Elezea Newsletter — Issue 2019.23
A weekly newsletter to help you create better products, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives.
Featured product management articles
On the Postmark blog I talk about how we use productboard to improve our product planning process. I’ve written before about what I look for in product management software, and we’ve now been using productboard for a full 3 months at Postmark, so I wanted to write an update on how it’s going, and how we’re using it.
So far, productboard has improved my life significantly. I feel much more comfortable that I have a handle on everything we are working on, what we have to plan for, and what our customers need, than I did when we used non-specific tools for this kind of work. I know we all have a bit of “tool fatigue” going on, but this is something that truly adds value to our product and the way we work.
You can read the full post here.
In The Importance Of A Clear Career Path For Product Managers the Intercom team links to a PDF of their product manager expectations by level. It’s a really good resource and fascinating look at their approach to product management. Here’s how they define the role at Intercom:
There are many elements and facets to being a PM at Intercom, but ultimately it comes down to: “Identify the most valuable problems to solve, enable your team to ship and iterate high-quality solutions quickly, and validate market impact.” Underpinning this, there are 5 Skill Areas that we explicitly set expectations for and judge performance against. These are
The document goes into the expectations for each of those skill areas, at each level.
Tremis Skeete has a good write-up of a recent Marty Cagan talk. Most of us have probably read about his four traits of a competent product manager before, but it’s a nice refresher. Especially the first two:
The first is a deep knowledge of the users and customers. This seems like a daunting task, but if a product manager just gets out of the office and talks to users and customers, they can easily acquire this deep knowledge.
The next thing a competent product manager needs to have is a deep knowledge of the data that customers generate. To achieve this, a product manager needs to utilize things like web analytics tools, sales analytics tools, and some form of data warehouse tool that shows how the data changes over time. “Most successful product managers begin their day with dedicated time with those tools so that they know how to answer questions that may come up throughout the day,” Marty says.
The article also provides a good overview of the differences between product discovery and product delivery, and why it’s so important to separate the two activities:
Product and project teams need to understand the difference between discovering a solution and delivering a solution; because by doing so they can work together to formulate strategies that complement each other.
Will Larson shares some interesting perspectives on teams in this interview:
Larson believes that the fundamental challenge — and cornerstone — of organizational design is sizing teams. “The most powerful unit of work is a gelled team. People who know how to work together and are practiced at working together can accomplish truly remarkable things,” says Larson. “When managers design too literally around the current product or architecture, they churn people and lose what I think is the only truly renewable source of energy in the world: people who really love — and know how — to work together.”
He goes on to describe four states a team can be in — falling behind, treading water, repaying debt, and innovating — and the best way to improve teams that are in each of those stages.
Quote of the week
I've been enjoying Paul Jarvis’s book Company of One way more than I expected. It is an excellent primer on how to deliver value to customers and be a more human company. Here’s a quote that stood out for me.
Customers really don’t care if you’re profitable. But if what you sell them can help them become profitable, they’ll never want to leave your business. They’ll stay on as customers and then probably tell others to become your customers too. When you treat your relationship with your customer base as simply transactional, you’ll be preoccupied with how much you can sell them and how often. The more you begin to treat new customers as real relationships that you can grow and foster, and the more you can figure out how what you do can help them, the more likely they are to want to stay on as customers. Customer success is the cornerstone of a profitable company of one.
—Paul Jarvis, Company of One.
Work better together: resources and tools
Brené Brown on The Power of Vulnerability
I feel like I’m seeing a lot more articles on the importance of empathy in product management and design. One way I know this is that the blowback articles have started popping up as well (“6 Reasons Why Empathy Is A Bunch Of Crap!”). I recently came across this video from Brené Brown on the differences between sympathy and empathy. Even though on the surface it has nothing to do with technology work, it gave me a lot to think about in terms of how we interact with colleagues and customers. Check it out, it’s only 3 minutes long.
No no, don’t laugh! This one is actually quite good. “HR Giger’s nightmarish demon aside, the 1979 film is about a group of interstellar wage slaves doing ordinary, unglamorous jobs.” Well, ok, maybe my pro-Alien bias is a little strong.
“The average business can save up to $11,000 per employee each year by going remote, and employees can save around $4,000 a year personally.” So why are companies still resisting remote work?
Together with News Deeply, the Airbnb design research team put together a set of guiding principles and exercises to help designers address skewed perspectives in order to create thoughtful, inclusive work. The tool poses a set of questions to help you balance your bias, consider the opposite, and embrace a growth mindset.
Helping your team to store, organize and share research findings and insights shouldn’t be complicated. This checklist helps you understand the most important aspects you need to consider when implementing an effective UX research repository.
Technology news and reflections
This is a very long article that sometimes comes across more like a vindictive hit piece than an unbiased critique. But it’s still a fascinating look at Uber’s business, and some of the issues it faces to become profitable:
Most public criticisms of Uber have focused on narrow behavioral and cultural issues, including deceptive advertising and pricing, algorithmic manipulation, driver exploitation, deep-seated misogyny among executives, and disregard of laws and business norms. Such criticisms are valid, but these problems are not fixable aberrations. They were the inevitable result of pursuing “growth at all costs” without having any ability to fund that growth out of positive cash flow. And while Uber has taken steps to reduce negative publicity, it has not done—and cannot do—anything that could suddenly produce a sustainable, profitable business model.
I’ve been following this aspect of YouTube closely: how the algorithm promotes videos that go further and further into conspiracy theory land the more you watch (see, for example, the excellent Bloomberg piece YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Let Toxic Videos Run Rampant. This story in the New York Time really brings it home:
“I just kept falling deeper and deeper into this, and it appealed to me because it made me feel a sense of belonging,” he said. “I was brainwashed.”
Amanda Mull writes about how the human brain can’t contend with the vastness of online shopping, and how the internet is (of course) responding by adding another layer on top of it all:
Choice fatigue is one reason so many people gravitate toward lifestyle influencers on Instagram—the relentlessly chic young moms and perpetually vacationing 20-somethings—who present an aspirational worldview, and then recommend the products and services that help achieve it. Once you find a couple of influencers whose taste you like, they do the work of winnowing down all the available options to just those that adhere to a particular sensibility.
I really liked Joshua M Brown essay on the recent issues with crowds on Mount Everest, and how it relates to the internet:
This is what crowds do to opportunities. No matter how good you are, if what you’re doing is very profitable, others will copy you and will be “good enough” to impinge on your game. Which is why the best investments are those with moats — companies that are so good at something that their abilities and assets literally act as a barrier to those who would follow and imitate. These competitive advantages you build won’t necessarily keep crowds off the mountain trail, but if you can build them to be formidable enough, they should dissuade enough of the horde to follow other trails elsewhere.
Random things I like
🔌 Like most of you (I assume), I’ve been pretty obsessed with the HBO show on Chernobyl. These photos from 1986 are incredible and heartbreaking. And of course, right on schedule, the “well, actually...” takes have started to come in.
🎧 This podcast explores “the knotty family tree of Genesis, the unlikeliest group ever to become a Hot 100 juggernaut.”
📱 The Atlantic solves the important mystery of why strangers are AirDropping you memes and photos.
⭐️ How one restaurant owner flipped the online review ecosystem on its head by asking for 1-star Yelp reviews.
👾 This iTunes App Store story on learning to code at any age has some really good resources.
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