Getting Out of the Deliverables Business

How do you practice Lean UX when you have teams in different time zones and different locations? Implementing a Lean UX product management practice definitely works better when your team is in the same office but it shouldn’t be an excuse if your have teams in different cities across the world. Jeff Gothelf, the author of Lean UX, shows how teams in different office locations can still take advantage of the Lean UX process. Moreover, he shows why product management teams need to get out the deliverables business and start creating shared understanding within their teams:

 

10x not 10% Product Management

It’s often easier to make something 10x better than it is to make it 10% better. – Astro Teller, Google [x]

10x Not 10% : Product management by orders of magnitude by Ken Norton at Mind the Product 2015 from MindTheProduct on Vimeo.

Ken Norton in this talk emphasizes the importance of having a 10x mindset when solving product problems and how it should be a way of thinking.

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Photo Credit: Ken Norton

He gives the example above where most companies make decisions based on the option that has the highest probability of success rather than the option that has lowest probability of success but the highest outcome without looking at the expected values of each option.

It shouldn’t matter if you work for a large company or a small startup. The following are some principles you can apply in order to start thinking in a 10x way:

Failure must be an option 

Great work comes overtime by repition and learning by failure. In product management, the more you ship the better the quality of the products you ship become. “Pefection is the enemy of progress” quote applies here.

People want to do great work, let them

Majority of the time people perform their best when they get to work on problems that interest them. Google is famous for giving their employees 20% time, other innovative companies have hack days every quarter. Moreover, transparency is a key component to this so that every team member knows what everyone else is working on. Default to open policy allows better collaboration and creates the environment for people to their best work.

Use data, not opinions

By backing your decisions with data, teams move faster becuase less time is spent arguing and more time testing assumptions to see what works and what doesn’t.

Measure impact, not effort

As product managers it’s easy to get caught up in the nitty gritty details of launching a feature like managing bugs in a que or number of engineers involved. Instead to obtain the 10x mindset it’s important to measure the impact. “We will have accomplished this” not “we need to do that”

Be bothered by limitations

Limitations will always be there in every project. To really make that leap from 10% improvement to 10x results you can’t surrender to limiatations but instead be bothered by them.

Bet on trends

Timing definitely plays a huge role in launching successful products. Achieving that 10x result can be a lot about launching something at the right time. Slack and Periscope are two companies I think have taken advantage of that. Instant messaging within work was  available through products like Basecamp’s Campfire product but the adoption wasn’t there when 37Signals originally launched Campfire. Same with Periscope, Livestream had a similar product way before periscope but cell phone devices didn’t have the resolution or speed when they originally launched.

To learn more about these principles I recommend reading Ken Norton’s original post on medium that talks more about this. These principles definitely have allowed me to shift my product management approach and the way I solve problems. How will you shift your thinking from 10% to 10x?

Product Management Communication

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

A huge part of my role as an Entrepreneur & Product Manager is communication. Communicating the vision, communicating product design and communicating day-to-day execution. Overtime you learn effective ways to handle these three type of communication and see what works. Here are the three types of product management communication and the best practices to handle each one:

Communicating the vision 

For each feature decision it’s important that it meets the company’s vision for the product. When communicating with other team members, the vision needs to be succint and clear. I find it effective to include the vision when writing specs or product requirement documents. Another effective exercise is creating a Product Vision Board with the rest of the team to make sure everyone is aligned. Here’s a template I use.

Communicating product design

Eric Ries has a great model  for communicating design decisions where he recommends switching your spec writing process from push to pull. You should be creating a very minimal spec document (ideally one page) and present it to the engineering team and see what questions they ask. Then based on the discussion, quickly iterate collaboratively. Additionally, when designing mockups, Product Managers should  include real user data (as opposed to lorem ipsum), this allows you to interact with your mock ups and do some validation before writing code.

