For some businesses, forming habits is a critical component to success, but not every business requires habitual user engagement.
When successful, forming strong user habits can have several business benefits including: higher customer lifetime value (CLTV), greater pricing flexibility, supercharged growth, and a sharper competitive edge.
Habits cannot form outside the Habit Zone, where the behaviour occurs with enough frequency and perceived utility.
Habit-forming products often start as nice-to haves (vitamins) but once the habit is formed, they become must-haves (painkillers).
Habit-forming products alleviate users discomfort by relieving a pronounced itch.
Designing habit-forming products is a form of manipulation. Product builders would benefit from a bit of introspection before attempting to hook users to make sure they are building healthy habits, not unhealthy addictions.
If you are building a habit-forming product, write down the answers to these questions:
What habits does your business model require?
What problem are users turning to your product to solve?
How do users currently solve that problem and why does it need a solution?
How frequently do you expect users to engage with your product once they are habituated?
What user behaviour do you want to make into a habit?
Triggers cue the user to take action and are the first step in the Hooked Model.
Triggers come in two types-external and internal.
External triggers tell the user what to do next by placing information within the user’s environment.
Internal triggers tell the user what to do next through associations stored in the user’s memory.
Negative emotions frequently serve as internal triggers.
To build a habit-forming product, makers need to attach the use of their solution to a frequently felt internal trigger and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action.
Who is your product’s user?
What is the user doing right before your in tended habit?
Come up with three internal triggers that could cue your user to action. Use the 5 Whys.
Which internal trigger does your user experience most frequently?
Finish this brief narrative using the most frequent internal trigger and the habit you are designing: “Every time the user (internal trigger), he/she (first action of intended habit).”
Refer back to the question about what the user is doing right before the first action of the habit. What might be places and times to send an external trigger?
How can you couple an external trigger as closely as possible to when the user’s internal trigger fires?
Think of currently impossible ways to trigger your user. You could find that your crazy ideas spur some new approaches that may not be so nutty after all. In a few years new technologies will create all sorts of currently unimaginable triggering opportunities.
The action is the simplest behaviour in anticipation of reward.
As described by Dr. B. J. Fogg’s Behaviour Model:
For any behaviour to occur, a trigger must be present at the same time as the user has sufficient ability and motivation to take action.
To increase the desired behaviour, ensure a clear trigger is present; next, increase ability by making the action easier to do; finally, align with the right motivator.
Every behaviour is driven by one of three Core Motivators: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain; seeking hope and avoiding fear; seeking social acceptance while avoiding social rejection.
Ability is influenced by the six factors of time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routineness. Ability is dependent on users and their context at that moment.
Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts we take to take quick decisions. Product designers can utilize many of the hundreds of heuristics to in crease the likelihood of their desired action.
Walk through the path your users would take to use your product or service, beginning from the time they feel their internal trigger to the point where they receive their expected outcome. How many steps does it take before users obtain the reward they came for? How does this process compare with the simplicity of some of the examples described in this chapter? How does it compare with competing products and services?
Which resources are limiting your users’ ability to accomplish the tasks that will become habits?
Brain cycles (too confusing)
Social deviance (outside the norm)
Non-routine (too new)
Brainstorm three testable ways to make in tended tasks easier to complete.
Consider how you might apply heuristics to make habit-forming actions more likely.
Variable reward is the third phase of the Hooked Model, and there are three types of variable re wards: the tribe, the hunt, and the self.
Rewards of the tribe is the search for social rewards fuelled by connectedness with other people.
Rewards of the hunt is the search for material resources and information.
Rewards of the self is the search for intrinsic re wards of mastery, competence, and completion.
When our autonomy is threatened, we feel con strained by our lack of choices and often rebel against doing a behaviour. Psychologists refer to this as reactance. Maintaining a sense of user autonomy and trust is a requirement for sustained engagement.
Experiences with finite variability become increasingly predictable with use and lose their appeal over time. Experiences that maintain user interest by sustaining variability with use exhibit infinite variability.
Variable rewards must satisfy users’ needs while leaving them wanting to reengage with the product.
Speak with five of your customers in an open ended interview to identify what they find enjoyable or encouraging about using your product. Are there any moments of delight or surprise? Is there anything they find particularly satisfying about using the product?
Review the steps your customer takes to use your product or service habitually. What outcome (reward) alleviates the user’s pain? Is the reward fulfilling, yet leaves the user wanting more?
Brainstorm three ways your product might heighten users’ search for variable rewards using:
rewards of the tribe-gratification from others.
rewards of the hunt-material goods, money, or information.
rewards of the self-mastery, completion, competency, or consistency.
The investment phase is the fourth step in the Hooked Model.
Unlike the action phase, which delivers immediate gratification, the investment phase concerns the anticipation of rewards in the future.
Investments in a product create preferences because of our tendency to overvalue our work, be consistent with past behaviours, and avoid cognitive dissonance.
Investment comes after the variable reward phase, when users are primed to reciprocate.
