Talk:Team Practices Group/Tracking core and strategic work

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Core/Strategic vs. industry standard terms

AGomez (WMF) (talkcontribs)

There's the concept in non-profits in the US, reported on the tax form i990 of breaking down expenses by:

- program expenses

- administrative expenses

- fundraising expenses

Guidestar uses these expense categories to rate charities. We've been rated 4/4 stars since 2010 (go us!). I know many people use these ratings as an indicator of the health of the organization and to determine where to give (myself included) to make sure that donations are supporting programmatic work of the organization.

It seems like it might behoove us to rely on the best practices already established industry-wide while we're thinking about our own work.

If we have to keep core/strategic for our internal purposes (perhaps to further break out "program expenses"), that could make sense. What do others think? Has this already been considered?

AStillwell (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Wow. Good idea, Anne. This kind of consistency with the broader field makes a lot of sense to me. And it would help us understand how we compare to other non-profits, which would be huge.

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

It would be awesome if we could use categories that somehow align with the industry-standard categories you mention.

My impression is that C-levels are hoping to split what appears in that list as "program expenses" into 2 buckets: "core" (have to do them to keep the program running) and "strategic" (stuff that improves the strategic impact of the programs).

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

This is going to be much less useful than you might think. Everything that the devs (except Fundraising Tech) do is a "program expense", even attending a meeting to talk about vacation schedules.

AGomez (WMF) (talkcontribs)

@Whatamidoing (WMF) yes, that's how that would play out. And it's also how we report our finances. I'm not sure what you're saying would be "less useful" because we're already doing this.

If it comes down that Core & Strategic are further breakdowns of "Program Expenses" that makes sense to me, but that's not the impression that I've gotten from what seems to be a pretty arbitrary breakdown at this point.

JAufrecht (WMF) (talkcontribs)

From what I can see based on Wes's definition (the main page) and what I've seen Tony add to discussion, both Core & Strategic are indeed components of Program Expense.

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Core and Strategic are components of Program Expense, except when they aren't Program Expenses to begin with. All tech work done for the purpose of fundraising is a Fundraising Expense, no matter how "Core" or "Strategic" they seem. This is making a three-by-two matrix, rather than a subdivision of the three government-mandated financial categories.

(Anne, I agree with you that the distinction is currently so fuzzy as to be nearly arbitrary. If the WMF sticks with this process long enough, they'll presumably get better at deciding where to draw the line between the two.)

Jdforrester (WMF) (talkcontribs)

I favour breaking things down to two levels, if possible:

  • Administrative expenses
    • Core administrative expenses – e.g. staffing resource cost of finance team
    • Strategic administrative expenses – e.g. switching cost of changing an HRIS or ERP system to a cheaper/better/more flexible one
  • Programme expenses
    • Core programme expenses – e.g. maintaining and evolving the existing editing tools and experience
    • Strategic programme expenses – e.g. adding an additional data centre to better serve South and East Asia
  • Fundraising expenses
    • Core fundraising expenses – e.g. adjusting our integrations with card processors to maintain/expand donation ability
    • Strategic fundraising expenses – e.g. adding BitCoin as a new form of payment

Thoughts? (The examples I gave may not be very good ones.)

Reply to "Core/Strategic vs. industry standard terms"

How does core/strategic interact with Strengthen/Focus/Experiment?

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

For a while now, teams have been categorizing their quarterly goals into Strengthen/Focus/Experiment. Will Core/Strategic replace that categorization, or will both be used?

Qgil-WMF (talkcontribs)

Personal opinion: I think the use of Strengthen/Focus/Experiment has been quite arbitrary. These axes were supposed to have a connection with the Call to Action, which was another new artifact established with no prior discussion. Even if still fuzzy, the Core/Strategic distinction is clearer and here we are discussing it openly. The WMF Annual Plan is being structured around these concepts. This looks indeed like a more solid foundation. I don't see the need to keep both classifications around. Good bye Strengthen/Focus/Experiment?

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

"Experiments" are presumably mostly "Strategic", and "Strengthen" is presumably – usually – "Core". "Focus" could be either. If both systems are used, then you'd have another 3x2 matrix.

