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Write The Pitch

Paraphrased from chapter 6 of Shape Up:

We need to put the concept into a form that other people will be able to understand, digest, and respond to.

The purpose of the pitch is to present a good potential bet. It’s basically a presentation. The ingredients are all the things that we need to both capture the work done so far and present it in a form that will enable the people who schedule projects to make an informed bet.

There are five ingredients that we always want to include in a pitch:

  1. Problem — The raw idea, a use case, or something we’ve seen that motivates us to work on this
  2. Appetite — How much time we want to spend and how that constrains the solution
  3. Solution — The core elements we came up with, presented in a form that’s easy for people to immediately understand
  4. Rabbit holes — Details about the solution worth calling out to avoid problems
  5. No-gos — Anything specifically excluded from the concept: functionality or use cases we intentionally aren’t covering to fit the appetite or make the problem tractable

Ingredient 1. Problem

Diving straight into “what to build”—the solution—is dangerous. You don’t establish any basis for discussing whether this solution is good or bad without a problem.

The solution might be perfect, but what if the problem only happens to customers who are known to be a poor fit to the product? We could spend six weeks on an ingenious solution that only benefits a small percentage of customers known to have low retention. We want to be able to separate out that discussion about the demand so we don’t spend time on a good solution that doesn’t benefit the right people.

The best problem definition consists of a single specific story that shows why the status quo doesn’t work.

Ingredient 2. Appetite

You can think of the appetite as another part of the problem definition. Not only do we want to solve this use case, we want to come up with a way to do it in six weeks, not three months, or—in the case of a small batch project—two weeks, not the whole six weeks.

Stating the appetite in the pitch prevents unproductive conversations. There’s always a better solution. The question is, if we only care enough to spend two weeks on this now, how does this specific solution look?

Ingredient 3. Solution

Like solutions with no problems, sometimes companies bet on problems with no solution. “We really need to make it easier to find things on the messages section. Customers are complaining about it.”

If the solution isn’t there, someone should go back and do the shaping work on the shaping track. It’s only ready to bet on when problem, appetite, and solution come together.

Ingredient 4. Rabbit holes

Technical unknowns, unsolved design problems, or misunderstood interdependencies are rabbit holes that cause projects to take multiple times the original appetite to complete.

We want to remove the unknowns and tricky problems from the project so that our probability is as thin-tailed as possible. That means a project with independent, well-understood parts that assemble together in known ways.

Ingredient 5. No Gos

Lastly if there’s anything we’re not doing in this concept, it’s good to mention it here. Given the appetite, what is important to mark as a no-go?

People comment on the pitch asynchronously. Not to say yes or no — that happens at the betting table — but to poke holes or contribute missing information.