Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Why Did Sabina Feel Like a Failure At Work?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 7

In the last post, Sabina said she “felt like a failure because the forecast was so off.”  I understand where she is coming from.  I have twice managed a product that was selling below the forecast.  The first time I felt terrible, but the second time I was annoyed but unemotional.  The difference?  By the second time I had busted my corporate idol, meaning that my personal identity was not longer tied up with the company.  I was clear in my mind that the most important things to me were my health and the people in my life.  And, I had a strong community that I knew would be there for me whatever happened at work.  Together, this gave me freedom to make different choices when “stuff happens” at work.

Let’s revisit Sabina’s situation, and look more deeply to see what she might have done differently.  She felt badly because the revenue was coming in at only 25% of the  forecast.  Looking at it objectively, the forecast had no chance – the team had cut out 2/3 of the features prior to launch, and the forecast was not changed because she was afraid the project would be canceled.

In circumstances like this, I recommend a two scenario forecast, like the one at the right.

Business Case For Good Template

Forecast With And Without Key Features

Let me explain how this would have helped in Sabina’s situation.  The red is the base case, and the blue includes the additional features. If Sabina had presented a dual forecast, the framework would have been set for the lower initial growth, and the need for continued investment to meet the desired revenue numbers in year 3 and beyond. Sabina’s fear that the project would be canceled held her back.

How would the company have reacted?  Maybe the project would have been canceled as she feared, or maybe the company would have accepted the lower forecast and the need for future investment.  In either case, the situation would have been less stressful than the slow withering on the vine that comes from the stigma of an underperforming product.

In addition, according to Sabina, the people who got ahead at her company were the “brown nosers,” which certainly wasn’t her.  Could she have been risking her career by speaking out?  Maybe, but unless she was willing to brown nose her career advancement was probably limited at that company anyway. Today Sabina has advanced in her career considerably, at another company.

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What Happens When Features Are Dropped To Make a Launch Date?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 6

Ever been on a project that is under time pressure to make a launch date?  One common solution  is to drop features from the product.  For example, when Apple launched the iPad mini in November  2012, it did not have the retina display.  I have no knowledge of how that decision was made, but I can easily speculate that this feature was not included to bring in the launch date.

“Sabina” was a product manager working in lifescience industry who was part of a project that had to make that very choice.  She was working on a new technology to detect and quantify a particular RNA within a sample.  When the original product was scoped, it was designed to meet a set of unmet customer needs, and she created a healthy revenue forecast to justify the expense of development.  Sabina explained the difficulty of creating a forecast for a new technology.

“When you build [mathematical] models, you try to make an intelligent metric,” which was based on sizing the market, and estimating the market share based on what the product could do relative to the competition.  Sabina explained that she felt “pressured to show there is value in doing the project, a positive NPV.  I never felt that I wasn’t being truthful, [but] with a brand new technology, it’s sticking your finger in the air and making the best guess you can.  There was equal pressure from myself and others.”

A forecast is built on assumptions. One key (although often unstated) assumption is that the product will meet the customer’s needs.  Notice how the impact of the assumptions as  Sabina continues her story.

“When I did the original model [at the start of the project] there were assumptions of what we could commercialize.  [As the project progressed,] we had to cut out 2/3 of the features.  Do I want to cut the revenue model?  At that point if I had cut it as much as I should have, the project may have gotten killed.  Yet I believed in it enough longer term, not just first release.”  Sabina made a quiet internal assumption that it would take multiple iterations to get it where the customers really needed it to be.

Unfortunately, the organization was very tied to the forecasts, which came in at 25% of the pre-launch levels.  This in turn meant that additional development resources were not allocated to help the product grow.  And life was difficult for Sabina, with lots of questions from her management team.  “I felt like a failure because [the forecast] was so off.”

In the next post, I will explore Sabina’s options, through the filter of corporate idolatry.

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