Investments increase the likelihood of use returning by improving the service the more it is used. They enable the accrual of stored value in the form of content, data, followers, reputation, or skill.
Investments increase the likelihood of users passing through the Hook again by loading the next trigger to start the cycle all over again.
• Review your flow. What “bit of work” are your users doing to increase their likelihood of re turning?
Brainstorm three ways to add small investments into your product to:
Load the next trigger.
Store value as data, content, followers, reputation, and skill.
Identify how long it takes for a “loaded trigger” to reengage your users. How can you reduce the delay to shorten time spent cycling through the Hook?
Facilitators use their own product and believe it can materially improve people’s lives. They have the highest chance of success because they most closely understand the needs of their users.
Peddlers believe their product can materially improve people’s lives but do not use it themselves. They must beware of the hubris and inauthenticity that comes from building solutions for people they do not understand first-hand.
Entertainers use their product but do not believe it can improve people’s lives. They can be successful, but without making the lives of others better in some way, the entertainer’s products often lack staying power.
Dealers neither use the product nor believe it can improve people’s lives. They have the lowest chance of finding long-term success and often find themselves in morally precarious positions.
Event + Response = Outcome, blaming an event for a lack of outcome is a pointless waste of energy so the only things you can do is change your response.
You have to give up blaming and complaining.
People only complain about things they can do something about (e.g. never gravity) – situations you complain about are, by their very nature, situations you can change. People don’t because it involves risk – of being wrong, failure, confrontation which could leave you unemployed, alone, ridiculed or judged by others.
Be Clear Why You’re Here
What is the why behind everything you do?
Decide What You Want
Decide what you want.
Having a big vision is as easy as a small one – so think big.
Don’t copy anyone else’s vision and don’t let them change yours.
Believe It’s Possible
It will only happen if you believe it is possible
Believe in Yourself
You have to give up “I can’t”
Become an Inverse Paranoid
Believe that the world is out there to help you. See the opportunities.
Unleash the Power of Goal-Setting
Be very clear on the goal and review it regularly
Chunk It Down
Break the goal down into tasks and tackle the toughest first.
Success Leaves Clues
Learn from people who have already succeeded in what you want to do
Release the Brakes
Unlearn the things which have stopped you doing things.
See What You Want, Get What You See
Visualise the future, make it vivid.
Act As If
Act as if you are already where you want to be e.g. the 5 year party where you celebrate your future successes as if they had already happened.
Talk is cheap, only with action can you succeed.
Experience Your Fear and Take Action Anyway
Everything which is worth doing is a risk, you have to acknowledge that and do it
Ask! Ask! Ask!
Many people reject themselves, rather than are rejected by others. You need to ask and see what happens rather than not asking because you think you already know the answer.
There will be rejection, but that is fine just say “next”
Use Feedback to Your Advantage
With feedback people tend to cave in and quit, get mad at the source of the feedback or ignore the feedback.
Ask “On a scale of 0-10 how would you rate our relationship/product/service?” “What would we need to do to make it a 10?”
Commit to Constant and Never-Ending Improvement
The margin for greatness is small, so continuous small improvements will make a big impact
To do something which is tough needs persistence – you need to keep going that one more lamp post
Practice the Rule of Five
If you do 5 things every day you will eventually reach your goal – as if you keep swinging eventually the biggest tree will fall
Surround Yourself with Successful People
Some say you are the average of the people you have around you – so surround yourself with the best people and you’ll get better yourself.
Clean Up Your Messes and Your Incompletes
Complete things, a few things complete are better than lots of things partially done
Develop Four New Success Habits a Year
Evaluate your bad habits – like:
Paying bills at the last minute
Not delivering on promised documents and services in a timely way
Letting receivables get overdue
Arriving late for meetings and appointments
Forgetting someone’s name within seconds of being introduced
Talking over others’ comments, instead of listening
Answering the telephone during family time or spouse time
Handling the mail more than once
Choosing work over time with your children
Having fast-food meals more than 2 days a week
Focus on changing one habit every quarter.
Stay Focused on Your Core Genius
Identify your core and delegate completely everything which does not align with that
There are some markets where there is a winner takes all/most, in this environment the risk is different to when you are scaling in an environment where this is not the case. In a winner takes all environment if you don’t become the biggest the quickest then you risk loosing to other businesses. As such the common strategy of efficient and careful scaling with the intention to reduce risk actually increases the risk of failure as other businesses could overtake and win the market. In this environment Blitzscaling provides an alternative, and counter intuitive approach to growing the bussiness. Blitzscaling is when you have determined that speed into the market is the critical strategy to achieve massive outcomes, or die trying.
To achieve Blitzscaling you need both financial capital and human capital as these are the oxygen of the Blitzscaling. Blitzscaling is:
Both an offensive and defensive strategy – Offence by exploiting a niche, build an advantage and people prefer to back market leaders. Défense by you setting the pace, others are forced to respond to your moves meaning they don’t have focus on being unique.
