Maybe think about it in terms of ROI. Let’s say the Ops teams is asking Engineering to help automate some task they perform everyday. What’s the appetite for that tasks? Two days? Two weeks? Two months?
Well, it really depends on things like how much it’s costing the organization, and what are the opportunity costs, etc.
Let’s say they spend an hour-a-day on the above task. So if the Engineering team could do something to automate or at least simplify this task, it could save them about 250-hours a year. Based on the average Ops team member’s salary, that comes out to about $5,000 per year.
So if you spend $10,000 to solve that problem, you’ll break-even in two years. Is it worth it? Maybe. But you also have to ask: are there other things Engineering could be working on that show a bigger return, faster?
Perhaps you see a spectrum of solutions: you estimate a fully-automated solution would cost $10K, but for a $4,000 appetite the team comes up with a partial solution–it’s not fully automated but it’s expected to cut the time staff spend on this task by 80%.
Sorry if that’s complicated.
Here’s one more.
The old way
We decide we want a Loyalty Program for our ecommerce site. The Product Manager comes up with an elaborate system whereby customers earn points for each dollar they spend on the point earn them “status” tiers which result in benefits like express processing and discounted shipping. They can also get points by referring friends.
Engineering estimates it will take 2 months to implement. They get approve and start.
Two months later they aren’t even halfway done. It’s a complicated feature which touches payments, onboarding, shipping, customer profiles…there are a lot of rabbit holes which were not thought out, such as how a customer’s points are affected by refunds (which are issued offsite by the accounting team).
The new way
What’s the best loyalty program we could make for six-week appetite? Hum, well the Points are what make it all so complicated, so we could scale it back to just a refer-a-friend program: give the referred customer $10-off, and the referee a $10 credit. That would make it a lot more simple, and that’s something we feel confident we could do in six-weeks.
Or, there are some third-party loyalty programs we could hook into. Basically you add some tracking code to your site and setup the rules. We could implement that in just a few weeks, then if it’s very popular we could always build out own solution later. But this would be a fast-and-easy way to test the idea.
Basically, the appetite is defined by the expected risk-reward of the bet. With a very large bet you have more at stake. Breaking it down into smaller bets can make it easier to manage and reason about, and often the time constraint can induce the team to start getting creative.
I was watching an episode of Better Call Saul last night, and he wanted to do a commercial video shoot, but it was going to cost too much to shoot it on location (in the desert) due to power generator rental and food catering costs. So they decided to shoot it on a green screen and composite the background they wanted in post-production. Great example of how a constraint can result in a creative, time-saving solution.