The Dangers of The “All or Nothing” Plan

There is a pattern seen in the business world and especially in the requests that come into IT departments. Customers, stakeholders and product management provide a list of features. The list is “all or nothing.” If the product doesn’t have all of the features it will have zero value. People with such plans will also have a fixed date by which the fixed feature list (the “all”) must be completed. When asked to prioritize the features, they sometimes stick to the mantra, they are all important, all mandatory, all required.

The Dangers of The “All or Nothing” Plan

I’m not one to write much about negative effects of strategies. I usually prefer to discuss the positive effects of alternatives. The dangers of the “all or nothing” plan are so high, I am compelled to point out some of them. All or nothing is:

  • the strategy for highest risk of missing the market window.
  • a plan for likely missing the most valuable feature.
  • a policy for killing creativity and innovation.
  • a method for increasing the occurrence of budget overruns.
  • the most common way of committing to pay budget overruns even before they occur.
  • the false hope of those who believe that they have no viable competition.
  • the hubris of those who actually have no competition and so believe increasing value is secondary to being busy.
  • a shotgun approach to hitting the target value.
  • a plan to create waste by implementing features that no one needs.
  • an excellent way to increase stress and reduce trust so that you disengage or burn out your employees.
  • a huge incentive to quality shortcuts and technical debt.

In my 25+ years as a developer writing code and mostly following “all or nothing” plans I never once saw one ship with all or get cancelled as not valuable. As an Agile Coach I haven’t seen such a result either. “All or nothing” plans are a lie we tell ourselves. Such plans turn into “some and something” results.

“We didn’t get it all but at least we shipped something.” Is that a cause to celebrate?

Value Early Is The Key

If we take the time to prioritize, to figure out which features are more valuable than others, we open the door to get the needed value early.

Working and delivering the most valuable features first is:

  • the strategy for hitting the market window with a desirable product.
  • a plan for seeking and finding the most valuable feature.
  • a policy for cultivating creativity and innovation.
  • a method for shipping value within budget.
  • the way of choosing to spend more instead of being forced to spend more.
  • the way to stay ahead of your competition by shipping value often.
  • the acceptance that competition could come from anywhere and so believe increasing value is primary to keeping customers loyal.
  • a helpful approach to hitting the target value.
  • a plan to prevent waste by not implementing features that no one needs.
  • an excellent way to release stress and foster trust so that you have engaged and energetic employees.
  • a huge support for quality improvements and addressing technical debt.

As a Product Owner or stakeholder, how do you educate your customers to embrace the ability to seek value? As a customer, how to you help your providers save you money and time by seeking value early?