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

@WMoran (WMF): Can you confirm that teams can stop tracking Strengthen/Focus/Experiment, if they are instead tracking Core/Strategic?

Reply to "How does core/strategic interact with Strengthen/Focus/Experiment?"
KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Extracted from an email: "Strategic does not necessarily equate to experimental."

Certainly some strategic work will be experimental, but it seems like not all of it will be. Should we soften that claim in the definition?

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Lila replied later in that platypus thread: "And yes, we may run experiments in within either bucket, with the difference that those experiments in Core are focused on optimization and in Strategic on growth."

Qgil-WMF (talkcontribs)

In our current draft for core work (phab:T124041), we have a goal that is core (Community engagement across all stages of WMF product development process) but one of the two related initiatives is rather experimental (Consolidation of a participative product development process).

We have been discussing whether a core goal may have an experimental initiative related. I think so. When linear improvements are not enough, optimizing core work sometimes requires experimentation.

Reply to "Strategic == Experimental??"

Can existing work be "Strategic"?

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

(This question was asked of me in a private email)

The draft says that strategic work is "New work and resources or goals aligned to a strategy." But is it possible for existing work to also be strategic, if it serves a strategic goal?

I think this hints at ambiguity in the core definition, when it says "maintain essential services". Firstly, what is "essential"? Secondly, what is "maintain"?

WMoran (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Yes I believe existing work could be considered strategic and we should expand on that in the definition.

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

IMO existing work can be Strategic, but when it becomes ongoing – a fairly permanent thing, with no desirable end point – then it transitions to Core. For example, five years ago, creating the visual editor was obviously a strategic goal. But five years from now, it ought to be part of core.

Reply to "Can existing work be "Strategic"?"

Update and summary on the Core/Strategic definition discussion as of late January 2016

JAufrecht (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Here is an update and summary on the Core/Strategic definition Fraction discussion as of late January 2016, based on mailing list discussions, comments, and Wes's and others' input from the Annual Planning perspective:

There are three different uses identified for this data, all slightly different.  We need to be careful (and have been so far, I think) that data collected for one purpose is not used in a different context.

The most urgent and primary definition of Core and Strategic for Product and Engineering is for Annual Planning.  This is driven by adopting the FDC format for WMF's planning.  The definitions for this purpose are the ones on this page.  Departments will be splitting their work into Core and Strategic and submitting their Core plan before their Strategic plan, though both plans will follow the same format.  All Core and Strategic plans will be reviewed before anything is finalized (so it shouldn't happen that Core plans eat up the whole budget allocation before any Strategic plans get a shot); I don't have any more detail on budgeting and prioritizing.

While the definitions seem clear in isolation, lots of people have had questions about specific cases, and it's not hard to think up tricky ones.  (Is adding Traditional Chinese character support to VE Core or Strategic?  What about fixing a bug in it two years after it's launched?)  Since we already tried both meetings and mailing list discussion to clarify this, without final results, I suggest that the most efficient path forward is for Departments to continue splitting up work according to this definition as they create their plans, using their best interpretation, and to post especially tricky cases on the wiki for feedback and discussion.

I'll update on the two other use cases in a seperate thread; they are distinct and less urgent.

JAufrecht (WMF) (talkcontribs)

A further note: this use currently pertains to planned work, not existing work.  Several teams have been participating in pilot projects for tracking and reporting in Phabricator by milestone, and we are learning a lot, but there is no firm plan (or requirements) for how we would use Phabricator or other systems to track the work we complete in comparison to the Annual Plan or quarterly goals.

Reply to "Update and summary on the Core/Strategic definition discussion as of late January 2016"

Use cases other than Annual Planning

JAufrecht (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Here is a further summary of the state of the Core/Strategic definition discussion as I see it as of Jan 20. I've split these uses out since they seem less urgent than Annual Planning.

