The Right Level of Abstraction, Also Called “Chunks of Value”

For every human activity, there is an appropriate level of abstraction to talk about it. Often there’s a big picture, and there are details, and somewhere in between is the really meaningful stuff. In baseball you can talk about who won or lost the game (big picture), and you can talk about each pitch (detail), but baseball’s at its most interesting at the at-bat and innings levels. This is where the manager is putting most of his or her attention during the game, even though he or she is judged at the end of the season on the big picture of win/loss ratio.

For product managers, the big picture is the release. And the detail level is the tasks that the programmers are working on to create the functionality. But the most interesting level for product managers is the “chunks of value” level. Elsewhere I use the term “feature,” and you can also call them “requirements” or “user stories” or any term you like. But the clunky, clumsy term “chunks of value” gets to their real meaning – value that I could deliver to the customer or market.

Some of the basic facts around chunks of value:

  • There are always more than you can deliver – demand outstrips capacity
  • Any given chunk of value is more desirable for some customers than others, and is better aligned with some of your marketing goals than others.
  • Some chunks of value are very large and might take multiple releases to deliver fully, while some are very small and can be completed in a day or a week.
  • Chunks of value are related to what customers ask for or say they need, but they are not necessarily the same. A customer’s request or desire usually represents one way, and usually not the best way, to address a deeper need that the customer is not able to articulate (that’s your job).
  • Simply delivering the chunk of value in some form is no guarantee of success. You need to make sure it’s delivered in a usable, engaging, pleasing way.

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This is another excerpt from my upcoming new book, a template that product management organizations can use to automate the PM process. Look for it soon from an e-book distributor near you. To be notified when it’s available, please sign up for my mailing list over in the right sidebar.

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1 comment

  1. Nils, this is a thought provoking post.

    In particular, your fourth bullet resonates with one of our experiences this week. We revisited the implementation / design of a few features this week and recognized an opportunity to address them all with a revised, more cohesive design. Describing them in terms of the value to be delivered, rather than in terms of the feature/functionality, the team visualized a better solution.

    At the highest level, it's definitely useful to think of the user's need and/or the "chunk of value" needed, rather than the feature you believe would deliver that value, because thinking of the feature locks your brain into a path that may or may not be the best one.

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