The topic of generalists vs specialists always comes up in PM hiring and strategy conversations. I see PM hiring managers and PM’s themselves struggle with this a lot. What got me thinking about this topic is David Epstein’s new book Range. The core thesis in the book is, and I quote, “Range explains how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization.” So how should you think about this topic? What are the nuances?
The anti-pattern I’d like to explore today is what I affectionally call the head of problemaka senior’itis. In my experience, this is the factor in org design that increases burn and bureaucracy. This anti-pattern is lethal for companies.
It starts off quite innocently. Let’s assume you are the CEO at the early stages of a company and you have identified a problem to solve, say in the general area of customer support. Customer support as a function doesn’t exist yet. You ask around your peer group, you look at successful companies and then you make the common mistake – you get afflicted by senior’itis. You decide that you need somebody senior to run that function, you need somebody who has done it before somebody with pedigree. You need a Head of customer support. You then spend a lot of time trying to woo the right candidate, the one that checks all the boxes. You hire him after a long drawn out courtship. You are happy, your customer support problem will be solved, you have found the right person. You have hired a person who will take accountability to solve the problem.
The next few posts are going to be about anti-patterns. These are all about the landmines you should try to avoid – learn from my mistakes :). Almost all problems in companies are people/organizational problems. Hopefully, these set of posts can help you navigate through some of the nuanced ones.
Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory – Franklin Pierce Adams
We’ve all read about how culture eats strategy for lunch. The internet is jam-packed with a million blog posts on the superficialities of culture. Its time for some inside baseball with some actual actionable things to watch out for and prevent.
It is absolutely true that the culture of the company dictates how it can adapt to change and eventually succeed. Culture is hugely important, however along the journey from a small company to a midsize company to a large public company, the culture will change. At all these stages, different parts of the company will have different cultures and norms. In fact sometimes within the same team, you will have differences based on where the teams are located and their size.
I just finished reading the book Thinking in bets by Annie Duke. I highly recommend this book if you want to understand how to make better decisions. She talks about this amazing concept called resulting that blew my mind. In her own words
…was a victim of our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome. Poker players have a word for this: “resulting.” When I started playing poker, more experienced players warned me about the dangers of resulting, cautioning me to resist the temptation to change my strategy just because a few hands didn’t turn out well in the short run.
A key skill in my opinion as a product person is to identify “idea de-railers”. Idea de-railers are specific phrases used to block ideas from going further. Once you can identify this pattern, it’s much easier to plan around it, and as leaders attack it head-on. Below follow some choice de-railers from my collection.
Obvious disclaimer, Yes product managers should be empathetic, yes everybody in the company is driving towards the same thing so idea-derailers seems a bit harsh of a characterization, yes this is not ideal company culture, yes yes yes. However, reality is an approximation of the ideal, it always helps to understand human behavior (good and bad) and have a plan to tackle. These are just techniques that have been useful to me 🙂 Read More »
I’ve been really fortunate over my career to be in companies that were experiencing tremendous growth. As companies grow, hiring and getting the right team in place is important, multiple interviews and mistakes later I’ve landed on one key insight, one thing that I look for
creating playbooks > following playbooks
What is a playbook?
I define playbooks broadly as a set of processes, principles, required behaviors, and measures that lead to a repeatable outcome. A playbook is structured and is the key enabler for scale in the problem area of your choice. Problem: Hiring, figure out your playbook. Problem: User acquisition: figure out your playbook. Problem: High-velocity product delivery: figure out your playbook.Read More »
Accountability is a fascinating topic. The textbook definition is “the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”. While a lot has been written about individuals, I’ve found in my experience, the actual mechanics of how to think about team accountability for product teams, pretty lacking. This post is an attempt to describe the framework that has been useful for me. A few of these tips are borrowed from the great executives I’ve had the pleasure to work with and a few are homegrown. Hopefully, this helps somebody who is just starting out or well into their manager/team leader journey.