Gardeners prune trees to control their growth. Sometimes the pruning is artistic, and we end up with shrubs shaped like animals or interesting abstract shapes. Much of the time the pruning is designed to build a balanced tree that yields high quality fruit. The process isn’t about “cutting” – it is about “shaping.” Use this metaphor to help create the product that your customers desire.
Start by drawing a very large tree on a whiteboard or printing a tree as a poster. Thick limbs represent major areas of functionality within your system. The edge of the tree – its outermost branches – represents the features available in the current release. Write potential new features on several index cards, ideally shaped as leaves. Ask your customers to place desired features around the tree, defining the next phase of its growth. Do they structure a tree that is growing in a balanced manner? Does one branch – perhaps a core feature of the product – get the bulk of the growth? Does an underutilized aspect of the tree become stronger? We know that the roots of a tree (your support and customer care infrastructure) need to extend at least as far as your canopy. Do yours?
You and your customers both know that features vary in importance. So, we tend to want to put our efforts behind the most important features – those features that provide the greatest value to customers. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that we put too little effort behind the features that are needed to complete the product. The Prune The Product Tree collaboration framework provides your customers with a way to provide input into the decision-making process by looking at the set of features that comprise the product in a holistic manner.
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