Any framework or structured way of thinking is an opportunity for some structured abuse. Business frameworks like Build-Measure-Learn, which is at core of the Lean Startup Movement, are no exception. Just to be perfectly clear, I like Build-Measure-Learn, and I think it’s a valuable tool for startups and mature companies to generate more value and to find a viable business model.
I am using Build-Measure-Learn as a vehicle here not because it’s easy to pick on, but because it’s easy to understand and navigate. It offers a convenient platform to illustrate how these abuses can creep in and hijack the business objectives the framework was designed to help achieve.
A few weeks ago I had the dubious honor of being a real spokesperson for a real launching product. Of course, all product managers are spokespeople in some capacity — we speak at conferences, we speak to customers, we host webinars and do demos. There are just so many wonderful flavors to the spiel, but facing the editors turned out a little different.
If you are used to talking to customers all the time, snapping out of the customer mode can be a challenge. Here are some helpful tips to keep you from straying too far off track.
This post originally appeared as a guest post on On Product Management blog.
When was the last time you had to soothe your wounded ego with thoughts like these:
- I raised it to senior management, but couldn’t get them to commit to the project. My job is to identify opportunities and to point them out to the powers that be. I can’t do the impossible. There is only so much I can do.
- I’ve let Engineering know that they need to scrap three months worth of work and start on something completely different. This decision came down from my bosses, and I had no say. I’m totally clear of any wrongdoing, and that’s what I’m telling engineering.
- I know the website for my product sucks. I brought it to the attention of our web admins but they won’t even consider my suggestions. They don’t want to implement the changes. I’ve done my best, but that part of the organization is totally impervious to my requests.
Sounds familiar? The uncomfortable truth is that a product manager’s job is a carefully disguised exercise in the most excruciating kind of professional impotence. An authority over no one, we are tasked with performing feats of coordination among insubordinate, obstinate groups, entirely unmotivated to heed your opinions or to collaborate.
I’ve been getting a lot of out-of-office auto-replies lately, and I’ve been struck by their conventional blandness and lack of inspiration. The full potential of an OOO message as a source of original, thought-provoking, and unexpected commentary remains largely unexplored.. until now, that is.
Some disagreements are actually tentative agreements in disguise. What am I talking about? To explain where I am coming from, here is a true story (which is still playing itself out) that got me thinking about the nature of disagreements.
At work I’ve been witness to a very characteristic (even epic) disagreement between the two senior managers about the strategy for our new product line. Actually the core of the agreement is about whether the product line should exist in the first place.
The disagreement has otherwise been very polite and respectful, with the sides presenting their points that of view to each other and to the powers that be. A typical mild-mannered corporate affair. Business as usual.
I’ve mostly stayed on the sidelines but yesterday I came out of left field (to continue with sports metaphors) with a freakishly long email that offered my take, complete with opinion and facts, on the matter at hand.
Here is the rub. One warring party swiftly declared that they agree with me a 100%. The other followed suit shortly thereafter declaring that they agree with me 80%-90%. It was all in good humor and only half-serious, but it got me thinking.
The only way to these percentages to make sense is for my summary to only address the minor points in the argument (around which there is no disagreement), but ignore the main points of the argument (which would be the core points of contention). This degenerate case would look something like this.
But I don’t believe that I’ve written an email that would fit the green circle. I suspect the real explanation is that the difference between the parties are more personal than mathematical, and I wish I knew how to draw a Venn diagram around that.
On a more serious note, I think it often takes a third-party perspective to highlight how close the two positions in an argument really are. It also helps to have an intermediary. Another person saying exactly the same thing has a totally different affect on those least expecting to hear it from someone besides their opponent. It gets everyone paying attention again.
And that is exactly what happened!
Pipecleaners are a powerful metaphor and an interesting approach for managing all sorts of risks. I’ve heard it mentioned by my boss a couple of times, but with the boss filter on I hardly knew what he was referring to or where it could ever be applied. Having launched LinkPeelr (in a completely different category of software from what I launch in my day job), I’ve now come to see a more universal applicability of pipecleaners.