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Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS

The Coronavirus pandemic has turned into a global health and humanitarian crisis. But even when we beat it and go back to work things will not be as they were. There are clear signs of a global economic recession, if not a full depression. There’s much uncertainty, but it’s likely that for a number of years markets will cool down, investments will dry up, customers will clamp down on spendings, and lots of people will be unemployed.

What does it mean to you, your job and your company?

A recession is a time of high volatility, uncertainty and risk. For most companies it’s bad news — the markets dry up, and things that worked before stop working. But not for all. A study conducted by Harvard Business School professors Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria and Franz Wohlgezogen analyzed the performance of 4,700 companies during three recessions. According to the study 17% of the companies sampled didn’t survive the recession, 74% survived, but were slow to recover, and 9% “flourished after a slowdown, doing better on key financial parameters than they had before [the recession] and outperforming rivals in their industry by at least 10% in terms of sales and profits growth.”


Managers and product managers are often frustrated by the apparent lack of care the development team is showing for the needs of the business. The team is forever busy with engineering and design projects (some visible and some well hidden), while business-critical projects are dragging on at a snail’s pace. When a long-awaited product or feature finally launches, it often comes well short of the needs.

It’s tempting to think that the developers — engineers, designers, data engineers, simply don’t care, or lack “right culture”, but that’s actually rarely the case. More often, they’re cut of the planning cycle and are very disconnected from the business. Their goals are always stated in terms of delivering products and features (output), and never in terms of expected business and customer outcomes. Departmental goals and incentives further push developers towards building robust, scalable, elegant software. …


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Here are a few important things to know about product ideas: 1) the vast majority of ideas lead to no measurable improvements in business results or value-to-customer (some actually cause negative results) 2) No one, no matter how senior or experienced, can predict which ideas will work and which won’t — there are just too many unknowns. 3) Most companies use weak heuristics, opinions and archaic decision processes to place bets on a handful of unproven ideas. I’d argue that this is by far the biggest source of waste in the industry.

The alternative is of course evidence-driven product development. It’s a core principle of Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and other modern product development methods, and the default mode of operation for many successful tech companies today. In product management circles the term “Product Discovery” has become most synonymous with evidence-driven product development. Here’s how product management guru Marty Cagan describes product discovery in his book…


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Imagine finding yourself in an elevator with your CEO or top investor. After a brief hello she lands the big question on you: “How is the product doing?” You have 30 seconds to answer. A simple “all good” won’t cut it — you need numbers. Your mind runs through your dashboard. Each metric conveys a part of the picture, but in isolation is not meaningful enough and might confuse the exec. If only there was one easy-to-understand metric that would capture it all…

Guess what — it’s not just CEOs and investors that needs this metric. Your team, manager and stakeholders would benefit it from it too, as would you. Too many products and companies have sailed blissfully into failure, simply because they were unable to track the bigger picture clearly. Today, many believe that capturing the true north of your product and business in one metric helps in setting direction, driving focus, measuring progress, creating alignment, and achieving success. It’s a compelling idea, one that Netflix, Booking.com, …


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Since their invention at Intel in the late 1970s, Objectives and Key Results have amassed a huge following. It certainly helps that Google, Amazon, Dropbox and other tech super-companies attribute so much of their success to them. John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters is further fueling this fire. Many companies are either implementing or have already implemented OKRs. It’s the tool I get asked about the most.

But here’s the thing — OKRs are just containers for goals. They serve bad goals just as well as they do good goals. In fact, of all the management tools, OKRs are the easiest to misuse, overuse and abuse — many companies fall into this trap. …


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In tech we have huge bias for Execution — building things and launching them fast and with the right quality. A million underwhelming launches later, we now know we should focus on something else: Learning — systematically discovering the right product, market and business model. All execution and no learning exposes you to launching a great product no one needs (we’ve all been there). All learning and no execution gets you stuck in the quagmire of analysis paralysis. How to progress on two different fronts at the same time? What’s the right balance?

I’m going to go over three options you know — Waterfall, Alpha/Beta and Lean Startup, and one you may not know, but should — Learning Milestones. …


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Ever since I started writing about the GIST framework (Goals, Ideas, Steps, Tasks) and helping teams implement it, the question the comes up the most is “what tool should we use?” While I don’t think tools are are as important as we tend to think, in this post I’ll give you a few options, including a new tool that I think you should know about — the GIST Board.

But first, what is GIST?

GIST is a framework I created for product planning and execution, based on principles of Lean Startup, Growth Marketing, User-centered design, Behavioral Economics and more. It breaks planning into four parts — Goals, Ideas, Steps and Tasks. Simply put, goals define what we wish to achieve, ideas are hypothetical ways to achieve the goals, steps are mini-projects that implement an idea in parts while validating it, and tasks are the day-to-day activities that implement a step. …


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And how we usually get value wrong

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.

— Albert Einstein

Value for user (as opposed to value of a user) is a critically important product concept. It’s at the bottom of product/market fit, growth, revenue and basically much more. Few things help products more than injecting them with lots and lots of value. The product can be buggy (Early Microsoft Windows), user experience can suck (early Facebook’s mobile app), your marketing budget may be zero (early Google Search) and yet high-value will attract customers your product and make them use it again and again. …


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Moving beyond ToDo lists

Staying productive is as challenging to me as it is for most people. Procrastination, constant feeling of not doing enough, working long hours — I have all the symptoms. However, as I started working with companies and observed their notion of productivity, often keeping everyone busy chasing projects that lead nowhere, I started seeing the flaws in my own perceptions:

  • Like many companies my plans were mostly based on intuition and gut feeling, yet they were not agile enough to cope with uncertainty and not helping me accomplish my goals.
  • Like many teams I measured my productivity by output (number of tasks completed) rather than by outcomes (goals accomplished, impact achieved). …

and other breakthrough products

For most tech companies their first big product success is also their last. Finding a second hit is very hard no matter how much we invest in vision and strategy development. The core business somehow always generates 90%+ of revenue and engagement.

But some companies are different. Consider these magical product sequences:

  • Apple: iPod → iPhone → iPad
  • Amazon: Book store → Everything store → Marketplace
  • Netflix: Mail-order DVDs → Video streaming → Originals
  • Google: Search → AdWords → Gmail → Chrome → Android
  • Tesla: Roadster → Model S → Model X → Model 3

How do they do it?

Here’s is the common-wisdom answer: a visionary leader + flawless strategy + a culture of innovation (etc.). …

About

Itamar Gilad

Product, strategy and growth consultant and speaker, ex-Google product manager (Gmail, Youtube)

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