@johncutlefish's blog

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What We Can’t See

Published: December 17, 2016

Close a deal and money gets transferred into your bank account. That feels real. Hire three new people and increase your burn by $50k per month… ouch! That feels real too. If only our wins, risks, and losses were always so salient.

The central problem is that the many of the costs we incur do not feel real. The impact is barely felt, or misdiagnosed entirely. It’s not visible and salient, like beating the quarter or closing a round. Suddenly you turn around and it smacks you in the face, and there’s not much you can do to turn back the tide. Or you see the dark clouds coming from miles away, but the various remedies seem to further exacerbate the problem.

What can you do? Are we destined to get caught in these traps? Is the only answer to spend our way out of it when the shit hits the fan?

I don’t think so. I think it takes awareness, and engaging the front-lines in relaying their feedback. You have an org filled with “sensors”, and they are capable of sensing the drift into failure. Plus, you can always do a better job of making certain costs more visible. Just being open that these things exist can have a big impact. But you’ll have to free your own mind, and start listening.

What types of costs and impacts are we looking for? We are looking for movement/changes/vacillations in the following:

  • Cost of technical, UX, and instrumentation debt
  • Cost of leadership/organizational debt
  • Cost to communicate context/data with minimal signal loss across organization
  • Impacts on team morale and engagement
  • Impacts on resiliency, ability to adapt/adjust to changing context
  • Impacts on ability to pursue novel solutions / fortuitous accidents
  • Impacts on overall “efficiency” (velocity/headcount, etc.)
  • Cost of multitasking and context-switching
  • Cost to service diverse market segments, user personas
  • Cost to maintain increasing technical complexity
  • Cost to compete with smaller, yet more nimble competitors
  • Cost to document and support new functionality
  • Impacts on new skill attainment (professional development)
  • Cost of knowledge/skill silos
  • Cost to hire and onboard new team members
  • Cost of unrecognized, untapped human potential
  • Impacts on goodwill with customer/user communities
  • Cost to maintain integrations and partner relationships