Writing your ‘scripts’ as a Product Manager

I’m currently reading The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh thanks to a number of recommendations. In addition to being interesting and insightful on how to run a successful football organization, I’m finding a number of the lessons are applicable to what I do every day as a product manager.

Today I read a passage that talks about how Bill Walsh sought to set his team up for success by preparing meticulously and, specifically, by scripting the first 20–25 offensive plays of a game well before Sunday kickoff. Coach Walsh found that this type of preparation allowed him to handle the pressure of different situations calmly and effectively, rather than reacting within the emotion and stress of an NFL game.

During this scripting process, not only did the 49ers prepare for when things went poorly, but he also prepared for situations where things went extremely well. What would he do if instead of a 10 yard gain, his receiver broke a tackle and got the team down to the 2 yard line? If unprepared he may get flustered and have to burn a timeout or he may waste a down by calling a predictable run play because he wasn’t prepared for this particular situation.

“Scripting allowed me to take randomness and stress out of the decision-making process. The result is a very adaptable but intelligent plan for the future.”

As I read through his philosophy and examples I began thinking about how to apply this thinking to software development. How would we capitalize on a brand new market opportunity? What will we do if one of our projects gets funded tomorrow based on a new priority? My personal tendency is to look for what our next steps will be if things don’t go well, which feels like the more common scenario, but now I’m wondering what opportunities may have been missed by not being prepared to capitalize on them.

I believe a hidden benefit of being prepared for potential opportunities is that if/when they arise, they can be embraced as what they are: opportunities! How often does an opportunity present itself but, in the midst of our daily stresses, it feels like a distraction or a new problem?

So — what next? I plan on starting with the opportunities that I can identify today as having a small chance of happening (vs. focusing on those things that seemingly come out of the blue) and outline a script for what we’ll do if those opportunities manifest themselves. The scripts will go beyond the first step and outline 4 or 5 next ‘plays’ for how we can capitalize on what’s presented. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to put one or some of these scripts to the test and determine how our preparations helped inform our decisions.

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