Thrives on positive feedback loops
There are massive risks – you need to keep re-inventing the company as it grows
Market size – a large number of potential customers and a variety of efficient channels to reach them (TAM). Ideally the market itself is growing making small markets attractive and large irresistible.
Distribution – a good product with great distribution will beat a great product with poor distribution. Generally by leveraging existing networks and virality.
High gross margins – it is not necessarily easier to sell a low vs high margin product, so aim for the large. Smaller sales of higher margin products tend to be cheaper.
Network effects –
Direct – increase usage leads to direct increase in value e.g. more Facebook users, more posts they make so the more people want to go back
Indirect – increase in usage leads to increase of complimentary products e.g. more Android user the more that people want to use Android applications
Two-sided – increase in one set of users benefits another e.g. more eBay shoppers results in more people selling on eBay
Local – increase in usage of a subset increases value for the connected e.g. incentives for your friends to be on the same mobile network if that saved money
Compatibility/Standards – increase usage of a proprietary standard e.g. MS Word file format starved out the growth of other players
Lack of product market fit – being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. You need to discover a nonobvious market opportunity where you have a unique advantage or approach. This can come about through disruptive technology innovation, changes in laws or financial regulations, rise of new customers, or other major shift.
Operational scalability – if you cant scale up your operations to meet demand you are doomed.
Human – how do you scale the organisation, how do you get the needed skills, etc
Infrastructure – how do you scale production, etc (more of a challenge with physical products)
Bits rather than atoms – aka software is easier than hardware
Free or freemium – it kick starts growth
Feeds – it’s ability to drive user engagement
Moor’s law – the exponential growth in computing power
Automation – technology evolves much quicker than people
Adaptation, not optimisation – constantly trying new things out and seeing what works
Contrarian – if you just follow everyone else it’s a loosing game. Brilliant thinking and courage to purse something with others disagree with, if you are right, you win big.
Technique #2 – Strategy Innovation Innovation in how you are going to scale e.g. Uber heavily subsidising rides when it moves into a city so that it scales up it’s user base.
There is a big opportunity
First to climb the learning curve
Threat of competition
When to stop…
Declining rate of growth
Worsening unit economics
Decrease per-employee productivity
Increase management overhead
Do things that don’t scale
Reach the next stage of blitzscaling
Figure out how to scale while doing a different set that don’t scale
Reach the next stage of blitzscaling
Repeat until you reach market dominance
Stages of growth
Founder has to do everything
Founder manages a team – helping them be productive
Founder manage managers and needs to take the bigger picture
Founder is there to make the key decisions, the tactics are others to work out
Founder makes key decisions over new product lines and business units
Technique #3 – Management Innovation With a company that is scaling so fast how does it make this work and not just burn out.
Small to large teams – every aspect of people management from recruitment to coaching to communications has to adapt to different stages. The people you need are different e.g the marines deal with chaos and ambiguity to capture the beach, then the army rapidly secure the territory, finally the police bring stability rather than disruption. Sometimes you need to let people go who were critical earlier – but if they can’t scale then neither can the business.
Generalist to specialist – initially you need generalists but as you grow you need to bring in specialists, when this happens this frees up generalists to be moved on to other initiatives. Early employees may also chafe against the narrowing confines of their changing role.
Contributors to managers to executives –
Managers are front line leaders who worry about the day-to-day tactics
Executives lead managers focusing on vision and strategy
The transition from manager to executive is generally far more difficult than from contributor to manager. In small companies the lack of executive role models means these can’t draw on the experience working with them. “Standard Start-up Leadership Vacuum”
Hire someone who is already a known quantity to at least one member of the team
Bring the new executive in at a lower level initially and let the executive prove himself or herself
Once the executive has earned the team’s trust and credibility consider promoting him or her
Dialogue to broadcasting
Inspiration to data – data insight of a small number of key metrics help to drive conversations. A/B testing is a great tactic for optimisation but broader view need to be taken to not just focus on local optimisations. Use with care e.g. when fewer people used a feature they made the button bigger which reduced the use of more popular features.
Single focus to multithreading – start-ups have a singular focus but as they grow this needs to be parallelised. This means you can explore and exploit different markets or products at the same time. The challenge is for these threads to have ownership as well as not competing with each other over the same pool of cash.
Pirate to navy – evolving from just offence to offence and defence through some discipline and order to prevent chaos.
Scaling yourself from founder to leader – delegation, amplification and make yourself better
Hire Ms. Right Now, not Ms. Right – hire the person for your current stage, the skills running a 1,000 person company is totally different to 100 and hiring someone from 10,000 might be counter productive. You want people to be great at the current and next phase
Tolerate “bad” management – you might have to promote people before they are ready and swap them out if they sink. You have to be quick and decisive. in the Tribe stage promotion processes are messy and job titles are not always correct. You might tolerate job title inflation and fix it later. Classic “good” management presume a certain amount of stability.
Launch a product that embarrasses you – if it does not embarrass you then you have over invested and not gained insight/feedback early enough.
