Product Theater

Setting the stage

Joe Gonwa
Joe Gonwa
Jul 7, 2018 · 3 min read
courtesy of Matt Peterson

While studying abroad in London I had the fortune to see a live production of Shakespeare’s Pericles at the iconic Globe Theatre. My view of the performance was ten feet from the action in an area at the base of the stage called the pit, or yard.

The broad stage was flanked by two large columns. Tied to the columns, rafters, and the outermost balconies were large ropes simulating the rigging of a ship’s mast. A majority of the action occurs at sea and these ropes were used quite cleverly during several key scenes.

Particularly in Act III, several sailors flew above the pit swinging to and fro in the masts as a storm ravaged their ship. The precarious acrobatics and forceful orchestral accompaniment (I recall lots of timpani) underscored the tense emotional drama unfolding on stage. Despite the chaos of pendulous bodies careening above my head, my focus was drawn center-stage to the anguish on Pericles’ face as he lamented the death of his wife during childbirth at sea.

It was one of many wonderful moments in a beautifully produced performance where the set design and stage direction propelled the story forward. The theater productions bolstered the dramatic impact of the actors on stage.


It is apt that in software development we call feature requests User Stories. We collect our wishes and desires for product improvement into narrative form — with our customers at center stage.

As a user I want to

do this action

so that I can

achieve this goal / scratch this itch / finish this job.

Customers are protagonists. The product serves them. Product features are the stage settings, the wardrobe rack, the prop table, the supporting cast and crew. Customers enter our small product theater house, they assume their roles, melt into character, don their wardrobe, access their props, and they perform.

Actors are successful on stage when the periphery melts into the background, and when their actions have their desired affect and connect with an audience. The set, the costumes, the props — these things serve as reinforcements to the action on stage. They support the plot without suppressing it.They buttress without butting-in. Rather than forcing the action they facilitate it. They don’t prescribe, they guide. They don’t commandeer attention away from the actor’s spotlight.

Actors feel alive on stage as they receive ovations from the crowd and evoke emotion from their audience. This energy keeps them coming back for more each night. The actor doesn’t feel hindered by his props or by his costumes. He may not even feel that the props or set are responsible for his applause or hearty reception. The set and props are happy with this illusion. But truth be told, the actor would not perform as well and his story would not be as impactful without the help of these supporting materials.

The goal of a product is to help users accomplish a goal and alleviate a pain in an easier and efficient way. Products which allow users to be Heroes and to be the star of their domain are successful. Products which are heavy-handed, those that steal a user’s sense of delight, those that fail to leave customers feeling awesome after their performance when its all said and done.. these product are ones that fail to deliver results.

Customer success happens when we make people awesome. When customers shine and do great things as a result of using your product — that is when you know you are on the right track.


What features can you build into your product to make users into Heroes?

What can you do to get the product out of the way so that customers can retake center stage and perform, impress, and achieve new heights without restrictions or obstacles?

Take Aways:

Make users the heroes of the story. Make the product the supporting cast and crew. Supply the production materials to the set, then sit back relax and enjoy the show.

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