We have all witnessed this phenomenon – organizations typically choose some of their best individual contributors or domain experts to be in leadership positions (past record is the best indicator of future performance!). Irrespective of whether or not expectations at leadership roles are specified and understood, this transition from being an expert to a manager is often hard and bewildering. This book that I read recently (“Expert to Executive: Mastering the SOPs of Leading” by Tyson, Edward E.) proposes a framework to bridge the chasm between an expert and a leader
One of the assertions the book makes is that leaders aren’t leading because we haven’t clearly defined the term or differentiated their work from their team’s work. The book is written in a conversation style describing struggles of a co-founder Raj, who is one of the best scientific minds in the field his medical research based start-up operates in. Raj along with Franky and Mak started this company seven years ago. After the sudden loss of Mak, Raj had been elevated from Chief Science Officer to CEO. A year into his elevation, Raj has gone back to the shell of conducting experiments while the rest of the org is on the brink of collapse due to chaos and lack of leadership clarity. Franky has hired an executive coach, Lake, to help solve the problem by working with Raj. Rest of the book narrates how Lake and Franky understand the situation and turn-around. It’s an easy read (but hard to reflect!), I will just list out few of my takeaways
As a leader, taking responsibility for your actions is important. Taking all of the responsibility may rob others of theirs!
“The ECT(M) Transformation Model helps leaders guide individual, team and organizational development efforts. The first three phases (Explore, Clarify and Transform) are often repeated multiple times in succession until the process and outcomes meet the established criteria
The big takeaway about emotional intelligence is it can be developed, versus more stable elements of who we are, like personality or raw intelligence
As a leader, your coaching has to match your mentee’s level of understanding. This is the reason why platitudes like “have more frequent interactions with stakeholders” don’t exactly work for someone who is having a hard time working with others. Because often struggling person doesn’t understand how having more meetings will help
One must be aware of own “unconscious competence” to bridge any gap especially when assessing other people
Leadership is a process of social organization meant to yield willing, capable and sustainable communities of effort
Community of effort implies a group of people who are united by their willingness and ability to act interdependently
Leadership is the process we use to cultivate a community of effort. If you could do it alone, you wouldn’t need to lead
The important thing is to build a strong leadership foundation. This means focusing on three key areas: structuring, operating, and perfecting your communities of effort
Leading is the active engagement in the process of cultivating willing, capable, and sustainable communities of effort while leaders are those who accept accountability for this effort
Your primary goal as a leader is assembling a high-performance engine, not winning the race! Winning the race is the team’s primary objective and your secondary objective
Every leader has to create her own Leadership SOP basis what works for her, team and organization and keep it refining (perfecting)
Fig 1: Key Components of LeadershipSOP Framework
It’s a great practicable book, would recommend reading and importantly reflecting on it to create one’s own LeadershipSOP model which is indeed a harder task!
Hello readers, I am resuming writing here after a year! I hope to be more regular going forward. I am also changing the book review format a little this time, in order to make it more legible and understandable for the readers
The book Strong Product People by Petra Wille is a recommended one for a product leader managing other PMs. If you have been a fan of Marty Cagan’s writings, his foreword does give confidence on the content of the book. The book is neatly divided into five segments and my reviews follows the same
defining the product manager role in your environment and what it means to be a good PM
managing your team
finding and recruiting good PMs
developing your existing product team
building a great product culture
Defining the PM Role
The author likens the role of a product leader to that of a building the shipyard i.e. leading the folks who build ships or ship builds (pardon the pun!). Almost all the activities a head of product (HoP) does can be centered around product, people, and process triangle
In the second chapter, focus is on doing an as-is analysis of PM capabilities. Every PM needs to be assessed as Gets it, Wants it, Capacity to do it labels on all competencies defined for a good PM role. This grid should give you an idea about org capability and specific development gaps you need to bridge
Figure 1: The job of a product manager
As Marty Cagan says the only true measure of the product manager is the success of his or her product, I couldn’t agree more!
