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Written By:
Ceara Crawshaw


Acme Co is a company much like any other. Its business revolves around software— specifically designing and developing a suite of digital tools for its busy customers. Like many organizations, it relies on the drive and smarts of many human beings and as such is prone to ups and downs. While a newer company, Acme has been profitable for a few years now and continues to grow year over year.

Follow the Acme Co. saga →

The case

The end of the quarter is around the corner and there’s been much talk at Acme Co. of building a new feature (Project Catalyst) for their latest software. It’s a big feature and will take a long time and many sprints to build. The Software Team has scoped the work and effort involved and are super excited to get started. With the help of Human Resources Lead, the Software Manager is in the final stages of recruiting new developers to help get the feature out.

Then one day, 6 months later, in what feels like a brutal turn of events, a frustrated Software Manager exits a meeting with Mid-Level Managers to announce to the four developers of the Project Catalyst team that the project has been cancelled. The shock and defeat in the air are palpable. Work slows to a crawl as the development team begins eyeing stale inbox messages from determined recruiters.

In the following weeks, the Acme Co. leaders witness a swarth of their best developers leave while their remaining peers fall behind on priority projects and the company’s numbers tank.

The question on everyone’s mind is “Where did we go wrong?”

The investigation

Acme Co. hires Pencil & Paper to investigate. The P&P crew begin a discovery process to uncover what challenges lie below the surface at Acme. They carefully observe and sit down with Acme employees to ask questions. Here are the clues they picked up on:


"They told me out of the blue at the meeting that the project was slashed and I had to inform my team."

- Software Manager


"When we started Project Catalyst, we had to push the release date of our major feature Project Link and customers got tired of waiting for Link and dropped off."

- Member of Software Team


"I don’t get it! We had been talking about Catalyst for a year. Somebody suggested we do it because `{`competitor`}` has this particular feature. We worked overtime to make sure we caught up with what `{`competitor`}` was doing."

- Member of Software Team
Calendar illustration

The timeline

At the end of their discovery period, P&P sit down the Acme Co. leaders and tell them, we know what happened. Here is their retelling of the events as they unfolded:

The conclusion

Several gaps and weaknesses came up during the investigation that prompted Acme Co. to look deeper into the way that it did things. They realized they had made a few mistakes:

  • Leaving Software Manager out of the loop;
  • Software Team spending ridiculous amounts of work starting from
    scratch on a feature


Poor visibility and project management on Project Catalyst made it painful for everyone involved, but it was the lack of customer requests or interest that proved the project should simply not have been launched in the first place. By making assumptions about what their users wanted from the start, and failing to check in along the way, Acme wasted precious time and resources building something impractical.


To prevent more unnecessary features creeping into products, Acme Co. have decided to hire a specialist to take on the evaluation of customer needs and requirements and translate them into useful and usable functionalities.