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Not More Fuel, Less Friction

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

When organizations meet resistance all too often, they focus on adding fuel they don't ask how they can subtract friction.


As I was observing a large team of teams progress through planning it became apparent that demand for functionality far exceeded the capacity of the available humans. Bob proclaimed that budget was not an issue "just tell me how many developers you need, and I will get the funding".


I tried coaching Bob that uncovering and eliminating waste in his backlog would enable him to get everything done. But, the pull of the past was just too strong. The first instinct of Bob and many in leadership when faced with a challenge is to push harder by adding carrots or sticks. Instead of looking for ways to decrease friction and reduce the payload, they add more fuel to the rocket ship.


This was the key message from Loran Nordgren in his interview with Shankar Vedantam on Hidden Brain 2.0. Nordgren shared that frictions tend to be buried and require discovery. We often have to shift attention from the challenge itself, which is our natural point of fixation. Friction requires knowing our audience and knowing the context.

In product development, friction comes in many forms such as excessive handoffs, bottlenecks or over-production.

Unlike Bob, budget was an issue for Melissa, she couldn't add more fuel. When the development team told Melissa that everything she was asking for would take 8 years rather than the 15 months she hoped, her only option was to find and remove friction. What transpired was a remarkable piece of teamwork and one of my best days as a coach. Melissa and the development team took a hard look at the feature backlog. By ruthlessly eliminating any functionality not adding customer value, they were able to shrink the timeline from 8 years to 13 months.


The contrast between Bob and Melissa is stark. Bob added fuel. Melissa reduced the payload. Melissa discovered that often a better more sustainable approach is to first uncover and reduce friction.

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