Quick Fix Days and Hack Weeks

At Automattic we’ve redefined our hack weeks to focus on product changes for customer kindness: fixing flows, removing dead ends, and pay down technical debt.

In The big secret of small improvements Tal Bereznitskey explains how to improve “quick fix days,” where software teams take time to make small improvements. Those small changes can together mean a big win for customers and the business.

At Automattic we’ve experimented with both 1-day bug scrubs in one team all the way up to a full “hack week” — so Tal’s principles strike a chord with me.

Framing the problem is halfway to solving it — I love how he suggests rewording the subject line of a software change to fix a bug as something actionable, not just a description of the problem.

6. Well defined. Only work on tasks that are defined properly. Prefer “Make content scrollable” over “Bug: can’t see content when scrolling”.

Create positive feedback loops — I remember during my days answering WordPress.com Themes bug reports and how rewarding it was to hear directly from the people I helped with a bug fix.

7. Thanks you. There’s nothing like hearing a customer say “Thank you!”. When a quick-fix was suggested by a customer, let the developer email him and tell him the good news.

This is the work: customer kindness — Our latest iteration at Automattic speaks to this customer focus as the goal of the maintenance work — it isn’t just polish or cleanup, this is the product work. We even have a fun acronym for it now! H.A.C.K. — Helping Acts of Customer Kindness.

Product Management: Active Questions

I’m a fan of Oblique Strategies for triggering a new perspective when I get stuck. To me this method brings active questions to trigger better thinking.

This practice comes up for me frequently in product management when working on both short and long views of a roadmap. As part of any decision making process, whether by myself for reflection, or in a team working on a product change, I might ask something like:

What is the end result for our customers?
Where are we going in the long term?

The purpose of active questions, like Oblique Strategies, is to trigger more questions until you get a better answer. A truer answer. An honest answer. To find the why is to find the signal that drives everything else forward.

Who is it for?
How will they understand it’s for them?
How will we know if it’s a success?
What do we expect to see change?
How are we measuring it?
What would be a surprise here; something that we don’t expect?
Have we considered doing the opposite?
Who has the most to gain?
What’s the context?

What questions do you ask to find the why?