Thursday, December 15, 2022

Utility maximalist

Is your instinct to be a 'utility maximalist'?
If so, you are someone who wants to ring every dollar of functional effectiveness out of every dollar spent.
And why not?
Is the alternative just a waste of money?

About Utility
Utility, for this discussion, is the value placed on a functionality or feature or outcome compared to its actual cost input. 
Ideally, you would want more utility value than cost input, or at worst, 1:1. But sometimes, it goes wrong, and you get way less out than you put in. (*)

Show me the money
Here's the rub: Utility value is not always monetized, and not always monetized in conventional ways, though the cost input certainly is. So because utility usually has subjective components ... in the  eye of the beholder, as it were .... utility value often comes down to what someone is willing to pay.

As a PM, you can certainly budget for cost input
But you may have to take in a lot from marketing, sales, architects, and stylists about how to spread that cost to maximize utility and thereby maximize the business value of each input dollar spent. 

Kano is instructive
If you are a utility maximalist, you may find yourself pushing back on spending project dollars on "frills" and "style".
If so, there is something to be learned by by grabing a "Kano Chart" and looking at the curves. They are utility curves. They range from a utility of "1" (cost input and value output are equal) to something approaching an exponential of value over cost. 

The point is: investing in the "ah-hah!" by investing in the utility of a feature or a function will pay business benefits.

Art, beauty, and other stuff
Utility brings in art, beauty, and non-functionality in architecture, appearance, and appeal. Some call it "value in the large sense", or perhaps "quality in the large sense".
But utility also brings in personality, tolerance, and other human factors considerations

Utility maximalist leadership
It's not all about style, feature, and function.
Some leadership styles are "utility maximalist"
  • Short meetings
  • No PowerPoint
  • Bullets (like these!) over prose
  • Short paragraphs; one page
  • Impersonal communications (social media, email, text)
  • No 'water cooler' chat
Wow! Where's the 'art' in that list? Not much collegiality there. How do innovation and radical ideas break through?
How effective can that culture be across and down the organization (yes, some organizations have hierarchy)

On the other hand ....
  • Tough decisions with significant personnel and business impacts may be more effectively made with high utility
  • High utility does not rule out an effective leader soliciting and accepting alternatives. 
  • High utility does not mean bubble isolation; that's more about insecurity. 
But high utility in management does mean that you give (or receive) broad directives, strategic goals, resources commensurate with value, and authority. The rest is all tactics. Get on with it! 

(*) The classic illustration of utility is the comparison of the poor person and the wealthy person. Both have $10 in their pocket. The utility of $10 is much greater for the poorer person. In other words, the value of $10 is not a constant. Its value is situational. There are mostly no linear equations in a system of utility value.

And for the 'earned value' enthusiast, utility is not a measure of EV. In the EV system, all $ values have a utility of 1; value is a constant. And all equations are linear. 
For instance, the cost performance index, CPI, is a monetized ratio of the intended (planned) cost input and the actual cost realized, where "value" is held constant. 
EV is that part of the value to be obtained by the intended cost that can be considered completed or achieved at the point of examination.

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