Context, Constraints and Conviction — The Three Cons For Shaping Product

Ben Erez
2 min readFeb 14, 2017

The recent Snapchat IPO filing has brought a lot of attention to a particular side of startups: the product roadmap.

Note: Sam Gerstenzang wrote a great piece about product lessons here

Sam included this astonishing chart from the S-1, which immediately makes this filing one of the most interesting regulatory filings on record.

Snap’s product innovation timeline to accumulate 150MM DAU

It’s a staggering accomplishment to add (and when needed, kill) so many new features. As a product manager, I’m in a unique position to appreciate the sheer work that goes into executing something like this. It’s impressive by any standard.

After a few minutes of awe, my thoughts immediately went to the inevitable “how the F did they do that?”.

I also happened to have already been working on a little sketch for my theory of how product gets shaped:

I believe there are three major buckets of product influences: context, constraints and conviction

In my experience, Snap’s product innovation curve is primarily due to it’s conviction with a little credit to constraints and context.

I’ll explain.

Snap’s co-founder & CEO Evan Spiegel is known for being secretive, controlling and is openly running the show. He exercises conviction about what Snap needs to build on a daily basis and consistently communicates the context to his team: (I imagine it’s something like) “we’re a camera company. Cameras are mobile. We should only build features that further establish us as the market leader in camera stuff.”

The constraint is to only focus on mobile and on people taking pictures and videos. Whatever gets more of that going is a potential feature/product we’ll launch.

In other words, you can tie every single feature on the curve to either context, constraints, or conviction.

I have yet to see a product roadmap get shaped by anything other than context, constraints and conviction. So next time you’re struggling to understand why a product isn’t moving along — my guess is that you have a deficiency in one of the Three Cons For Shaping Product.

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Ben Erez

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