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How to Balance the Continual Proliferation of Ideas With Limited Resources

Team Processes

26 March, 2021

Jérôme Basdevant
Jérôme Basdevant

CTO and Cofounder at Datamaran

Jérôme Basdevant, CTO and Co-founder of Datamaran, talks of his efforts to balance his continual proliferation of new ideas with his startup’s limited resources.

Problem

I am one of those people who, by their very nature, are continually proliferating new ideas. There are so many things I would like us to explore and build, particularly around data science issues. The problem was that I couldn’t contain my flow of ideas and would direct it to the team that felt overwhelmed and under pressure to act upon them.

The team would start their sprint with their set of priorities, and I would walk in with my latest ideas, disrupting their plan. My pile of ideas would put them off track and slow them down because most of those were indeed tempting, and the team was curious.

As our product became more mature and our roadmap more complex, I realized that my pouring of ideas went against our ability to go fast. It also caused frustration within the team because they were unable to meet their goals and felt stretched too thin. I was responsible for opening too many work streams in parallel, which resulted in no redundancy. Everyone would take care of one tiny part of the project, and we didn’t have people who could switch back and forth between the projects.

Actions taken

First and foremost, I had to abstain from sharing all my ideas with the team. That meant that I had to organize my own backlog of ideas before I would throw them to the team. In a nutshell, I had to share less and prioritize more.

Furthermore, I had to accept that I will not be able to pursue all of the exciting ideas in my lifetime. I would have to choose a few themes that I would be able to focus on and discard others. For someone like myself who likes exploring new avenues, this was a rather challenging task. I also had to understand the impact I was having on other people and be aware of how my proposals affected their workflow. People on the team didn’t feel empowered to push back against my requests and insist on sticking to their priorities. I wanted to encourage them to become more assertive toward me and responsible for their projects.

After a lot of self-reflection, I became more rigorous and self-aware about my actions. I applied the same approach to the team; I especially pushed for the rigor in sprint analytics and planning, encouraging the team to cancel projects that would fall outside their priorities. We started to prioritize ruthlessly, and that spread to all of our activities. It took us a year to see a new culture emerging around it.

Finally, I also initiated a series of conversations about what it means to be a data scientist or engineer. We also discussed the implications of our growth; though we were not a large company, we became mature enough not to jump on the next cool thing.

Lessons learned

  • Make peace with yourself. You won’t be able to explore all the new ideas that will come to your mind. This will be more burdensome for people who like to innovate, and they will need more discipline to abstain from doing so.
  • Resources are almost always limited. You won’t be able to do all the things you want to do, so prioritize wisely.
  • Going slow can make you go faster. We were working on some features for a long time and were unable to complete them because something -- in most cases, a new idea -- would always come up. Getting rid of the influx of ideas allowed us to focus on our original goals and accomplish them. Also, the team felt rewarding once we streamlined our priorities and when they were able to achieve their goals.

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