So what is a quick win? It's a visible improvement with immediate benefits, that can be delivered quickly; it’s also easy to implement and inexpensive. Ok, so a quick win is basically a low hanging fruit, and you should do it no matter what... right?
LET'S LOOK AT QUICK WINS FOR A BIT
It's not as simple as it sounds... so you might want to be careful how you choose to spend your time around those low hanging fruits; make sure they connect to your long term goals and strategy.
Not everything is about money
The impact of a quick win isn't solely based on revenue or financial gain; it’s much more than that. It has to take into consideration other factors such as your team's increased know-how (i.e. the pieces of work, activities or procedures going into their skill sets), whether you're understanding the market and where it’s going, knowing competitors and their plans, and most importantly, learning how to collaborate on a process that is geared towards constant change.
It’s also about people
The quick wins framework, which I’m going to discuss in a bit, is a lot about people; it’s about putting people who haven’t necessarily worked together before, together, to ideate and execute a quick win. By doing that, you start covering blind spots in your process, spots you didn’t even know you had. So it’s day-to-day work, putting people together, opening the floor to transparency, thinking of processes and improvements, and iterating. When you involve people from, say, IT, support, accounting, finance - or people who are usually introverted, and watch their day-to-day operation, then you might get somewhere.
Avoiding the quick wins toxicity
We’re talking motivation and people, so there's bound to be a high risk you’ll create a toxic culture if you push too hard for quick wins, without considering the consequences. There’s a really interesting article/study (The Quick Wins Paradox) written a while back by Mark E. Van Buren and Todd Safferstone, which shows how leaders who fail to establish tenure have a pre-made plan that they try to push, and so they end up micromanaging. A leader has to be able to create a culture of collective ownership that rewards innovative people who aren’t afraid to try. And so sometimes, the positive result of an experiment is actually its failure, because that’s where you're going to try things out before spending time and effort.
I don’t want to go into detail about quick wins toxicity here, given I’d rather introduce you to the actual quick wins framework, which should help you figure out your own rhythm, but if you’re interested in reading about it, check out this awesome article.
Going beyond the matrix with quick wins
So what does it mean to operate within this new framework for quick wins? It means going beyond the traditional approach of the high impact, low effort quadrant of the matrix.
If you have strategic initiative, it makes no sense to get into quick wins without going into discovery mode first, which means experimenting and testing a lot to figure out your knowns and unknowns, and try to clear them out with a quick, yet detailed and specific framework.
Who is this for?
The Quick Wins Framework is not just for startups and scale-ups, as many might think, it actually applies to any company that needs to start disrupting and break away from the old energy. The reason why it's so hard for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their business model and processes (which make them good at the existing business) are bad for disrupting. By asking questions, testing and working things out with a process that allows you to prioritize and align your quick wins with existing goals, your effort is then more directed and often produces a better culture.
THE QUICK WINS ACCELERATOR FRAMEWORK
What we call as Quick Wins Accelerator is a 4-step process that can help any organization adopt a quick wins culture while avoiding the toxicity trap. It’s not a one-shoe-fits-all process, nor is it a one-night thing; we’ve done it a few times to find the right process and define what quick wins are for us as a team, and as an organization.
Why we put together a framework
None of this is edged in stone; we’re simply taking something that’s already out there and putting an acceleration framework to it so that it can have a huge impact without the need to micromanage. So, set aside some time to break habits and allow a leeway to start changing the way you already operate. At Jexo, we pride ourselves for being lean, agile and fast adapters; and we do have a long-term roadmap as to where we want to get to as a team, or as a product.
But, we got caught up a bit in those long-term deliverables, and so we started slacking on the responsiveness of engaging with our users, and basically delivering value fast. We then decided to be disruptive by using the exact same methods of work and delivering value that we were using for our long term roadmap. And that’s where we fell into the toxicity trap I was mentioning before; and that trap got everyone demotivated, which pushed us to start amending the way we were addressing quick wins. And that's when we decided to come up with a process that would follow how we do things.
Step 1 - IDEATE
Everyone has their own unique way of going about brainstorming and thinking about the next theme of a sprint or the most important piece of work for the organization. We basically looked at the tools and processes we already owned, and went from there; we’re not re-inventing the wheel here. And, so we do workshops to help build focus and select the theme of our quick wins sprint; then we set the goals, focus and desired outcomes for that sprint. Afterwards, we brainstorm and define very rough quick wins ideas which help express our problem statement.
- Building focus
We use the Atlassian Themes Playbook - Problem Framing, for a 30min exercise to see what our weak spots are.
- Goal setting
We use the Goals, Signals and Measures Playbook - which can be quite lengthy, so maybe try to first figure out if this is the right approach for you.