Let fires burn – the default end for a start-up is death, there is no time to dot all the is and cross all the ts. As such there are going to be fires which you are not going to focus on so you can focus on the ones which are constraining the bussiness firstly distribution, then product, revenue model, operations, competition, what’s next?
Do things which don’t scale – yes it means you have a hack that won’t work in the end meaning you need to re-do things but investing much less up front lets you focus on the things which are most valuable.
Ignore your customers – this can be a fire that continues to burn while focusing on other things.
Raise too much money – your plans will be optimistic, so have more money than you think you will need will give you more space.
Evolve your culture – culture is not a fire that you can leave to burn. Culture is a substitute for bureaucracy and rules. The more you can build the culture the less you’ll have to bind people’s behaviour with rigid directives. Over paying brings in mercenaries not missionaries – with large growth the culture can move from missionary to mercenary in a single year.
Culture is a substitute for bureaucracy and rules.
The language we use is a by-product of the industrial age – where we use language to convincing, coerce, comply and conform. A “prove and perform” mindset rather than an improve mindset. We present things as certain and ourselves invincible rather than acknowledge reality. This was a world where the aim was to reduce variability rather than embracing it, there “red word” was done by the people at the bottom and “blue work” was done by the people at the top – so all brains were not engaged, managers spoke and doers listened.
I did it!
We need to show we can do this
No, I’m fine
We did the best we could with the time we had
How can we make it better?
How can I do better?
What have we learned?
Avoid variability Prove Do Repetition Physical Individual Homogeneous Production Performance Process Compliant Conformity Simple Narrow focus
Embrace variability Improve Decide Dissimilar Cognitive Team Heterogeneus Reflective Planning Prediction Creative Diverse Complex Broad focus
Control the clock instead of obeying the clock
Make a pause possible and pre-plan the next pause
Give the pause a name e.g “time out”, raising a hand, pulling a cord
Instead of pressing on with red work – call a pause
Collaborate instead of coerce
Vote first then discuss
Be curious not compelling – ask better questions
Invite dissent rather than drive consensus
Give information not instructions
Commitment rather than compliance
Commit to learn, not (just) do
Commit actions not beliefs
Chunk it small but do it all
Complete defined goals rather than continuing work indefinitely
Chunk work for frequent completes early, few completes late
Celebrate with not for
Focus on behaviour not characteristics
Focus on journey not destination
Improve outcomes rather than prove ability – use language which is:
Forward not backward- e.g. what would we do differently?
Outward not inward – e.g. what could we do to better serve our customers?
On the process not on the person – e.g. How could this be done better?
On achieving excellence not avoiding errors – e.g. What does great look like?
Connect with people rather than confirming to the role
There are a few points the book makes – crucially that leadership can be developed and is not a fixed quantity. Leaders can have a huge impact and yet organisations provide very low levels of support and development especially early on in peoples careers. They describe the skills as a tent with 5 pillars, developing any one increases the value of the others.
Personal Character – principled, honest, trusting, credibility
Technical/professional acumen – technical and product understanding plus being able to communicate is concisely.
Problem-analysis and problem-solving skills – define, analyse and recommendation for resolution
Innovation – ability to have a fresh outlook to problems
Learning agility – willingness to act on personal feedback
Focus on Results
Results driven – Setting deadlines, reinforcing the importance of hitting targets and holding others accountable
Stretch goals – ability to set and have accepted stretch goals
Initiative – sponsor initiatives or actions to push things forward
Making decisions – make decisions and more forward in the face of ambiguity
Risk taking – a willingness to take acceptable risks
Communicating powerfully and prolifically – communicate in an efficient and interesting way
Inspiring other to high performance – installing inspiration and motivation.
Building positive relationships – strong and positive relationships with others
Developing others – increasing team effectiveness and productivity and engagement
Collaboration and teamwork – naturally people horde and compete but collaboration and teamwork is key
Valuing diversity – building engagement and valuing everyone’s input
A strategy is a pathway to substantially higher performance.
The first advantage of a good strategy is that others fail to have a strategy
Good strategy tends to come from insight into an organisations strengths and weakness
Fluff – the illusion of thinking. True expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable.
Failure to face the challenge – you need to identify the challenge or opportunities, analyse obstacles/bottlenecks to overcoming this then formulate a plan to overcome them. Good strategies are not quick – e.g. “improve underperformance” is not a challenge – underperformance is an outcome, the true challenge is the reason for the under performance. Good strategy is choosing which challenges are both worthy of pursuing and capable of being accomplished – if you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
Mistaking goals for strategy – many strategies are a statement of desires rather than a series of actions or policies to overcome obstacles. Business is not simply a battle of strength and will, but also competition on insight and competencies.
Bad strategic objectives (subgoals) – effective senior leaders don’t choose arbitrary goals, they critically decide which goals are worthy of pursuing. Goals being overall desires and objectives being specific operational targets.
