Producthood: What Parenting Has Taught Me About Product
At 2am on a balmy Halloween, while trickers and treaters raged through the night as 2017’s dankest memes, my wife gave birth to our beautiful boy Theo.
The biological and emotional miracle of birth is not lost on me. Witnessing the remarkable feat of growing and shipping a new human is one thing, but appreciating the legendary strength and patience it requires has amplified my respect for all mothers infinitely, forever. My wife is a fucking hero, full stop.
A few weeks into our journey with Theo, who represents both product and customer in this story, I realized that many of our hard-earned learnings apply directly to making digital things. I paired the product learnings with my parenting anecdotes and it felt right; let’s try this out:
Good Business is Built on Strong Relationships
Before making anything together, ever, ensure that your team is as tight as possible. It is only through deep trust and Radical Candor that you’ll be able to check each other when needed, take direct feedback, adjust your approach and move forward. Only look back long enough to learn, and never keep score with your team. A Team Canvas and Working Agreement are great places to start.
Melissa and I quickly got into a necessary rhythm of direct feedback about our parenting habits and support for eachother. It was paramount to challenge each other directly with concise feedback while caring for each other personally in order to create a safe environment for our emotional health. Caring for your partners or collaborators is the hardest and most valuable work. Get that right, and the rest is easy.
Have a Constant Two-Way Conversation With Your Customer
Customers react, grow and adapt in ways you could never imagine. Keeping pace with the unpredictable, but imperative, emotional safety of your customer is very nuanced and unpredictable work. Implement the right tools and processes, make time to truly listen to your customer, reflect on their feedback, and help them solve their problems. Sense and Respond, as Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden put it.
It took us a few weeks to truly tune in to Theo’s needs, but now we watch them like a hawk. At the first yawn, we’re prepping for nap time. As soon as he makes the kissy feeding face, we’re there for him. While he is far from verbalizing his needs, he says so much with his body language and sounds.
Embrace Change, Iterate Constantly
Working confidently within ambiguity and constant states of change is challenging, no matter how much experience you have. I believe in developing passionate convictions that I can commit to long enough to help make decisions, but hold them loosely enough to be changed by reality, data, and new discoveries. Sprint cycles, feature roadmaps, design systems… you’ve got to commit to them to ship something. However, once you’ve shipped you’re on the open seas of change and need to adapt quickly to stay afloat.
We’ve tried many collaborative support schedules during the night. At first, I got up for every feeding and babbled to stay awake or, ironically, read us books about sleep training. After weeks of this, we were both falling apart. Then we tried couch shifts, where I would cover half the night with the bottle – that worked for a bit. Then we tried same bed, switch shifts … every time we tried something new we had a retrospective the next morning, adjusted, and agreed on our approach for the next night. This saved us prolonged grief and brought us closer together.
Only Plan for What You Can See
Long-term goals are important. Build an inspiring vision of where you and your team will be, and what you’ll have accomplished together over the next quarter, year, three years and beyond. However, know that how you get there will change constantly. Set big, measurable milestones instead of articulating year-long tactical plans and task lists. A tight weekly planning session with that next milestone in sight will get you there without boiling the ocean.
We read all of the parenting books. Literally all of them. Eager to set a sleep schedule in order to bring some regularity back into our own schedules, we started mapping out Theo’s sleep schedule to the minute, weeks ahead of being ready to roll it out. He would nap at the same time for two days in a row and we would exclaim ‘This is it! This is the schedule!’ Only to have it flipped on its head within days, or sometimes hours.
Be Patient and Love Yourself
We’re all driving towards some sort of success. Well-defined or not, there is some goal or improvement that we’re chasing, some vision of our future selves that, ambitiously, we are working towards becoming. It will come, and it will be glorious. Take some time to be present with who you are right now in this moment, appreciate what you have, be grateful to yourself, be patient, and be kind to each other.
Actively expressing recognition for eachother went a long way as we navigated these new and unpredictable times. A simple pat on the back, smile, and ‘good job’ lifted our happiness and productivity significantly. Make time for that, and do it with intention.
This one’s for Melissa & Theo, the best team in the world.
TWG is a Software Consultancy that believes that software, in the hands of visionary teams, is the most powerful tool to drive growth and change. We’re always growing our team of designers, user researchers, product managers, engineers, and QA analysts.