We use the Disruptive Brainstorming Playbook - to get out of the mundane thinking of how to solve problems and come up with quick wins ideas. We use challenge cards to ensure that as a team, we don’t come up with ideas that aren’t necessarily quick wins.
Out of the ideation phase, we manage to come up with a rough backlog of quick wins ideas.
Step 2 - PRIORITIZE
This is one of the most important phases, and where our expertise as a company ultimately lies. It’s the phase that helps pinpoint those quick wins, and it’s the stage we had to iterate multiple times because we kept failing. One of the biggest failures was with one of our features for Swanly, a portfolio roadmap tool which works with Jira releases and enables us to plan and track releases in a nice timeline. We massively underestimated how challenging it would be to add an issue timeline feature - which we defined as a quick win. Big mistake.
- Health assessment
The way this specific stage of the prioritization process helps, is by answering five fundamental questions about the idea. The questions are not trademarked - they’re from the Quick Wins Paradox article I mentioned above; but we merged them into five. The questions look at the feasibility of delivering an item, whether it gives a real collective impact (you don’t want it to be a one hero situation), and the opportunity to learn and engage. There are five scoring levels based on your answers, which help figure out whether a quick win is the right one.
- Value vs. effort
There’s a way to score the value of a specific item, and it’s up to you which metrics you want to use. Based on the metrics you choose (which should be voted on by the team), the formula will then calculate and bring out the few items with a higher score calculation; these are the quick wins voted on by the team.
- Team size and type
It's up to you whether you want to use these metrics or not; from our perspective, they're really important for defining a quick win. Team size matters because usually, the more people are involved, the least likely it is to be a quick win; having five people or more working on a task sounds more like a big activity. As for type, a valuable quick win is something you can later transform into a repeatable win (embeded into the day to day) or a sustainable one (which contributes to the long term strategy).
- Priority score
By going through this exercise over and over again and iterating, you’ll start noticing that the numbers spread apart further; that’s a good sign. It’s not an overnight process, as there may be hiccups in the beginning with numbers being close to each other. But as you get better clarity around the metrics and how to vote on them, you get to polish and adjust the numbers with time.
By the end of this phase, your team should be pretty comfortable with the filtered results in the backlog.
Step 3 - EXECUTE
This is where you’ll define the opportunities of a specific quick win, as well as the benefits, metrics, and any barriers you may encounter. The reason we put this here and not before prioritizing, is because it goes into describing in detail and polishing specific quick wins, rather than refining anything you might have thought to be a quick win. Refinement takes effort, so you might want to first establish whether you want to spend time on something, before actually spending time.
- Define ownership
Allocate a minimum amount of team, and try not to have specific heroes; a quick win should feel like a collective win.
- Mentor and Alleviate
Facilitate and protect the resources from any bottlenecks; you have to always make sure you’re mentoring and helping the team.
You can try different ways of course; this here has worked for us so far.
Step 4 - RECOGNIZE
This is quite important, critical might I say, because without it, you can’t really understand whether the accelerator actually worked or what to take from it. Simply having an end to an activity doesn’t make it successful, you have to use the metrics you defined previously. Also, it’s really important to celebrate the wins at this point.
- Disseminate and Learn
As mentioned before, this is a constant learning curve. If you’re aware of the mistakes you previously made, and you can iterate and help your team be self-aware as well, then the process should get better over time, and with less friction.
Apply the learnings to include the outcomes of these quick wins in your day-to-day operations; this shouldn’t be a one-time-thing!
You can download our Quick Wins Accelerator Worksheet here. Give it a try and let us know how it’s working for you!
THE FOXLY QUICK WINS TEMPLATE
Now you might be thinking ‘this is all fine, we get to have quick wins, but a part of this process doesn’t seem very lean, actually it seems like a bit of an overhead’. Well, you might be right and that’s where Foxly comes in.
We put together this backlog prioritization tool to be able to score our Jira issues and access the entire prioritization phase of the quick wins accelerator. We managed to structure our activities and figure out our quick wins straight into Foxly by putting together our own prioritization technique, which we named ‘quick wins method’. If you don't know what prioritization techniques are, here's a good article about a few standard backlog prioritization techniques generally used.
Now, Foxly is for another article; it’s too good of a tool to just quickly go over it, so expect a ‘What is Foxly and Why You Need It’ article next week. In the meantime, you can get an idea here as it’s worth looking into if you want to do proper work prioritization with your team. It’s created for anyone who doesn’t want the overhead of dealing with a complicated process, and who’d rather have priorities embedded into the tasks themselves, so that you don't manage priorities separately from where you work. Also, Foxly allows you to adapt any formula you use, as you learn along the way, and gives you a super neat visual of what your quick wins are.