Graphic of question marks leading to a point in the distance.
Graphic of question marks leading to a point in the distance.
Question Mark Vortex

Hey product people, we need to talk about racism.

With the recent police violence and protests, if you’re White your racial consciousness has probably levelled up recently, and that’s great. You know the basics, like that “I don’t see race” isn’t good enough.

You’ve probably also now heard the observation that all power structures are either racist or antiracist. As Ibrahim X. Kendi says in How to be an Antiracist: “Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.”

Well I’ve been waiting for someone else…


I picked up Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War on a recommendation about leadership books. I read it like a puzzle, trying to work out whether it was an inspiring or cautionary tale. In the end, I’m convinced it was both.

For the first 150 pages I was gently perplexed. Here was a genius fighter-pilot, presented through the lens of author Robert Coram’s flyboy crush . It gives a romanticized view of John Boyd’s unbending rectitude, forged in an impoverished, loveless childhood. He winds up in the U.S. Air Force.

Turns out Boyd’s good at flying…


Picture of eggs looking nervously at each other
Picture of eggs looking nervously at each other
Egg feather chicken eggs by emmagrau

“If you’ve worked hard to hire smart people,” Marty Cagan writes in the forward to Radical Focus, “this system will help you unleash their potential.” All the experts will tell you the same thing, hire smart people. This tweet from Neil Killick currently appears several times a day on my timeline:

I believe 100% in empowering teams, but there’s something about “Hire smart, motivated people” which doesn’t sit right for me.

For sure, it’s worth investing in hiring. If you follow the “smart, motivated” advice, you’re more likely to end up with a team that can reach consensus, execute…


Swallows flying free
Swallows flying free
Swallows flying, Photo by Ferdinand Stöhr on Unsplash

It’s obvious that you should keep great people in your company….

Or is it?

A fascinating article, quietly sneaked out in HBR over the summer, might change how we think about retention. In “The Upside of Losing Innovative Employees to Competitors,” researchers found that when inventors move between global pharmaceutical firms, those firms are more likely to pair up in alliances leading to better business results.

Maybe it’s just pharma. Or maybe… we’re all missing opportunities by overfocusing on retention, rather than positively managing successful people out.

Or put another way for managers: should a job at your org be…


Images from Hand Signals on Wikipedia

I take issue with a lot of standard advice. “Pick your battles” is terrible, and “Stay in your lane” is something of a trigger phrase for me. Today, though, my sights are set on: “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission

Although is pains me to reject advice from the late great Grace Hopper… this advice I do hereby reject.

I understand the sentiment behind it: we are often held back by “rules” that don’t even exist. Or if the rules do exist, it’s likely that nobody cares enough to punish us for breaking them. Even in the unlikely…


Broken Umbrella by Christopher Lance

You’ve probably heard the saying before, that a good manager acts as the “shit umbrella” for those below her, deflecting the bio-waste spewing forth from executives, so her teams can produce things of beauty.

Seriously. We gotta stop it with this metaphor.

Apart from being deeply insulting to senior managers, it also normalizes a toxic environment. By doing that, we enable bad behavior AND impede understanding between management and teams AND infantilize those teams. A veritable trifecta of unintended consequences out of our good intentions.

C’mon product people, our tag line is “responsibility without power,” surely we can take some…


2016 Savage Race October 8, 2016 at Kennedyville, Md.

When I first came across this coaching tool, a lot fell into place. It explained so many successes and failures. It answered questions about the internal contradictions of “empowerment.” It framed empowerment without force or judgement from the senior person and without dropping the junior straight in the deep end.

This magic framework is called the Ladder of Leadership. Created by L. David Marquet (Turn the Ship Around) and Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), it coaches leaders in the language of empowerment with these questions:


Dear Leader,

Communicating priorities is the most important thing you do.

It’s been a while since the strategy was decided. Some parts have been quietly forgotten, and others have increased in importance with new information. The de-facto priorities have shifted a little, and that’s not a bad thing. They’re just a little wilted.

I completely understand that there are good reasons, outside your control, not to do a whole big strategy exercise.

But we need something. Some new information and new ideas have led to the following chain of events:

  1. People aren’t sure how to respond to news: some have…


Detail (Angel), from the Ayala Altarpiece, Art Institute of Chicago by Uncommon Fritillary

My previous post Product Owner — A Stepping Stone showed some common problems with a Product Owner -Dev Team model. That post dangled “empowered teams” as a tantalizing answer.

I want to unpack “empowered,” though, because we need to deal with some cultural baggage up front. This is particularly for people doing the empowering, but if you’re on the receiving end of bad empowerment, here’s some free validation.

When I say “empowerment,” you probably do one of two things. Option 1 is you gag at the empty management-speak. It’s a serious concept, though, so stay with me. If it gets…


Congratulations on getting the basics of Scrum down, but I’ve got some bad news. Scrum is a developmental milestone on a longer journey. It’s the training wheels on the Agile bike (stabilisers to my U.K. friends). You may need them to get going, but eventually they limit your speed and handling.

SAKURAKO — You do not need training wheels anymore, do you? by MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr

The Product Owner role was important at the start. You probably needed to elevate the “voice of the customer” in decision-making. An in-house customer proxy was a great start. Product Ownership was also useful to articulate a leadership role that wasn’t a people manager.

However, now that you’ve been…

Elizabeth Ayer

Improving users' experience of government at 18F. Ex-Portfolio Manager at @redgate. Infatuated by the possibilities of bringing product thinking to #govtech.

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