We had 72 hours to backpack 40 miles to catch our seaplane on the other side of Isle Royale.
After heavy fog delayed our flight take-off to the island by 10 hours, and a wildfire blockaded the only trail from our harbor, we were forced to sleep at the entry port and forfeit 24 hours.
Suddenly, our 72 hours became 48 hours, our 40 miles became 35 miles, and our backpacks would have been just as heavy. 😐
Fires and Fog delay product launches ⚠️
While we wish it wasn't true, many product launches sound like this story. Fires and fog appear which delay and distract our teams from hitting our launch deadline.
Our group encountered two major roadblocks on this hike, but the way we pivoted each looked very different.
When we arrived at the airport to fly to Isle Royale, an island on Lake Superior, we were notified the fog would delay takeoff by at least 6 hours. Fortunately, we had all of our gear in the car with us. We decided to start removing nice-to-have items to lighten our packs.
Remove features to launch on time 🗑️
We knew that we would have to make up for the lost time by moving faster and didn't need excess weight slowing us down. We decided to remove camping chairs and other nice-to-haves items from our bags so we would make our return flight.
In the same way, the early stages of building a product are very malleable. The scope is often fluid and more loosely defined. Because not all features are created equal, your product team needs to prepare to cut items in order to launch on time. The good news is you can always add those features in a second version.
As we flew over the island preparing to land, radio control notified us of a wildfire. At this point, there was no turning back. For better or worse we were landing on the island. Upon arrival, we discovered the only trail leaving the harbor was blocked by fire.
Scope-trade features to launch on time 🔀
Once we found out about the fire, we couldn't afford to wait things out. So, we traded our initial trail for a ferry ride to a different port on the island.
Since we were unable to adjust what we carried, we adjusted how we got there instead. We avoided the fire by scope-trading our planned route for a shorter, steeper route.
Our product team is always scope-trading at the middle and end of projects. When a feature that seems viable is later revealed to be more challenging, we pivot to a simpler solution.
Often, we gain new insights while user testing.
A user might suggest a killer new feature that's more valuable than the feature we showed them. Instead of keeping both features and launching late, we exchange the old feature for the new one.
Set firm launch dates 📅
After many, many miles of hiking, we made it to our plane on time. In the end, we were glad that we shortened the hike and removed our excess gear. Without those changes, we would have been stuck on the island for another 2-3 days!
Teams often have very loose launch dates that allow the project to drag out over weeks or even months. Those teams keep every feature, even one's users might not care about or use.
Don't let this happen! Constrain the launch date to a specific day and adjust the features that fit within that timeframe.