A Practical Approach to Building Great Products & Teams
A set of values I follow to make product decisions and get things done
As a product leader, I find the things I think about most often fall under one of three categories: people, product, or process. I’ve also found that in each of those areas, I’ve developed a set of values which I’m quite passionate about, and govern many of the decisions I make. Interestingly, I’ve found these values sometimes contradict what is common practice in some organizations. Realizing these may not be as obvious to everyone as I think they are, I thought it might be helpful to take some time to spell them out.
Here’s a brief overview of these values. Some of these probably deserve their own deeper dive, so I plan to do just that in future stories.
- Optimize for employee happiness first. Optimize everything (environment, process, tools) around employee happiness over revenue. This is the best way to create a sustainable environment that will in turn result in a great product, enthusiastic customers, and of course, revenue.
- Team motivation is your biggest lever. Motivation is the biggest factor with product quality, and team productivity. Understand people are best motivated by having a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- We don’t need managers. A good team shouldn’t need managers (if they do, they’re not the right team). They need coaches, mentors, and leaders.
- Let the “doers” decide. The people in the trenches have the shortest feedback loop with the customer and are in the best position to make informed decisions quickly. Let them. This is your best shot at being able to innovate at a rate fast enough to be competitive in today’s world.
- Only work with the best. Many of the values here hinge on the idea that you are working with only the best people. If you’re not, the first step is to change that before anything else. Hire A+ players.
- Have a clear vision. While I advocate for small autonomous teams, it takes the clear vision of a strong leader to align all the individual efforts well enough to accomplish something truly amazing.
- Good design is really important. The user experience is how the value of your product is transferred to the customer. When you view your role as driving customer value, this naturally becomes a top priority.
- Use data to make decisions when possible. Leveraging both qualitative and quantitative data to systematically de-risk even your boldest product assumptions is the only way to efficiently deliver products customers love repeatedly. Anything else is just luck.
- Highly collaborative teams foster innovation. Great innovation comes from a deep understanding of your customers and their problems (including the problems they may not yet recognize themselves), combined with the knowledge of what’s just now possible. In many cases you need to bring together multiple disciplines (designers, product managers, engineers, etc.), aligned around a single goal, to see this level of innovation consistently.
- Be simple. I have never seen a situation where “more stuff” delivers greater customer value over a scaled back, laser-like focus on only what matters. Simplifying a product pushes what matters to the forefront, while removing things that would otherwise dilute the overall value of the product.
- Involve customers as early and as often as possible. Your assumptions are what carry risk, and only remain until they come in contact with customer data. Injecting a constant stream of this type of evidence into your process is the best way to protect the business from risk without suffocating innovation.
- Everything is an experiment. Applying a scientific method to building a product protects you from building things people don’t care about. Acknowledge your assumptions, recognize your ideas as merely a hypothesis, and rigorously test your way to the right solution.
- Focus on value delivered. Measure progress in terms of demonstrable value delivered, not “stuff shipped.” I’m not impressed by a team that ships 30 things in a week. I’m impressed by a team that maybe only shipped one thing in a week, but that one thing drove meaningful value to the business and its customers. And they can prove it.
- Plan for failure. Assume you will fail more than half the time. Building on failures is the fastest and most reliable path to success. A team will move too slow if learning from failure is not “business as usual.”
- Process actually matters. The theory behind, and process of making a product has a huge impact on the quality of product you create.
I understand this is not the only way to be successful and build amazing products. There are plenty of examples out there of companies who have been wildly successful following contradictory beliefs. However, this is the particular “flavor” I choose follow. Its how I’ve found I personally perform at my best. For now, at least. I like to look at these as strong opinions, weakly held. What’s important for me is that I’m constantly introducing myself to new challenges, and both learning and improving at each step. Whether you decide a similar approach is right for you or not, my hope is that you’re able to walk away with learnings that can be applied to your own set of values.