The second identified use for this distinction is for individual team self analysis.  Eight teams participated in a pilot in 2015 to try and measure maintenance versus new functionality, and we came up with about ten different definitions, such as planned vs interrupt or quarterly goal vs other.  Five teams produced data over a sample period, all by different methods and definitions, suggesting that there is no common, self-evident way to do this at WMF.  Teams that are getting value out of this tracking are welcome to continue, but this data can't be matched to the Annual Planning definitions and can't be aggregated for any purpose.

The third identified type of use is for reporting external to WMF, such as the IRS, grants, charity ratings, etc.  Each of those uses has distinct and separate definitions, so I doubt any of the Core/Strategic distinctions we are making for Annual Planning or team self-tracking could be used as-is.  Whatever processes WMF uses to currently report these things will presumably continue as-is, with teams trusting them to glean information from Core vs Strategic plans at their discretion.

Reply to "Use cases other than Annual Planning"

Affects all WMF teams, not just "audience facing"

Summary by KSmith (WMF)

This will affect all teams, not just audience-facing product teams. The original text that prompted this question has been reworded.

Greg (WMF) (talkcontribs)

The Core vs Strategic distinction is baked into the annual planning process for all teams (see even the examples at the bottom of the page that includes Operations). As I'm not sure if there is a separate mandate from management for TPG to work with audience facing specific teams on this I decided not to edit these two sentences:

WMF management has asked the Team Practices Group (TPG) to work with audience-facing product teams to start tracking "core" and "strategic" work. As part of annual planning efforts, aligning all of our work to core and strategic labels will help us communicate our work externally, and to improve our internal budget and strategic planning processes.

Help rewording that appreciated :)

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Thanks Greg. There are couple things going on here. TPG's quarterly goal mandate was merely to help audience-facing product teams. But you're right that these definitions are intended to be used by all WMF teams.

I think this page is about to get a major update, so I won't tweak that just yet.

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

I reworded it.

Summary by KSmith (WMF)

Wes merged the google doc material into this page. We believe the doc is now obsolete and all the conversation can happen here.

Greg (WMF) (talkcontribs)
WMoran (WMF) (talkcontribs)

I will move that over Greg and hopefully end of life that doc.

Do we need more categories than just core and strategic?

FKoudijs (WMF) (talkcontribs)

I find having two categories to be limiting. I don't think all of our work necessarily falls into core (needing clearer definition) or strategic (a term that's heavily over-used, and stretched beyond it's actual meeting). There are a lot of things we do that don't fit comfortably in any category. How do we solve for that? Add an "other" category? Not sure that's the best solution either, looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts about this.

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

As we both mentioned in other topics here, there seems to be "valuable work that optimizes other core/strategic work". Aside from that type of work, are there other examples of work that we should be doing (whether we are or not), which are neither core (essential) nor strategic (tied to a strategy)?

FKoudijs (WMF) (talkcontribs)

If the third category is "valuable work that optimizes other core / strategic work", I can live with those three. We are still in need of a clear definition of what "core" or "essential" means. But I realize I'm going around in circles now. :)

Reply to "Do we need more categories than just core and strategic?"

What is "core" work for a group like Team Practices?

KSmith (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Team Practices generally helps other groups be more productive. Our daily work might help other teams meet their core goals, or to do strategic work. Our quarterly goals tend to involve projects outside the scope of our engagement with teams, such as (going meta here) helping teams get to the point where they can track, report on, and forecast based on, work categorizations like "core" and "strategic".

I haven't thought of an example of our non-engagement work that itself would be considered "core". Does anyone have ideas? Is it OK that certain teams might not do any core work (because it would all be strategic), or perhaps in some other case, might do only core work, and no strategic work?

FKoudijs (WMF) (talkcontribs)

I've been thinking about the definition of "core" for some of our teams as well. If you define "core" as "keeping the lights on", that's a very narrow definition that I think doesn't do justice to the complexities of our work for many teams. For instance, arguably, none of Community Engagement's work would count as core, because we don't help keep the lights on in the strictest sense of the word. But we do very crucial work to keep our projects safe and vibrant, improving communities' health and motivation. So where do we draw the lines for teams like CE? What is our core? Is it only trust and safety, for instance? For the Education team, what counts as core?

Reply to "What is "core" work for a group like Team Practices?"
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