Fictional Press Release: A Powerful Tool for Aligning Teams and Achieving Goals
My journey into the psychology of acting as if something already happened, and how it transformed the way I manage expectations, communicate, and achieve objectives.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a project, only to realize that your team's vision is misaligned, expectations are poorly managed, and communication has fallen by the wayside? (I bet you have)
From my observation this doesn't only happen occasionally,
but is actually quite common.
In this article, I want to educate you about the psychology behind an approach that I now use towards my advantage: Fictional press releases.
The Psychology of acting as if something has already happened
I'm a big fan of Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the chapters is called “Begin with the End in Mind”.
The chapter discusses the importance of setting clear goals and imagining the desired outcome before starting your tasks. This approach helps provide direction and focus, leading to better decision-making and actions.
Overall, I believe that his conclusions are the reason the method I'm sharing with you works. If you want to dive further into his research, I encourage you to give his book a read.
But apart from Covey's perspective, I have observed that making your brain believe and act as if something has already happened, can lead to a powerful response. Although I'm unsure of the exact term for this phenomenon, I'd like to provide an example to illustrate my point:
Example: Have you ever sent an email, only to realize moments after hitting “send” that you forgot something important?
How does this happen?
Why can’t we see what we missed until it is too late?
It's an all-too-common experience and a perfect example of how our brains sometimes need the sensation of completion to identify gaps or mistakes.
As you probably noticed, Gmail and many more email providers now offer you with an “undo” button that appears up to 30 seconds. They're basically holding the email back for you - without sending it out, giving you just enough time for the post-action realization to kick in.
Using Fictional Press Releases to benefit from this effect
Given this background, let me explain to you why I believe writing fictional press releases can be helpful.
But first, let me show you what I mean with a fictional press release.
Here is an example:
Introducing Feature Previews:
Boosting Efficiency for Development Teams and helping the Business to iterate
Hello Platform Developers and Business Teams,
We are excited to announce the rollout of our new Feature Preview framework, designed to significantly improve the efficiency of our development teams working on our platform apps while empowering our business teams to make data-driven decisions and test new features in isolation.
Based on valuable feedback from our developers and keeping in mind the unique needs of our business teams, we've designed this new framework to enable individual platform users to opt into feature previews. This approach ensures that the features we build have a direct and positive impact on our business processes while reducing complexity.
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Why is this important for our tech teams?
The Feature Preview framework provides developers with the ability to:
- Test new features with users, allowing them to gather feedback and ensure that the features are working as intended.
- Scale the adoption of features after successful validation, ensuring that only the most impactful features make it into the hands of our users.
- Improve the efficiency of the development process by having a short feedback loop with the users who are piloting new features.
How does this benefit our business teams?
By incorporating the Feature Preview framework into the platform, our business teams gain:
- The ability to test new features in isolation, giving them the confidence to evaluate the business impact without the risk of asking everyone to switch to a new process at once.
- Greater control over their own adoption of new features, allowing individual users to opt into feature previews and decide if the new functionality benefits their workflow.
- The flexibility for teams to pilot new features on their own terms, ensuring that team members have the opportunity to provide feedback and contribute to the development process.
We understand that letting individual platform users opt-in and opt-out themselves might be a little controversial, as it doesn't involve a manager controlling access to feature previews. However, we believe that empowering individual users to opt into feature previews allows teams to decide to pilot new features, while reducing complexity and avoiding the need for additional managerial interfaces. On top of that, if teams struggle with the new way of working, they could take the decision to opt out to not compromise our operational efficiency.
We're confident that this new Feature Preview framework will significantly benefit both our development and business teams, and we're excited to see the positive impact it will have on our platform apps. As always, we appreciate your feedback and look forward to continuously improving our platform to better serve your needs.
As you can see, the fictional press release sounds like the Feature Preview functionality has already been rolled out. It is also supposed to sound realistic and focus on the benefits the users get from this new functionality. In this case, the users are developers and business departments.
Overall, this press release is kept quite high-level and not focused on implementation details. It is possible to go further and take this to the next level by diving deeper and for example giving the reader a sense of how exactly the feature is supposed to work.