The kernel of good strategy
A diagnostic of the challenge – taking the complexity of the situation and identifying the critical aspects. Understanding “What’s going on here?”. Growth is not a strategy – growth by itself does not create value, growth is the outcome of growing demand for special, expanded or extended capabilities, the outcome of superior products or skills, reward for successful innovation, cleverness, efficiency and creativity.
A guiding policy – how to cope with or overcome the diagnosed challenge, using the specific sources of power:
Anticipation – others expected behaviors, especially rivals – this is not some “high, medium, low” forecast but understanding what others would do in these situations e.g. if the price is high then others will try to enter the market
Pivot points – a natural or created imbalance e.g. pent up demand or competence in one field which can be applied to another
Concentration – rising from constraints and threshold effects e.g. the constraint on advertising budget and the threshold effect of TV advertising meaning that a small amount continuously is much less valuable than a lot in a short time.
Proximate objectives – a target that the organisation can reasonably hit. This resolves ambiguity, where the situation is volatile the objective must be more proximate to achieve it.
Chain-link systems – strengthening any link but the weakest will not strengthen the chain as a whole
Premeditation – a plan in advance, “winging it” is not a strategy
Anticipation – a judgement of others thoughts and behaviours
Design of Coordinated action – a strategy is designed with capabilities, not just making a decision. This design should provide powers derived from interacting and overlapping effects focused against a target.
Competitive advantage –
If you can produce at a lower cost than competitors or deliver more perceived value (or a mix of the two).
Subtlety arrives because costs vary with product and application, buyers differ in their locations, knowledge, tastes, and other characteristics – so an advantage only goes so far.
It must be hard for others to replicate to stay isolated.
Competitive advantage does not mean financial gain. An interesting advantage is one where you can increase its value on your own.
deepening the advantages – increase value to buyers or reduce cost (or both)
broadening the extent of advantages – taking the advantage to new fields
creating higher demand for advantaged products or services – either though more buyers or more demand from each buyer
strengthening the isolating mechanisms that block easy replication and imitation by competitors
Changes in the environment
Rising fixed costs – might cause the industry to consolidate
Deregulation – incumbents find it hard to adapt to the new world
Predictable bias – people tend to think there is infinite growth, but there is a peak and this is important to identify
Incumbent response – they are resistant and slow to change because of inertia and entropy.
Inertia of routine, culture and proxy (as in their current customers what what you currently sell so there is no desire to cannibalise yourself)
Entropy (gradual decline into disorder) e.g. product line bloat, keeping unprofitable stores etc
Attractor states – what is the direction of the market, you might not like it but resisting will be worse
A set of coherent actions – steps which together will accomplish the guiding policy
Don’t become upset if your day-to-day work is not visionary and important-seeming, so long as it is contributing to the goals of your team.
Find ways to align, motivate, and inspire your team that do not require formal organisational authority.
Be proactive about seeking out ways that you can help contribute to the success of your product and your team.
Be a connector between teams and roles.
Get out ahead of potential miscommunications and misalignments, no matter how inconsequential they might seem in the moment.
Don’t get too hung up on the “typical profile” of a successful product manager. Successful product managers can come from anywhere.
Don’t let insecurity turn you into the caricature of a bad product manager! Resist the urge to defensively show off your knowledge or skills.
The core connective skills of product management
Embrace the uniqueness of the product manager role.
Pursue clarity over comfort to build your communication skills.
Seek out opportunities to solve organisational problems on the systemic level rather than the individual level. If the rules aren’t working, change them, don’t break them.
Don’t let the day-to-day organisational conflicts of your work pull you out of your user’s reality. Remember that what your company cares about and what your users care about are different things, and be a relentless advocate for the latter.
Remember that there is no work beneath you, and no work above you. Be willing to do whatever it takes to help your team and your organisation succeed.
Even if you don’t self-identify as a “technical” person, avoid saying things like “I’m not a technical person, so I could never understand that!” Trust in your own ability to learn and grow.
Showing up curious
Reach to people before you need them and say, “I’m curious to learn more about the work that you do.”
Be just as vigilant about getting to know people outside of your immediate team, and take the time to understand their goals and motivations before you need something from them.
Cultivate a “growth mindset” and open yourself up to learning from people whose skills and knowledge exceed your own.
Resist the urge to avoid situations that test the limits of your abilities or knowledge.
Embrace “the gift of being wrong” by choosing the plan that best meets your organization’s goals, even if it is not your plan.
Shake up the work that people are doing and cross-pollinate knowledge and skills to keep your team curious and actively learning.
Model the value of curiosity for your team and organisation.
Avoid saying “I’m too busy to deal with that right now” and other things that might implicitly discourage your team from asking open and curious questions that don’t have an immediate transactional value.
Encourage your colleagues to learn from one another, and pair up folks who want to learn about one another’s skills.
Organise “demo days” and other opportunities for product teams to share and discuss their work with the organization at large.
The worst thing about “Best Practices”
Approach best practices as a place to start, not a prescriptive one-size-fits-all solution.
Ask yourself how a particular best practice might help your team deliver user value, instead of just how it will change the way you work.
