphor works better if the key person is not a vegetarian. And even likes steak.

Later, they will say “Oh, yeah, I liked the story about the sizzling babies.” And then they will laugh.  But they might remember it longer.


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