Get the basics right first

This article about the US free COVID test website not falling over stirred memories of my time as a product owner of an LMS. It tells of a simple need shared by a large proportion of potential users. It tells of very low expectations amongst that population. History has told them it is highly likely to disappoint, if not fail altogether. It also tells of the risk of overcomplicating the design and build.

The live launch surprised everyone. The site did one thing: took address and contact details to deliver free COVID tests via mail. Nothing more. And it worked. The one person responsible for the build (there needs to be only one) was involved early. She selected the location and the team. Assumptions about demand were questioned. Focus on the real needs was singular and there was no scope creep. Simple and yet hard to do in a complex and political working environment.

When I was working at the BBC Academy we decided to overhaul the learning management system. It had grown into a bloated, ill disciplined and slovenly beast. With over 100 links on the home page, we decided to take it out back and put it out of our misery.

We focused on three needs: find, book do.

We focused on three needs for our users from the product: Find, Book and Do. BBC staff wanted to find a course, book on it or do it, if it was eLearning. There was no interest in anything else. It was all and only about courses. Other needs were to be met elsewhere.

We wrote to all site owners and stated our plan to remove their links, along with the traffic generated from the links, which was very little. Of those 100 and more links, only one team complained when we removed them. A vital role of product managers in a corporate setting is to avoid building things and make a good case for not doing it. Hard but necessary work.

So, get the basics right first. And then pretty much ignore the other stuff unless it is relevant to those basics.

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