Communicating day-to-day execution

Tool like Asana, Trello, Jira and Slack are pretty effective to manage projects, users stories and instant communication. But how do you handle communication where the stakes are really high? How do you communicate about a feature prioritization decision that the rest of the team doesn’t agree on? For me, the book Crucial Conversations has provided some great frameworks for handling these types of conversations. The main idea is to create a collective understanding about your decision making process, in the case of product decisions, to always back your decisions with real data. A lot of times this requires getting stakeholders with higher authority to get involved early in the process or sending constant updates if they are unable to join you in the decision making process. I usually provide weekly or monthly status emails to provide progress and communicate how the progress fits well with the roadmap.

Hopefully these tips will help you with your product management communciation. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my communication by learning from other product managers. That’s why I’ve started a meetup group for other other product to meet on monthly basis to discuss their strategies on design and product development. You can learn about the group on our meetup page.

We Need To Be Lost To Find Ourselves

“Artists are uniquely placed to … creatively participate in the larger cultural process of re-engineering subjectivity, of pushing the envelope of experience.” – Erik Davis

I’m a huge fan of Jason Silva and the Shots of a Awe. In the video below he talks about the joy of getting lost to truly find ourselves. I find that to be especially true with finding new ideas. It’s always a messy process and as creators it’s important to find joy in it.

 

High Output Management

Andy’s Grove’s High Output Management was first recommended to me by Aaron Levy when I met him at WWDC14 and has influenced the management styles of tech entrepreneurs like Ben Horowitz, Mark Zuckerberg and many others. The book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of systems design when we’re dealing with a system of human beings in a technology organization. Andy introduces management in the following equation:

A manager’s output = the output of his organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under his influence.

The reason it’s an essential book for product managers is because it provides the principles to manage through an output mindset rather than authority (which PM don’t have). Ultimately the book teaches that the key to survival of a company as well as your own career is by learning how to provide more value. Especially in a globalized world Andy encourages that you ask yourself the following questions when thinking about your career:

  • Are you adding real value or merely passing information along? How do you add more value?
  • Are you plugged into what’s happening around you? Or do you wait for supervisor or others to interpret whatever is happening?
  • Are you trying new ideas, new techniques, and new technologies and not just reading about them? 

The following tribute by Ben Horowitz talks more about the impact Andy Grove has made in Silicon Valley as a result of his writing in High Output Management:

The Man Who Built Silicon Valley: A Tribute to Andy Grove from Andreessen Horowitz on Vimeo.

 

Making it all work

“For the first twenty-five years of my life, I wanted freedom. For the next twenty-five years, I wanted order. For the next twenty-five years, I realized that order is freedom.” – Winston Churchill

As Product Managers in fast growing technology companies there’s always tons to do and at times it can be overwhelming. There are constant deadlines and ship dates that are crucial to the product and company’s success. Product Managers need to be super organized and responsive. David’s Allen’s Getting Things Done & Making It All Work are two books I think every product manager should read to create more hours in their day. The main idea is to not keep everything in your mind but instead offload into a reliable system. I keep the following flow chart on my desk as a reminder:

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 10.37.46 AM

This system has created more space in my head and reduced overwhelm. In turn, allowed me to be more creative when solving complex product issues. David Allen talks more about this in the following TED talk:

 

6 Questions to Ask when Hiring a PM

Seth Godin talks a lot about becoming a indispensable in his book: Linchpin. A linchpin is a team member who is hard to replace and is the driving force of your product. The product manager role is most entrepreneurial role in a technology company and needs to be a linchpin. Ben Horowitz and Ken Norton have written the specifics on hiring good product managers but what are the questions that help you filter the right candidates?

Following questions are a great guide for aspiring product managers to ask themselves looking to find their next role as well as hiring managers to use as a filter:

  1. Can you show me a history of generous, talented, extraordinary side projects?
  2. Have you ever been so passionate about your work that you’ve gone in through the side door?
  3. Are you an expert at something that actually generates value?
  4. Have you connected with leaders in the field in moments when you weren’t actually looking for a job?
  5. Does your reputation speak for itself?
  6. Where online can I see the trail of magic you regularly create?

In addition to using the above questions to filter candidates I recommend reading Ken Norton’s How to Hire a Product Manager and Ben Horowitz & David Weiden’s Good Product Managers & Bad Product Managers.