If you’re curious about how a particular company approaches product management, try to find some people who have actually worked there and ask them.
When you are bringing a best practice from one organization into another organisation, acknowledge and appreciate that every organization is different.
Take the time to truly understand the goals and needs of your organization before rushing to implement any specific practices.
Use a “slow and steady” approach to implementing best practices, so that you can test and measure the impact of every incremental change.
Avoid the temptation to solve the problems that seem the most familiar to you, as opposed to the problems that are having the most impact on your users.
Utilise the “organisational halo” effect of best practices to get buy-in toward trying new things, but be prepared to continuously adjust course based on what is working and what is not working.
The art of egregious overcommunication
Err on the side of overcommunication. When you aren’t sure whether something is worth mentioning, mention it.
Don’t be afraid to ask “the obvious.” In fact, the more obvious something seems, the more insistent you should be about making sure everybody is in fact on the same page.
Create a document like “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager” that clearly lays out the behavioral expectations for product managers in your organisation.
Avoid the temptation of being a “meeting-hater.” Don’t apologise when you’re asking for somebody, but make sure that their time is well spent.
Ask your teammates about the most valuable and well-run meetings they’ve ever attended, and work with them to set a clear vision for what a “good” meeting should look like in your organisation.
Make sure that people are given a chance to voice their opinions in meetings by using “disagree and commit” or any other approach that achieves similar goals within your organisation.
The goal of a meeting should not be to get consensus, but rather to get commitment
Encourage people to share dissenting and complicating information that might prove critical in deciding upon a path forward.
Avoid consensus-driven compromise solutions that placate meeting participants but fail to meet underlying goals.
Force a clear decision, and create shared accountability around that decision.
Allow participants to pick their battles by committing quickly to low-stakes decisions that are often prone to disagreement (i.e., “What’s for lunch?”)
Interpret silence as disagreement, ask for affirmative commitment
Don’t completely misinterpret the entire point of this and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you agree because we’re doing disagree and commit!”
Create and protect space for informal communication in your organisation, like team lunches and coffee breaks.
Acknowledge that distributed and remote work is simply not the same thing as colocated work, and cannot be transformed into an exact proxy for colocated work through tools and technologies.
Remember that people have different communication styles. Don’t write somebody off as a “bad communicator” or assume that they have bad intentions if they are not as open and extensive a communicator as you are.
Avoid starting sentences with phrases like “It would be great if…” or “Do you think it might be possible to…” that deflect responsibility. If you are asking for something, ask for it—and be clear about why you are asking for it.
Level up tactical conversations about things like design choices or development timelines to strategic conversations about goals and user needs.
Working with senior stakeholders
When working with senior stakeholders, don’t set out to “win.” Help empower them to make great decisions, and demonstrate that you can be a valuable and supportive thought partner.
Push upward for clarity around company strategy and vision, no matter how challenging it is. In the absence of this clarity, you cannot succeed.
Don’t try to “protect” your team from senior stakeholders by talking about how ignorant, arrogant, or out of touch these senior stakeholders are. Instead, bring your concerns directly to these senior stakeholders and help walk them through making the trade-offs that will best serve your company’s overall goals.
Never surprise a senior stakeholder with a big idea in an important meeting. Socialise ideas slowly and deliberately in one-on-one meetings.
Don’t let company politics drown out the needs of your user. Let user needs guide your decision-making, and bring the user’s perspective to life in meetings with senior leaders.
Make sure that business goals and user needs are not seen as at odds with each other, but are instead aligned with each other, both for specific product initiatives and within the organization’s overall vision and strategy.
When senior stakeholders ask you questions like, “Can this be done by Tuesday?” take their questions at face value. Let them participate in making tactical trade-offs, rather than rushing to make yourself the Product Martyr.
When confronted with a swoop-and-poop, don’t try to litigate the details of past conversations. Look for opportunities to diagnose and address the underlying issues so that that the swooper/pooper does not feel out of the loop moving forward.
If a senior stakeholder suddenly wants your team to work on something different, find out why. There might have been an important high-level conversation of which you were not aware.
Talking to users
Talk to your users!
Accept and acknowledge that talking to users is a real skill that takes time to develop.
Remember that talking to users and working with stakeholders are different things, and require different approaches.
Don’t try to impress users with your knowledge or expertise. Create as much space as you can for them to explain their reality to you, even if it feels like “playing dumb.”
If there are user researchers in your organisation, reach out to them and ask for their help walking you through the tools and approaches that they use.
When talking to users about their experiences, ask about specific instances rather than broad generalisations.
Don’t ask users to do your job for you! Do everything you can to understand their needs, and then think about the specific products and features that might best address those needs.
Use “leveling up” questions and prompts to get to core goals and motivations without an accusatory “why.”
Let your users lead you to what they think is important, rather than making that assumption for them with lots of detailed “zooming in” questions.
Recognise that a data-driven approach still means that you will have to set priorities and make decisions.
Avoid using the word data to generalise specific information. Say what that information is and how it was gathered.