Let me summarize what you could do with this:
- Alignment within your team: Share the fictional press release to sync everyone's understanding of the problem you're trying to solve. It can also help very technical people to capture the potential business impact. We usually get excited if we see how our work can impact people.
- Validate your assumptions with your stakeholders: The press release provides a high-level overview for stakeholders to confirm if you've addressed their needs or to trigger insightful discussions. This can also save you valuable time because ideally you haven't implemented anything yet.
- Expectation management: Set clear expectations for the outcome, helping to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment.
- Prepared communication for the rollout: When the project is complete, you'll already have a solid foundation for an internal press release or blog post to share with your audience.
- Use it as a team or cross-team vision: Establish a unified direction and understanding of the project's purpose and intended impact.
- Encourage creative problem-solving: Spark innovative ideas among team members by envisioning the end result.
- Facilitate collaboration: Foster a collaborative environment by involving various team members in the creation and review of the press release.
As you can see, fictional press releases can be a powerful tool.
Now, let me show you how you can ease the process of writing such a fictional press release.
Save Time by Using AI (e.g. ChatGPT) to Write Press Releases
Recently, I had the opportunity to try OpenAI's new ChatGPT 4 model, and I was impressed with its ability to save me time and boost my efficiency in drafting press releases.
Another reason why I like to use AI in this situation: At the beginning of a project you usually make many assumptions about potential business value, expectations, user needs, and more. If you're a well-organized team, you keep a record of those assumptions / hypotheses. Collecting them comes in handy as you can use them to write a prompt (instruction to an AI, so that it gives you a desired result).
Here is the prompt that I gave to ChatGPT:
We are a team enabling other teams to build apps more efficiently. The teams that we are enabling have direct business impact, and therefore our team functions as a multiplier.
One of our objectives (following the OKR framework) is called “Improve efficiency of development teams owning platform Apps”
We had a call with some of the developers that are part of the teams that we enable, and we collected the following need:
They want to validate a new workflow or functionality with certain users. And if the users successfully validated it and confirm that this helps the business to become better, they want to include more people/teams. This could be very manual, they don’t need anything magic that does like 60% rollout to random people. In fact, a random distribution wouldn't suit our business setup. An example of how the business works is: The head of a business department wants a specific team to pilot a new feature and want them to use it for a limited amount of time. In preparation, they manually create new process documentation and coordinate with people when they should start using the new processes.
It is important to not use the term Feature Flags, as it is not the same. Feature Flags are controlled by the development teams to safely rollout, rollback code and enable them to split their work into smaller parts. This need here is more like a Feature Preview or Feature Pilot system.
Btw, it might be a little controversial to let individual users opt into feature previews themselves, without an interface for managers to assign employees. However, we believe that adding such an interface would be costly and outweighs the benefits. We believe that because of the way individual business teams pilot new features, a self-service solution will solve their need.
Write me an internal blog post announcing a new framework feature for our developers. Write it in a way as this would already be solved and ready to be used. Focus on the benefits for the tech development teams and also highlight the benefits for our business teams.
Depending on your prompt, your output might not be perfect. Because tools like ChatGPT 4 are conversation aware, you can keep chatting and explain which parts you don't like.
Rule of thumb: the more context you provide, the happier you will be with the output.
🥳 Bonus for subscribers (free):
For the first time since I started this personal blog, I’ll provide you with two bonus sections:
- (8) Tips on how you can introduce fictional press releases within your organization
- Behind the scenes: how I ended up writing this article and how my team is experimenting with this approach
Bonus: Tips how you can introduce fictional press releases within your organization
- Pilot them and observe: The next time you tackle a challenging project and miss clarity, give fictional press releases a try and show them to your team or stakeholders. Don't force it on them; instead, explain the concept and let them see the benefits for themselves.
- Combination with OKRs: If you want to, you can combine fictional press releases with goal setting frameworks. For this to work, you want your press release to fulfill the S.M.A.R.T criteria. It could for example talk about how much money was saved by launching this feature (making the press-release “measurable”). All in all, depending on how long-term the fictional press release is, it could provide teams with a vision and help them come up with better team level OKRs. An fantastic side effect: it adds storytelling to the dry OKR topic (I bet your teams will be more likely to remember an engaging story than the KRs presented in the past company All-hands) .