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Two signs that hang over my work from home setup. Art by Joan LeMay.

Below is an edited version of a note I sent to one of the product teams that I regularly coach. I hope that some of you find it helpful. ❤️

First and foremost — this is not a normal “work from home” situation. We are in a pandemic and people are sorting out critical questions of childcare, eldercare, adjusting to entirely new routines, fearing for the safety of themselves and their loved ones, etc. What follows is all based on — and shaped by — my own personal experience. …


Revisiting the creative tension that came to define the 2010s

Note: The following is a reprinting of an article I wrote in October of 2010 for the now-defunct MBVMusic site called “Living in the Age of Art vs Content.” As the 2010s draw to a close, it’s interesting to reflect on how the position held by “blogs” has been expanded, consolidated, and transformed by streaming services. What will it mean for music and musicians that, as we stare down the 2020s, curation and distribution are largely controlled by the same entities?

Some of what follows feels badly dated, but the “contentification” of all things still feels like something worth discussing. …


A pledge to reduce busywork, increase collaboration, and drive better outcomes

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Update: You can now sign up for the One Page / One Hour pledge directly at onepageonehour.com!

How much time do we spend presenting decks and deliverables to our colleagues? How often does the feedback we receive about these decks and deliverables concern their format and style, not their content and goals? How many designers who could be creating more valuable experiences for their customers are busy finishing and polishing presentations for their colleagues?

The problem isn’t PowerPoint decks — it’s how we use them.

Whether the deliverable format is a PowerPoint presentation, a Google Slides doc, or a “narrative memo,” the bottom line is that we spend way too much time working alone to make these deliverables “impressive,” and not nearly enough time working together to make them useful.


Even the best customer service can’t fix the damage done by company-centric decision-making.

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Illustration by Joan LeMay.

Last week, I flew on Southwest Airlines for the first time in nearly a decade. Or, at least, I tried to. After numerous delays and hours spent stalled at the gate due to mechanical problems, I walked off my scheduled flight and booked myself a new ticket on a different airline.

For all my frustrations, I could not have had more pleasant interactions with Southwest’s customer-facing employees. They helped me find my wallet when it fell out of my pocket at the gate. They completely understood my decision to leave the plane, and wished me safe and happy travels. They even issued me a full refund — no questions asked. …


Only 4% of Respondents to a Popular Survey Say that Agile Practices are Making Their Organizations More Adaptable. How Can We Implement Agile in a Way that Lives Up to Its Name?

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Illustration by Joan LeMay

A few months ago, I read a glowing case study about an organization that achieved Agile adoption at scale. Using a popular scaled Agile framework, they were able to reorganize their entire product function into small, cross-functional teams led by newly minted product owners. These teams were kept in close alignment through transparent and well-understood company goals. It was a well-told story with a happy ending: a legacy organization fully transitioned to an exciting new way of working.

The funny thing is, I actually did some work with this very organization a couple of years ago. And while their Agile transformation may look like a by-the-book success on paper, it looked very different on the ground. Those newly minted product owners? Many of them were former “business analysts” who had been given a new title with zero information about how their responsibilities had changed. Those transparent and well-understood company goals? They were still secondary to inconsistent short-term mandates coming from management. …


The asynchronous communication tools preferred by most organizations are exacting an enormous and largely unseen toll.

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Does your inbox look like this? Illustration by Joan LeMay

It’s a typical Monday morning at CompanyCo. The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, folks are cordially recapping their weekends, and you’re *finally* digging in to that big presentation you’re supposed to give on Friday. As you scan through the slides you started putting together last week, it occurs to you — you’re presenting to some pretty important people. It probably couldn’t hurt to get some quick feedback from the design team. You look around the office —everybody seems pretty busy. …


The quest for small, fast, and autonomous teams is creating fragmented, confusing, and disjointed experiences.

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Illustration by Joan LeMay

Trouble in Paradise

In my work as a product coach and consultant, the first question I usually get asked is, “How can we be more like [famous tech company X]?” This question has been answered countless times in well-publicized case studies, such as Amazon’s “two-pizza teams,” Spotify’s “squad, tribes, chapters, and guilds” model, and Facebook’s since-retired “move fast and break things” mantra. Taken as a whole, these stories paint a compelling picture of what product development looks like in best-in-class digital companies: small, autonomous teams operating at lightning speed.

The idea of small, autonomous teams — core to many Agile methodologies used by modern technology companies — offers an appealing alternative to the bureaucratic, command-and-control structures that still dominate the corporate world. And yet, this approach also carries a substantial risk: that the products created by small, autonomous teams will feel like a disconnected set of small, autonomous features.


Why most organizational transformation efforts are more or less the same — and why most of them fail.

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The many flavors of organizational transformation. (Illustration by Joan LeMay)

This is a modified transcript of a talk I delivered at O’Reilly Radar 2018. It speaks to many of the concepts I describe at more length in my new book Agile for Everybody, and to the work I do with my partners at Sudden Compass. The general shape of this talk can be summarized as follows:

  • Most organizational transformation paradigms, from “digital transformation” to “Agile transformation” to “Design Thinking transformation,” are mostly the same.
  • These paradigms share three fundamental principles: start with your customers, collaborate across functions and silos, and plan for uncertainty.
  • Organizations fail to put these principles into practice because they approach transformation as something they can buy, not something they must do. Thus, the cycle of failed “transformation” continues, and business as usual goes largely unchanged and unchallenged.


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The online guitar nerd community reacts to Gibson’s bankruptcy

It’s official: after over 116 years in business, Gibson guitars is filing for bankruptcy. Amidst tumultuous leadership and declining sales, the iconic brand responsible for the Les Paul and the SG could no longer afford to pay down its debts.

This news does not come as a great surprise. About a year ago, the Washington Post ran an article about the “slow, secret death of the electric guitar,” painting a bleak picture of “plummeting” sales, shuttering brick-and-mortar shops, and fickle millennials rejecting the “guitar heroes” of their boomer parents. …


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Slack’s “Magic Link,” a rare well-designed password reset experience.

When I started working in consumer tech, I was excited to talk with users about new feature ideas and product enhancements. But many of these conversations wound up boiling down to a much more mundane concern: “I’m having some trouble logging in.”

As a product manager tasked with thinking through a product’s strategic vision, “Can you help me reset my password?” is not the most exciting question you could hope to hear. But it may be a critical signal that your product team has become too far-removed from the day-to-day needs and concerns of its users.

It’s easy to see why password resets might not be top-of-mind for product teams. For starters, password resets are not often associated with the “power users” for whom far too many products are implicitly designed. Beyond that, it is quite unlikely that a member of your product team would wind up having to reset their own password, given that they are (hopefully) pretty familiar with their own login credentials. In other words, password reset problems are unlikely to be encountered within the day-to-day practice of “dogfooding” (using your own product), and are easy enough to blame on user error. …

About

Matt LeMay

Author of Agile for Everybody and Product Management in Practice (O’Reilly). Product coach & consultant. Partner at Sudden Compass. matt@mattlemay.com.

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