Rather than hiding or erasing the assumptions that go into working with data, document those assumptions so that you and your team can address them together.
Have a clear and strong point of view about what metrics matter and why.
As a thought exercise, ask yourself to decide on the “One Metric That Matters.” If you’re having trouble focusing in, go back to your high-level goals and see if you can make them more specific and actionable.
Think through how you will measure a product’s success before you launch it, to avoid having to go back and add instrumentation after a product is already released.
Be just as curious and active about understanding metrics moving “the right way” as you are about metrics moving “the wrong way.”
Rather than being accountable for a number hitting a target, seek to be accountable for knowing why that number is moving toward or away from that target and having a plan for addressing whatever underlying issues are within your control.
Resist the siren call of scores and numbers that purport to tell you “everything that you need to know” about anything. Take the time to understand how these quantitative proxies are developed, and do the work of figuring out what specific questions they can and cannot answer based on your goals and priorities.
No matter how complex the data systems you’re working with, resist the pull of jargon. Keep conversations about technical decisions rooted in high-level goals that can be understood by everyone in the organization to make as much room as possible for collaboration.
Realistic roadmaps and painless prioritisation
Give up on being the person who “owns” the roadmap. Instead, look to facilitate the way that your entire organisation uses roadmaps.
Don’t make assumptions about how your organisation uses roadmaps. Ask lots of questions, and create a clear and well-documented understanding of how roadmaps are to be used within your organisation.
Open up the roadmap. It should be a conversation starter and a tool for alignment, not something to be closely guarded and manipulated under cover of darkness.
Give your colleagues the opportunity to suggest ideas for the product roadmap, but don’t let it turn into a free-for-all.
Which of our users (current or prospective) this is for
How this idea will improve their experience
How this idea will help our business
How we will measure success
Advocate just as fiercely for ideas that are not your own, if not more so. Don’t get hung up on wanting to be the “idea person.”
Don’t spend so long on product specifications that you close off avenues for true collaboration.
If you are using a formal practice for writing product and feature specifications such as “user stories,” remember that a formally correct spec is not necessarily a good spec.
Make sure that everything on your roadmap is tied back to a “why” so that if that “why” changes, you can adjust the roadmap accordingly.
Be prepared for short-term prioritisation to be much more challenging than creating a long-term roadmap.
Dealing with emergencies
What is the issue?
Who reported this issue?
How many users is it affecting?
Is there revenue directly tied to this issue?
If so, how much?
What would happen if this issue were not addressed in the next two weeks?
What would happen if this issue were not addressed in the next six months?
Who is the contact person for further discussing/resolving this issue?
Do everything in your power to make sure that the goals against which you are prioritising are clear, well understood and actionable.
If you can, take your goals for a “test drive” with the senior leaders who are setting the company vision and strategy. See if the goals can serve as a stand-in for their vision, and change your goals if they aren’t giving you the guidance you need.
If your team is excited to build something new and shiny, don’t reflexively shoot it down for “not meeting our goals.” Find out why your team is so excited, and see what you can do to direct that excitement toward whatever solution will deliver the most value to your users and your business.
Remember that learning, testing, and experimenting is still valuable work, and should be treated as such. Prioritise tasks like creating prototypes and researching implementation approaches alongside the work of actually building your product.
Avoid ambiguous and misleading jargon around Agile—say exactly what you intend to do and why you intend to do it.
Understand the core values and principles of Agile before evaluating any specific practices or frameworks. If you just start implementing process without purpose, then you have no way to evaluate whether the process is working or not.
Socialise a North Star vision around Agile values and principles, so that everybody on your team knows why they are “doing Agile” in the first place.
Start with an off-the-shelf Agile methodology so that you have an impartial “referee” to resolve any specific questions about whether you’re “doing it right”—and then be fearless about changing that methodology if it is not helping you reach your North Star vision.
Create and protect time for your team to evaluate Agile practices against the goals you’ve set. Document process changes along with their intended goals, so that there is clarity around what people are doing and why.
Don’t let the operational details of doing Agile distract you from higher-level organisational goals. Remember that if you are executing against a product roadmap that delivers no value to your users or your business, it doesn’t matter how Agile your execution is—your product is still going to fail.
Don’t let user-centric Agile rituals serve as a stand-in for actually talking to your users.
Communicate the goals and rhythms of your Agile practices to people outside of your immediate team, so that they know what to expect and how to work with you.
Understand that “no process” is still a process, and take the time to really understand how your organization is currently building products.
If you feel that your organization is becoming too zealous about Agile, feel free to print out a whole bunch of blog posts by people who actually wrote the Agile Manifesto, describing how Agile zealotry and ornamentation have derailed the movement they started.
Day to day
Be wary of your organisation and team falling into autopilot. Actively bring new ideas and challenging perspectives to your team at all times.
Use time-boxed prototypes to explore alternate product directions, even when there is no immediate or obvious pressure to change course.
Remember that a good product organisation is not one free of conflict, but rather one in which conflict is handled openly and without personal attacks.
