Cost of Focus Revisited

Cost of Focus Revisited

[Recent conversations suggest that my post on Cost of Focus failed to explain the idea clearly enough for readers to grasp easily or quickly. As, for me at least, it’s a simple idea, I thought I’d summarise it in brief with a new post (this one).]

Cost of Focus

Let’s start with a definition in a nutshell:

Cost of Focus is the cost incurred when we fail to include key stakeholders* in our deliberations**.

* I generally refer to these folks, collectively, as The Folks That Matter™.
** By deliberations, I have in mind what old-school folks call “requirements capture” or “requirements analysis”, and what I, nowadays, refer to as “needs investigation”.

Put another way:

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact – on the outcomes we hope to achieve – arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs.

Note: I could have chosen the name “Cost of Flawed Focus” (the cost of focussing on less relevant stakeholders and less relevant requirements), but this seemed a little less snappy than “Cost of Focus”.

Typically, the costs in question accrue from rejection of part or all of the delivered project / system / product / software application by one or more key parties (such as users) whose needs have not been adequately addressed  – and these costs can be massive. In any number of cases, whole systems have had to be abandoned because one or more key stakeholder groups have refused to use the new system. And even when not totally abandoned, oftentimes major costs have accrued from the delays and extra work required to remediate the original errors of focus. (See also Cost of Focus’ kissing cousin – Cost of Delay).

The Folks That Matter™

[The following excerpt first appeared in my blog post The Folks That Matter™. I repeat it here for the convenience of the reader:]

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of delaying a given feature by prioritising another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above, i.e. the question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are failing to meet some folks’ needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong (prioritise less valuable features), and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary, black-and-white impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact – on the outcomes we hope to achieve – arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding to whose needs to attend, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Cost of Focus ~ Think Different blog post
The Folks That Matter™ ~ Think Different blog post
Cost of Delay ~ Wikipedia entry

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