Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes: How to Get from Where you Are to Where You Want to Be

How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be: The 25 Principles of Success by Jack Canfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents the following 25 principles

  1. Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life
    • You have to give up all your excuses.
    • 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.
  2. Be Clear Why You’re Here
    • What is the why behind everything you do?
  3. 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.
  4. Believe It’s Possible
    • It will only happen if you believe it is possible
  5. Believe in Yourself
    • You have to give up “I can’t”
  6. Become an Inverse Paranoid
    • Believe that the world is out there to help you. See the opportunities.
  7. Unleash the Power of Goal-Setting
    • Be very clear on the goal and review it regularly
  8. Chunk It Down
    • Break the goal down into tasks and tackle the toughest first.
  9. Success Leaves Clues
    • Learn from people who have already succeeded in what you want to do
  10. Release the Brakes
    • Unlearn the things which have stopped you doing things.
  11. See What You Want, Get What You See
    • Visualise the future, make it vivid.
  12. 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.
  13. Take Action
    • Talk is cheap, only with action can you succeed.
  14. Experience Your Fear and Take Action Anyway
    • Everything which is worth doing is a risk, you have to acknowledge that and do it
  15. 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.
  16. Reject Rejection
    • There will be rejection, but that is fine just say “next”
  17. 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?”
  18. Commit to Constant and Never-Ending Improvement
    • The margin for greatness is small, so continuous small improvements will make a big impact
  19. Practice Persistence
    • To do something which is tough needs persistence – you need to keep going that one more lamp post
  20. 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
  21. 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.
  22. Clean Up Your Messes and Your Incompletes
    • Complete things, a few things complete are better than lots of things partially done
  23. Develop Four New Success Habits a Year
    • Evaluate your bad habits – like:
      • Procrastinating
      • 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
      • Working late
      • Choosing work over time with your children
      • Having fast-food meals more than 2 days a week
    • Focus on changing one habit every quarter.
  24. Stay Focused on Your Core Genius
    • Identify your core and delegate completely everything which does not align with that
  25. Start Now!… Just Do It!

Book notes: Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People

Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Over 325 Ready-To-Use Words and Phrases For Working With Challenging Personalities by Renée Evenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

  • Starting phrases with “I” is less accusatory than “you”
  • Phrase of understanding – show that you realise that others might have another opinion
  • Phrase of apology – this shows you are taking responsibility to resolve the situation
  • Phrase of compromise – to show flexibility as compromise will be the best result
  • Phrase of resolution – to make sure that everyone agrees with the outcome to move on
  • Phrase of reconciliation – show that the relation and value that working together means
  1. Thing first – don’t just jump in
  2. Gain a better understanding – learn more about the situation of the other person
  3. Define the problem – this might not be what you expected it to be
  4. Offer your best solution – work towards an agreeable compromise solution
  5. Agree on resolution – getting agreement on the solution

Boss issues:

  • Abusive
  • Controlling
  • Egotistical
  • Incompetent
  • Inconsistent
  • Micromanaging
  • Noncommunicative
  • Passive
  • Reactive
  • Unethical

Book Notes: Upstream

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upstream presents a good overview of systems thinking.

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets

The barriers

  • Problem blindness – there is no problem
  • A lack of Ownership – no one feels it is their problem to fix
  • Tunnelling – I don’t want to deal with this problem right now

Questions

  1. How will you unite the right people? bring together the right people & data to understand
  2. How will you change the system? how to change the system without negative impacts
  3. Where can you find a point of leverage? understand the problem. Saving money is not the goal.
  4. How will you get early warning of the problem? using data but be careful of false positives
  5. How will you know you’re succeeding? how could the metrics be games without actual improvement
  6. How will you avoid doing harm? close the feedback loop, be careful of over confidence
  7. Who will pay for what does not happen? align incentives so people/budget holder care

Book Notes: Blitzscaling

Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

EfficiencySpeed
UncertaintyClassic Start-up GrowthBlitzscaling
CertaintyClassic Scale-up GrowthFastscaling

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
Stage 1 – Family1~9 employees
Stage 2 – Tribe~ 10s employees
Stage 3 – Village~ 100s employees
Stage 4 – City~ 1,000s employees
Stage 5 – Nation ~ 10,000s employees
Stages of Blitzscaling

Technique #1 – Business Model Innovation
Innovating in how the bussiness is going to make money is key e.g. the idea of Netflix subscription was novel.

Growth factors:

  • 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

Growth limiters:

  • 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)

Proven patters:

  • Bits rather than atoms – aka software is easier than hardware
  • Platforms
  • Free or freemium – it kick starts growth
  • Marketplace
  • Subscriptions
  • Digital goods
  • Feeds – it’s ability to drive user engagement

Principles:

  • 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.

