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Connect: Creating a mission statement for your software product

Simon Sinek has given the world an extremely clear way of describing how successful companies communicate and connect with their customers with what he calls the Golden Circle. This simple and powerful model very clearly demonstrates what separates good companies from great companies.

It works like this: All companies know and communicate what it is that they do. Some companies can clearly articulate how they do what they do. Better companies can even articulate how they do it better than their competition. These are called their unique selling propositions. The best companies in the world, however, communicate and live their why; meaning why they do what they do. All of their communications come from their why and this allows them to truly connect with their core customers.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek

Abraham Maslow, in Maslow on Management, explains in more detail why this works. People want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want their work to matter and they care about the brands that they align themselves with. The “why” matters. It matters a lot. The best business leaders recognize this and masterfully work to ensure that their products and services are aligned with their purpose.

This concept can be expanded upon to build a “Why — How — What” model for the technology investments that your firm makes. If you can successfully translate this model to your software investments, you can create a framework that will help you and your team connect the dots between your organization’s why and your core customers’ concerns.

Why: The Product Mission. A simple and clear mission that people can sign up for is a critical component of a software product’s success. Imagine having your whole team aligned around a simple, guiding mission statement for your software product. The coders, the quality assurance team, the product strategists and the graphic designers will make better decisions on the front line if they are armed with, and signed up for, the mission. Using Simon’s simple formula to derive a mission statement for your software product takes a little time, but it’s worth the effort.

How: The Customer Values. Understanding what your customers care about from your products and services is the next step in the model. Understanding “how” you are meeting their concerns is about understanding what they value in your product. You have to identify a core set of unique concerns that your software product is addressing for your customers. How you address these concerns becomes the driving factors for their decision to do business with you.

Mapping out these values and bringing them into your team’s awareness is necessary to create a valuable dialog around features and services. Meeting these concerns in unique and valuable ways for your customers becomes the unique selling propositions of your software products. Identifying the core concerns and prioritizing those concerns helps us prioritize features in your backlog when conflicts arise.

I recommend that you choose a succinct number of core concerns for the software product and make sure they are accurate by testing them against your knowledge of your customer’s behavior. It’s really important that your team creates and prioritizes this list based upon what your users care about and not what the team that is building the product cares about.

This means that before you can define or create a mission statement or a set of product values, you need to clearly and concisely define and profile your customers and even more importantly, the users; the humans on the other side of the screens that you are building. Your prioritized customer values should guide how your team makes feature tradeoff decisions.

What: The Backlog. A software product’s future can be predicted by the quality of its backlog and the alignment of that backlog to its mission. Backlogs, however, have to start somewhere and they have to be continuously fed. The ideas that feed the backlog can best be created by the people on your team that are the closest to your customers by using some succinct brainstorming techniques. They must be prioritized based upon your business reality in a way that will ensure that you can get something valuable to market.

The key to roadmap and feature prioritization is making sure that your team is taking into account the customer values in relation to the product and keeping it aligned with the product mission. If you are unable to agree on feature priorities, then it’s possible that your team is not aligned on the product mission or the customer values.

The product mission, values and backlog should not be considered set in stone. Your team should be periodically revisiting them and making sure that everyone is in agreement and aligned with them. If you find that your team is out of alignment, be prepared to adjust or change the mission or the values. The alignment and motivation of your team is just as valuable as the mission itself.

Armed with a mission, customer values and a prioritized backlog, you will have some of the core components of creating momentum and a clear tool to generate motivation within your teams.

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