Olympic Biathlon Can Teach Us About Product Requirements


Biathlon competes with curling as one of the most peculiar winter sports. Biathlon is essentially a Nordic ski race where the competitors, carrying rifles, make stops to shoot at targets. It combines aerobic fitness with marksmanship, as maxed-out competitors carefully aim at the targets and fire between breaths and heartbeats.  There is a strategic tradeoff to be made between accuracy (percentage missed), total time at the range, and the size of the penalty loop.

This brings me to product requirements. This is analogous the tradeoff that product marketing and engineering face when defining a new product. You can take more time in getting the product requirements just right, and then execute. Or you can go forward quickly, but with unverified product requirements.

Like the biathlon competitor who takes a few more seconds to fire, there is a Faustian bargain to be made: Delay several seconds and you are that much further behind the pack. But miss, and you are even further behind. Does delaying lead you to a better definition or to a substantially better product that enables you to avoid a “penalty lap” of a redesign?

Read my take of when it is best to shoot fast, and when it is better to take your time here.