When…

  • There is a big opportunity
  • First-scaler advantage
  • 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

The process…

  1. Do things that don’t scale
  2. Reach the next stage of blitzscaling
  3. Figure out how to scale while doing a different set that don’t scale
  4. Reach the next stage of blitzscaling
  5. Repeat until you reach market dominance

Stages of growth

  1. Family
    • Founder has to do everything
  2. Tribe
    • Founder manages a team – helping them be productive
  3. Village
    • Founder manage managers and needs to take the bigger picture
  4. City
    • Founder is there to make the key decisions, the tactics are others to work out
  5. Nation
    • 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.

Transitions:

  • 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”
    • Solution
      • 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

Rule

  1. Embrace chaos
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. Launch a product that embarrasses you – if it does not embarrass you then you have over invested and not gained insight/feedback early enough.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. Ignore your customers – this can be a fire that continues to burn while focusing on other things.
  8. Raise too much money – your plans will be optimistic, so have more money than you think you will need will give you more space.
  9. 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.

Reed hasting

Book Notes: Leadership is Language

Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

Mindsets

  • Prove
    • I did it!
    • We need to show we can do this
    • Nailed it
  • Protect
    • Wasn’t me
    • No, I’m fine
    • We did the best we could with the time we had
  • Improve
    • How can we make it better?
    • How can I do better?
    • What have we learned?
Red WorkBlue Work
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
Work types

The solution

  • 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
    • Flatten the power gradient
    • Admit you don’t know
    • Be vulnerable
    • Trust first

Book Notes: The New Extraordinary Leader

The New Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders by John H. Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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
  • Personal Capability
    • 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
  • Interpersonal Skills
    • 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
  • Leading Change
    • Develops strategic perspective – understanding distinctive advantages
    • Champions change – helping teams navigate change as opposed to resisting
    • Has customer and external focus – staying close to the customer and understanding their current and future needs

Character is key – grow it by focusing on your behaviours this will change your attitudes and improve your character.

Your niche is the combination of your competencies, passion and the organisations need.

Organisational cultures:

  • Genteel – focus on kid and consideration
  • Candor – strong feedback culture
  • Learning – innovation and self development
  • High-integrity – doing the right thing, being honest and ethical
  • Fair – strong desire to treat people fairly
  • Political – political and connections are the most critical factors
  • Bureaucratic – many norms to uphold, great adherence to processes and procedures
  • Clan/Club – nurturing and mentoring people
  • Lofty – people held to a high standard
  • Fun/Celebration – high priority on making work fun
  • Technology – technical expertise are highly regarded
  • Execution – a drive forward to achieve results on time and budget
  • Error-Avoidance – excellence, quality and conformity with errors being punished
  • Customer – a focus on satisfying the customers needs and responding to their requests
  • Commendation – individual efforts are rewarded
  • Adhocracy – fast and first with entrepreneurial spirit
  • Sales – everything revolves around sales and bussiness development
  • Process – efficiency through slavishly defining and following work processes
  • Virtual – people contribute to the same goal but work independently
  • Start-up – fast growing, ill-defined, high energy and excitement

Don’t start with your worst characteristic unless it is a fatal flaw – else focus on your strengths.

The fatal flaws:

  • Not inspiring due to a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results
  • Lack of clear vision and direction
  • Loss of trust stemming from perceived bad judgement and poor decisions
  • Not collaborative or a team player
  • Not a good role model (failure to walk the talk)
  • No self-development and learning from mistakes
  • Lacking interpersonal skills
    • Sins of commission – abrasive, insensitive…
    • Sins of omission – look people in the eye, learn names, listen, laugh, prise, smile…
  • Resistant to new ideas, thus did not lead change or innovate
  • Focus is on self, not the development of others

Book Notes: Good Strategy Bad Strategy

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard P. Rumelt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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
  • Bad strategy
    • 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:
      • Leverage
        • 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
      • Using design
        • 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

Book Notes: Product Management in Practice

Product Management in Practice by Matt Lemay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The practice of product management

  • 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.

Data

  • 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.
    • Product idea
    • Suggested by
    • 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.

Agile

  • 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.

Book Notes: The Advantage

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The three biases:

  1. Sophistication – people think that solutions need to be complex, but in reality the solution is simple
  2. Adrenaline – people like to rush, instead you need to slow down and deal with important but not urgent issues
  3. 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

SmartHealthy
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:

  1. Building a cohesive leadership team – the people at the top are not behaving cohesively in the five fundamental ways
  2. Create clarity – leaders must be intellectually aligned and committed to the same six critical questions
  3. Overcommunicate clarity – communicate clearly, repeatedly, enthusiastically and repeatedly
  4. 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
  • Behaviours
    • 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.

Create Clarity

  • 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?
    • One priority
    • Thematic Goal
      • One thing
      • Qualitative
      • Temporary
      • Shared across the leadership team
    • Defining objectives
      • 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.

