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How three powerful questions can lead to better product management
I hosted a virtual summit in April this year (www.theeverydayinnovator.com/summit) and I met many wonderful people. One introduced me to her Slinky Dog metaphor for product management and a methodology called FAST goals.
She calls FAST goals a winning methodology as it enables you to win, solving problems and creating value for customers. It connects what you need to accomplish with how you will accomplish it along with the why for taking specific actions.
In the discussion, we role-play using FAST to solve problems I have had as a frequent traveler — something most of us are doing far less of now but will return to eventually.
Her name is Jeannine Siviy. She has been a software and systems engineer, contributing to and leading product development for several organizations, including Kodak and the Software Engineering Institute. She is currently the Director of Healthcare Solutions at SDLC Partners.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:48] What is the Slinky Dog metaphor for product management?
The Slinky Dog metaphor reminds people when they’re running ahead of everybody else. If you’re ahead, you need to pause and let your team, peers, clients, etc., catch up in an organized way. You don’t want them to catch up by slamming into you. If the Slinky Dog is stretched too far, it breaks.
[5:11] What problem does the FAST Goals methodology solve?
When you’re working on product management and innovation, there are a lot of perspectives and different voices in the room. FAST Goals unifies those voices to create a clear line of sight between top-level objectives and day-to-day work. It empowers people to make decisions in day-to-day work with confidence and know that their work is contributing to the big picture outcome.
[8:25] What are the key components of FAST Goals?
It’s a ladder of abstraction method. FAST indicates the rapidity of the method and is also an acronym for Function Analysis Systems Technique, a manufacturing technique that I modified into FAST Goals. FAST Goals uses a diagram to answer three questions: “What goals are you pursuing? How do you intend to achieve those goals? Why do these goals matter? Every goal is paired with a success metric so that you’ll know when you’ve achieved it, and each goal has strategies and tactics that are also measured.
[13:15] Let’s walk through an example of using FAST Goals to improve customer experience at an airport.
Our top goal is to improve customer experience at the airport. We brainstorm pain points and unsolved problems, like not knowing how much time it will take to get to your gate, food needing improvement, and difficulty navigating through the airport. Then we synthesize, looking for common themes and determining the meaning of each idea. Next we organize and simplify and write the ideas on the diagram, usually in a simple noun-verb format. Then we validate by asking how and why we’ll accomplish these goals. This process works best with a cross-functional team.
[20:13] Let’s take a closer look at a specific problem—not knowing how much time it will take to get to the gate.
At the top of the diagram, our main goal is to improve customer experience. We’ll write “Predict time to gate” as our sub-goal. Under that, we’ll write how we could do that, such as with an app on the phone or smart glasses. Then we’ll identify why we would implement a solution to this problem. One why is to predict the time to the gate, but we might identify other whys like optimizing the time to the gate, giving directions, or determining if there’s time to get a snack. Once we make sure our what, how, and why are all aligned, the people who launch the app or glasses have a good sense of why that product exists. After beginning development and research, the team may find another idea and change the diagram; that’s okay because the diagram still keeps everybody aligned. As we synthesize, we may reframe the problem and change the top goal. We can add other market segments to the diagram, like how we would solve problems for travelers with kids. We might expand our highest goal to improve the entire travel experience.
[31:17] What artifact do teams end up with after FAST Goals?
They end up with a diagram that becomes the North Star of the team doing the work. There’s usually a document behind the diagram further explaining the meaning of each goal, strategies, tactics, and measures.
[35:58] What are some examples of when you’ve seen FAST Goals applied to make meaningful changes in organizations?
A software and system development organization was working on flight systems, which involve human safety, so their quality was outstanding. However, their cost and schedule variability was very high. We tried to improve cost and schedule, but couldn’t get any traction because their customers were very happy with the quality and didn’t care about cost and schedule. We realigned our initiative to focus on improving market share. When the company understood that getting new business depended on the ability to predict when they’d be available to do the work, they realized why improving cost and schedule predictability was important.
A military client was replacing an old system that was breaking. They were giving the general a one-inch thick manual of measures. They started using FAST Goals when they realized that was too much measurement. We created a diagram to fix the measurement, then realized that we could also improve strategy and alignment. The diagram helped the team be deliberate about how they spent their time and focus on key capabilities to maintain both systems during the transition.
A healthcare provider used FAST Goals to unify the voices of more than 30 executives. They used the diagram to work as one to accomplish their goal of delivering great healthcare. The care provided remained the same, but how they delivered it changed, doing it faster and better and improving patient experience.
I manage a healthcare service line, and we use FAST Goals. Whenever we’re thinking about adding something new to our portfolio, we run it against the same validation—Why are we doing this? How does it align? We use FAST Goals to validate whether our clients would value our service offering.
Action Guide: Put the information Jeannine shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Jeannine on LinkedIn and ask her for FAST Goals resources
“We more frequently fail to face the right problem than fail to solve the problem we face.” – Unknown
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.