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I’m getting increasingly nervous about the ongoing emphasis on getting users “hooked”, which is taking the product world by storm. The latest example (of many) I’ve read over the past few months is Sticky From the Start: How to Create a Sticky Product Experience, which includes advice such as “Create habits to keep them hooked”:

But thanks to notifications, emails, and other prompts, SaaS products have the option to nudge new users to engage in the behaviors most likely to deliver initial value. In-app messages can build awareness of features, spark usage, and beckon users back to apps even when…

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Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

I used to believe that the hardest part about being a product manager is effective prioritization. I don’t think that’s true any more. I now believe the hardest part about being a PM is this:

There is no way to shorten the time and dedication it takes to become your product and its industry’s most knowledgeable and empathic expert.

But I kind of skipped over some things there. Let’s step back a bit.

Realization 1: it’s not about prioritization

If you put a bunch of product managers in a room it won’t take long for them to start talking about their favorite prioritization methods. And you’ll…

There are too many unknowns, too many variables, and too many things can change along the way.

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Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

There are some decent day-to-day work tips in Sierra Newell’s 7 Project Management Principles Product Managers Can Learn From. There’s one principle I wanted to expand on, and that’s “Define the scope and stick to it”. First, from the post:

Product managers should set the scope of their products’ development as early in the process as possible. Learning how to say no to product requests is a valuable skill. But it is also a reactive method of keeping your product’s development on track. Instead, be proactive. Define your product’s scope from the beginning, and keep development within that scope.


A follow-up post to share our product spec template and explain our process in more detail.

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Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

My previous article on the dangerous rise of “crazy-busy” product managers generated quite a bit of feedback. One part of the article that was a bit of a throwaway, but became a focus of many of the questions I received, is on the way we have our team leads work on product specs. As a recap, here’s what I said:

The point is to think about areas where you do all the work or where you’re a bottleneck and you don’t need to be. In our case at Postmark, I frequently got overwhelmed with spec writing. So we changed that…

A story about living with tinnitus, and how to cope.

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Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Tinnitus is such a hard thing to explain. Describing what it is is simple enough. Most people have experienced “the sensation of hearing sound when no external sound is present.” But describing what it’s like to live with it 24 hours a day — when the sensation never goes away — that is a different story.

How do you describe what it feels like to have an unquenchable desire for silence, and knowing that you will never ever experience it again?

How do you describe what it’s like to constantly want to reach inside your brain with a spoon and…

It’s time to talk about how “crazy-busy PM” thinking is harmful to individuals and our industry.

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Over the past few months I have become fascinated by what I like to call “crazy-busy PM” thinking in the product management world. I’m sure you’ve seen a few tweets or articles about this yourself, but here’s a small sample, all from fairly big voices/blogs in the industry.

From 15 Things You Should Know About Product Managers:

It is common to go through the whole day as a PM, and get absolutely nothing done. Your calendar is stacked. The meetings are booked. There is a ton of talk, but nothing seems to have actually happened (outside of a bunch of…

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There’s an interesting discussion going on in the Elezea Community about “Product Principles”. What they are for, when you need them, how they can be made more useful, etc. A couple examples given are Intercom’s set of guidelines for making decisions, Dan(iel) Ritz(enthaler)’s interface design values and my own company’s values.

The biggest challenge I see with principles like these is figuring out how to make them specific enough to help us make decisions. The further I get into reading Good Strategy, Bad Strategy the more I realize how much we tend to hide behind nice words, when in most…

I’ve had this vague sense for a while that I need to dig into the product management software space a lot more. So on Friday I just did it — I signed up for a bunch of accounts and started playing around. As I went through each product I realized two things:

  1. I didn’t know what I was looking for.
  2. Most of the products I was looking at didn’t know why they wanted me to use it either. The landing pages are all great, but once I was in the product, it was like a different (and very confusing) world…

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Remote product management is something I’ve written about before, so I read Julie Caprio’s Four Keys to Successful Remote Product Management with interest. In general I agree with the advice she gives in the article, but there is one section that I wanted to respond to briefly:

Product management, on the other hand, was more of a struggle. A PM needs to set strategy and come up with a vision for the product. Without the potential for spontaneous in-person conversation and even inspiration, this part of the job gets a bit harder. …

The one question that can cut through all the complex reasoning and rightfully stop unneeded projects in their tracks.

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I imagine that if you made one of those pull-string dolls of a Product Manager, it would just say “Why?” over and over. We love figuring out the real reason behind an idea or a customer problem — as we should. But I think we often miss an important follow-up question: “Why now?”

We have so many methodologies for prioritizing problems and features, but I’ve found that this one question is able to cut through all the complex reasoning and (rightfully) stop unneeded projects in their tracks. Most things we could work on in a product are important. …

Rian van der Merwe

Product manager & designer • Author • Speaker

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