Try to bring the energy and enthusiasm from your best and most exciting moments as a product manager to every day of your work.
If you begin to feel like you are the only person keeping your team or your organisation from falling apart, take a step back. Make a list of the things you can’t control, delegate impactful work to your colleagues, and make sure you are protecting your team’s most valued routines and rituals.
Understand that the connectedness of your role carries great responsibility, but also great opportunity. Do everything in your power to protect and embody the very best things about your team and your organisation.
Sophistication – people think that solutions need to be complex, but in reality the solution is simple
Adrenaline – people like to rush, instead you need to slow down and deal with important but not urgent issues
Qualification – overly analytical leaders feel they need to quantify everything, where as the reality is that success is the compound of many small things multiplied up
Smart and Healthy
Good at: strategy marketing, finance and technology
With: Minimal policies, low confusion, high moral, strong productivity and low turn over amongst good employees
Being smart is permission to play, a healthy organisation will get smarter over time.
The four disciplines:
Building a cohesive leadership team – the people at the top are not behaving cohesively in the five fundamental ways
Create clarity – leaders must be intellectually aligned and committed to the same six critical questions
Overcommunicate clarity – communicate clearly, repeatedly, enthusiastically and repeatedly
Reinforce clarity – every policy, program, activity etc should be designed to reinforce what is important
Building a cohesive leadership team
A small group of people, over 8 is problematic and never over 12.
Larger groups advocate for their own case
Advocating is common but dangerous
Inquiring is rarer and more important
A team has collective responsibility – selflessness and shared sacrifices
Common Objectives – most measures should be collective
Building vulnerability-based trust – being completely comfortable being transparent, honest and naked with one another. Happy to say “I screwed up”, “I need help”, “your idea is better than mine”
Mastering conflict – when there is trust conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best answer. Conflict will be uncomfortable, and it must be leaned into to the point of constructive conflict but not beyond.
Achieving commitment – when leadership teams wait for consensus before taking action, they usually end up with decisions that are made too late and are mildly disagreeable to everyone. This is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration. Teams must have the discipline to review their commitments and clarify anything which is not crystal clear.
Embrace accountability – peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on a leadership team. Leaders need to confront difficult situations and hold people accountable so others follow suit. To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies. This is especially important for behaviours.
Focusing on results – an organisation must meet it’s results to be a good team. To do this the team needs one score and that should be more important than individual scores.
Why do we exist?
Customer – to directly serve the needs of an organisation’s customer or primary constituent.
Industry – to be immersed in a given industry
Greater cause – the company plays a role in a greater purpose
Community – to make a specific area better or group of people supported
Employees – to be a great place for people to work
Wealth – to make the owner wealthy
Two similar companies can act very differently if their reason to exist are different
How do we behave?
Core values – a very small number of traits that are fundamental and long held by the company
Is this trait inherent and natural for us and has it been present for a long time?
Would our organisation be able to credibly claim that we are more committed to this value than 99% of companies in our industry?
Aspirational values – characteristics the company wishes they already had
Permission-to-Play values – the minimum standards that are required in the organisation and usually common in the industry
Accidental values – these are evident but not not intentional
What do we do?
How will we succeed?
The company should make an exhaustive list of everything related to the bussiness. Then search for patterns within everything.
These need to be reviewed but the cadence is situation specific – where barriers are high and innovation low the they will last a long time, but where barriers are low and innovation is high these will likely not last very long and need regular review.
What is most important, right now?
Shared across the leadership team
These are the general categories of activities to achieve the thematic goal
Standard operating objectives
The day to day measures which people should be following
All the above on one page
Who must do what?
With all of the above – capture it but keep is short – one page, two at most. Then keep it to hand.
Tell true rumours – it is the best way to get the word out
Timeliness of delivery, does not need to be the same time but within 24 hours
Live/real-time communication, not email as this is less effective
Ask the question “What are we going to tell our people?” to align on the key points of a message, not a wordsmithed to death script
Don’t get feedback if it is not going to be used.
Great organisations are never run by democracy.
Communication silos will exist as long as people want them to – how you communicate is irrelevant
An organisation has to institutionalise it’s culture without bureaucratising it
Your people are your culture so structured hiring is key
Onboarding is a memorable and impactful part of an employees life – make it count
Performance management, compensation and rewards – against the companies values
Recognition by authentic and specific expressions of appreciation
Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organisation isn’t all that serious about what it says it believes
The Centrality of Great Meetings
“If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organisation, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting.”
One meeting to cover everything – does not work. The human brain can not jump between things like this. There needs to be greater clarity and focus.
5-10 minutes most days
45-90 minutes weekly
2-4 hours as needed
1-2 days quarterly
Real-Time Agenda – deciding at the start what are the pressing topics
How are we doing against the things we said are most important?
Step back from the bussiness to get a fresh perspective
Review the organisation’s strategic anchors and thematic goal
Assessing the performance of key employees
Discuss industry changes and competitive threats
Review the team members in regards to cohesiveness