Impostor Hunting: Why 9 out of 10 Product Team Members Are Probably Redundant

For 9 out of 10 technology workers, impostor syndrome isn’t a lie of the mind, it’s cold reality

Let’s imagine that you’re the owner of a business and wish to assemble a crack, agile-oriented team to build and grow a new website. Here’s a typical group, with nine people holding nine distinct and well-understood roles:

  • A product manager
  • A ScrumMaster
  • A front-end programmer
  • A back-end programmer
  • A graphic designer
  • A UX designer
  • A data scientist
  • A marketing manager
  • A QA tester

Target #1: ScrumMaster

We start with the job title that sounds suspiciously like a children’s book monster. Surely, the position’s duties can’t be as silly as its nomenclature.

  • A Certified ScrumMaster helps project teams properly use Scrum
  • CSMs understand Scrum values, practices, and applications
  • CSMs act as “servant leaders,” helping the rest of the Scrum team work together and learn the Scrum framework
  • CSMs also protect the team from both internal and external distractions

The “master” portion of ScrumMaster is modeled more after “Dungeon Master” than “Master’s Degree”

In reality, the “master” portion of ScrumMaster is modeled more after “Dungeon Master” than “Master’s Degree” — anyone can learn the basics of Scrum by watching a one hour YouTube video and that fancy Certification takes a weekend.

Target #2: UX Designer

Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, famously Tweeted:

Target #3: Designer

Okay, so you have a proper designer on your team, but they’re not off the hook yet. We’re building a technology product in 2015, not 2005. You can’t get away with one person mocking up a layout in PhotoShop or InDesign and another coding that layout in HTML. Your competitor will have launched six versions by the time you’ve polished your first.

This guy agrees! And that was five years ago!

We’re building a technology product in 2015, not 2005.

Oh, and if you need a logo, pay one of those crowd sourcing sites $99.

Target #4: Marketing Manager

Creating and selling a God-level product doesn’t need a marketing person, it needs a God-level production team

Easy, make it free to build audience, encourage word-of-mouth to grow and God-level is its own position.

Target #5: Data Scientist

Making one person the Lord of all data will either stall you with analysis paralysis or lull you into a false sense of security.

University-sheltered PhDs can spend a year looking at the nuances of a data set and come up with useless “on the one hand X on the other hand Y” conclusions. How can we expect a data scientist, with less training, no peer review and under brutal industry pressures, to do better than that?

Target #6: QA Tester

A QA tester is only needed when the team is rushed or if the product has low-quality code. Nothing about your product will be rushed because you’ll throw away arbitrary deadlines and adopt an “it’s done when it’s done mentality.” Dropping deadlines isn’t a radical notion, the best software companies in the world operate this way (see Valve, read PeopleWare).

A part of you will always know that she’ll catch your mistakes and boomerang them back to you later

To draw a parallel, I’ve made dozens of spelling and grammar mistakes in this article, but I can’t be bothered to correct them because I have a smart editor who’ll re-write most of these ramblings anyway. No editor? I become Shakespeare.

Target #7: Front-End Programmer-Designer

It’s a brutal fact of life, but there’s a pecking order to programmers and front-end programmers are at the bottom. If you want to teach a computer scientist CSS or jQuery, give them an hour. If you assign a front-end programmer the task of building a recommendation engine, prepare for a panic attack.

It’s a brutal fact of life, but there’s a pecking order to programmers and front-end programmers are at the bottom.

If you jettison the front-end developer/designer, you can’t realistically expect the computer scientist to pick up the design slack, but in these modern times, that’s okay.

Target #8: Product Manager

I could wax bitter about what a bullshit job Product Manager is, but instead I’ll just quote someone who recently messaged me on Twitter:

Product Manager is closer to a personal assistant than an equal contributor.

Much of a Product Manager’s value comes from being a generalist in all of the fields listed above and corralling those disparate roles toward a common purpose. But if we determined that the specialists of those fields were impostors, what chance does the generalist have? And corralling one person doesn’t make sense.

Target #9: Computer Scientist

The final team member! What you’re left with is the only non-redundant source of value, the computer scientist.

Look to Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Drew Houston for the template.

Find one, assign her a big problem, and get out of her way. Use the profits to hire another and keep repeating until you have Google.

The 10th Target…

We’re done! Your team is pared down to one superproductive member. You can now unleash her upon the world and sit back and reap the treasures that spill out of her keyboard. This article is concluded!

Featured here is quite possibly the biggest impostor in tech history



On Product Development, Product Management & Product Leadership

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Adam Ghahramani

Adam Ghahramani

On Product Development, Product Management & Product Leadership