Starting big

Why do companies keep creating hundreds of products? The mission and strategy are wrong? Too greedy? I think they simply don’t appreciate the level of focus and direction that is required to really do things well.

If I look at the companies I would consider great they all have one thing in common – they all have ONE product, not one key product, simply ONE product. Not two or three, definitely not 10+ or 30+. How is it possible that organisations with hundreds of staff in can produce only a single product? I’d say these companies know what they are, what their real mission is and a focused on achieving that.

What about Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google then? Are they not great?

  • Apple wasn’t until Steve got them focused again on a single product at a time, all the cool things didn’t just appear out of nowhere at once,
  • Google started with search and to humans (non-tech people) remains just that and I’m not even going to try to recount their failures
  • Microsoft = Windows
  • Amazon = shopping or AWS? 🙂 out of all exceptions above I find this one most puzzling

What’s the problem?

If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard of red brick cancer (if you haven’t) and if you’re anything like me, you live with implications of it every day.

Living with the knowledge of this disease and seeing it everywhere around you hurts. Knowing that to a lot of people that is not a bad state frustrates you. The fact this diseases often hides as order and control that is required in modern enterprise makes it even worse 😦

How does this sickness connect to the title? In my mind, this type of cancer starts with:

  • a lack of focus on – what’s really important and moves us forward,
  • a lack of focus on – getting things done and then getting them better – instead trying to do too much with too little,
  • a lack of focus on – quality, with quality taking a back seat or being left at the kerb altogether.


If you are anything like me you’re very far away from being able to directly change or influence the direction of the company but you’ll have a team around that possibly suffers from a lack of focus and maybe even creates its own red bricks. My suggestions on how you can remove these bricks for yourself and those around you:

  • Set 100% completion of stories in iteration your primary objective, if you fail – try this,
  • Get “ready for work” criteria to the forefront of your thinking – make sure when you pull items into the queue you get them to Done. Focus on external dependencies first,
  • See distractions as your mortal enemy and kill them. I’m not talking about internet or coffee breaks, I’m telling you to stop doing favours and “little” tasks for people that keep popping in,
  • Keep asking why or use any other technique you like to get to the value of doing a task. Add questions that focus on how this task brings you closer to shipping a product. Do this not because that’s what the books say but because you’ll be amazed how much motivation and focus that produces.
  • Set ambitious deadlines and manage scope. Don’t let others set silly goals for you. If you’re following advice from above this will feel natural and easy.

I’ve deliberately skipped on major dysfunctions like supporting more than one product with a single team, part time team assignments, poor makeup of the team, inability to get things to Done due to lack of skills or tools, etc. That’s a separate topic.

All of the above are meant to provide you with means and incentives to FOCUS on your goal – delivering working software every sprint. As a bonus you’ll also stop:

  • Complaining how bad things are
  • Saving the world/Fixing the company
  • Changing ways of working for everyone
  • Failing and disappointing yourself and others

After a while, you might actually find that you do stand out, that you have healed yourself and are happy. If that happens others may want to be like you and a slow healing process of the bigger organism might begin.

I dare you to be different … just like these guys 🙂


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