Overcommunicate clarity

  • Tell true rumours – it is the best way to get the word out
  • Consistent message
  • 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

Reinforce Clarity

  • 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.
ContentMeetingTiming
AdministrativeDaily Check-In5-10 minutes most days
TacticalWeekly Staff45-90 minutes weekly
StrategicAdhoc Topical2-4 hours as needed
DevelopmentalOff-Site Review1-2 days quarterly
  • Tactical
    • Real-Time Agenda – deciding at the start what are the pressing topics
    • How are we doing against the things we said are most important?
  • Off-Site Review
    • 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

Book Notes: It’s The Manager

It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager

The workforce is changing and businesses need to evolve to get the most out of their people.

PastFuture
My PaycheckMy Purpose
My SatisfactionMy Development
My BossMy Coach
My Annual ReviewMy Ongoing Conversations
My WeaknessesMy Strengths
My JobMy Life

Why is change so hard? Humans are hard wired to distrust outsiders. This distrust can result in teams working against each other, and as such against the best interests of the company.

Leader need to bringing multiple teams together. It is easy for a leader to blame someone else – another team or manager, how connected managers feel will impact their safety and cooperation with other leaders.

Making great decisions. Know your limits, don’t have the ego to think you know it all realise you don’t and pull in other expertise to cover areas you don’t know. Apply critical thinking, identify risks and blind spots to prevent confirmation bias and groupthink. Use analytics-driven evidence, analytics when done right overrule hierarchy, politics and bias.

Culture – what is your mission, purpose and brand? Do these align with policies, programs and communications? Build culture through coaching by line managers.

Hiring stars – Hiring managers must reduce bias to choose the best people for the role.

  • Glare factors. Disproportionate weight to visual characteristics e.g. a candidates look
  • Experience fallacy. Assume everyone the same company or university will be successful
  • Confirmation bias. Only hearing comments that confirm beliefs about a candidate
  • Overconfidence bias. Hiring managers having special ability to select applicants
  • Similarity bias. Choosing people similar to yourself
  • Stereotype bias. Unconscious stereotypes of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity and age
  • Availability bias. Relying on memory of an interview rather than a complete perspective
  • Sunk cost fallacy. Continuing with a candidate because so much time already invested
  • Escalation of pressure. Pressured to a candidate because its taken a long time to fill a role

How to hire

  • Prior experiences & achievements. What have they already done which aligns with the role
  • Innate tendencies. Evaluate on
    • Drive for achievement (motivation)
    • Getting work done (workstyle)
    • Taking action and inspiring others to succeed (initiation)
    • Building quality partnerships (collaboration)
    • Solving problems with assimilating new information (thought process)
  • Multiple interviews. Input from multiple interviews will reduce the potential bias.
  • On-the-job observation. Internship or scenarios as close to real life to see how they act.

Seven expectations that are necessary for success in any role:

  • Build relationships. Build trust, share ideas and accomplish work
  • Develop people. Grow others through strengths, expectations and coaching
  • Lead change. Embrace change, set goals that align with a stated vision
  • Inspire others. Positivity, vision, confidence, challenges and recognition
  • Think critically. Gather and evaluate information that leads to smart decisions
  • Communicate clearly. Share information regularly and concisely
  • Create accountability. Hold yourself and others responsible for performance

When people leave – make sure they feel heard, they feel proud of what they did and are brand ambassadors

Coaching conversations

  • Role and Relationship Orientation. Get to know each individual and their strengths and align to the organization’s overall objectives. Define success and co-worker expectations.
  • Quick Connect. Ongoing conversations for employees to feel heard and to raise issues for awareness and resolution.
  • Check-In. Regular review of successes, barriers and priorities.
  • Developmental Coaching. Most effective when the manager knows the employee well. To give the employee direction, support and advice when they are exploring career, aspirational or developmental opportunities.
  • Progress Reviews. Review purpose, goals, metrics, development, strategy, teams and wellbeing

Pay – Criteria should be transparent and not political lobbying. Don’t use forced rankings. People want autonomy/performance related pay but great care needs to be taken. Financial wellbeing is an organisational responsibility.

Performance rating bias

  • Personal or idiosyncratic bias. Higher rating for people who would do things the same way as the manager
  • Halo effect. When doing things the manager views as important well can result in the manger rating other aspects more favourably
  • Spill over effect. Once managers has made a choice for an employee they need a compelling reason to modify their prior judgment in subsequent reviews.
  • The middle default. Struggle to distinguish performance among workers
  • Leniency and strictness biases. Some have a bias toward the extremes.
    • Leniency bias giving positive ratings even though employees have notable room for improvement.
    • Strictness bias when a manager is overly critical

Performance rating solution

  • Individual achievement – performance metrics, subjective manager observation and individual goals
  • Collaboration
  • Customer value

Team’s engagement

  • Connectedness to the rest of the organisation
  • Composition of team strengths
  • Experience working together
  • Team size