Managing a PM team
Being highly self-aware is the starting point of any leadership journey. An A-grade leader can be defined as someone who
inspires and motivates others
displays high integrity and honesty
solves problems and analyzes issues
drives for results
and communicates powerfully and prolifically
The very best leaders understand that management is all about people and building strong relationships and trust. A great leader has to understand his people outside work and spot interpersonal tensions and react to them appropriately before they become worse! A leader’s behavior is also very closely watched by his people so leading by example becomes extremely important. As leader you have to also set benchmarks for good performance since everyone’s watching to see what the lowest level of PM performance is that you as HoP are willing to tolerate. You have to also follow through on your commitments!
A PM leadership role is supposed to be that of a coach and the author lists very practical steps; before you as HoP can put on your coach’s hat. First you have to ensure that your PMs are high on competence! Also when you are coaching a PM, you have to tame your advisor’s instinct and let the coachee find the way by asking her the right question at the right time! You have to also keep experimenting with different aspects of your coaching: the setting (for example, less-formal settings vs. more-formal settings), the frequency of your coaching sessions, different questions, approaches to follow-ups, different coaching frameworks, and so on. And then do more of what works in your context!
In terms of managing performance expectations with your team members, the author refers to the Radical Candor approach i.e. care personally and challenge directly. It’s your job to balance both sides! You have to also focus NOT on your fears but what they NEED. When providing negative feedback, it should also be not tied to personal traits but to specific behaviors. It goes without saying that providing negative feedback needs more work on HoP’s part than a positive feedback would
You should absolutely find time for people development discussions and not postpone those in favor of “work” related ones. This can sometime mean you have to tie your people development goals to your bigger work and life goals (e.g. “I want to build the best ecommerce product talent here and this is my opportunity to do so!”)
Finding and recruiting the PM talent
When hiring for product people on your team, you have to assume direct responsibility and work with your talent acquisition team to attract the best talent out there which means being personally visible on channels which matter to the talent pool. When screening candidates especially for leadership roles you have to focus more on how well they understand the problem and whether they have gotten things done with a team. When onboarding a new PM, you have to focus on getting her first educated guess made as soon as possible! You have to be superprecise in terms of setting expectations with your new hire! (side note:you will see so many super- prefixes throughout the book!)
Figure 2: A typical PM’s career progression
On the other hand, while working with senior PMs – HoP should think about mastery, autonomy and sense of purpose as key levers to drive true motivation. You should also plan one big change for your senior PM talent every year!
Developing your existing product team
When you set strategy and vision for your product, you have to focus on one or two critical issues in your situation i.e. the pivot points that can multiply the effectiveness of effort—and then focus and concentrate action and resources on them. In short, you have to ensure your strategy is how to achieve your vision and why for your roadmaps!
Figure 3: A simple framework for creating product vision, strategy, goals and principles
The author gives a practicable tip to get PMs find new ideas and assumptions through a term called desk research which is an umbrella term for finding some statistics, user research etc..essentially the objective should be to build right things than just building any thing
PMs are always starved of time, this problem is compounded by Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available!) and our natural tendency to procrastinate. The author offers a practical advice around timeboxing any activity which should objectively ensure reasonable time given to important activities without above factors affecting the time invested adversely
Similarly when choosing which meeting to attend, every meeting should be slotted into one of the three types: update, brainstorm and decision. The PM should be clear what every meeting’s objectives are and only attend the ones she absolutely should
Figure 4: choosing which work to finish first: rocks (big ones) should go first!
HoPs should also invest enough time especially with their junior PMs to help them hone their story telling skills (don’t leave them alone here!) and also be able to explain why something is not getting prioritized to their peer groups. Just for reference, a good story has 4 components
It paints a picture of a desirable future
It makes it clear why you should become part of this future
It acknowledges the current situation while describing the potential difficulties that may arise and why it’s worth overcoming them
It suggests a common goal with just enough information to make next steps clear for listeners
In order to make a message stick, you should avoid using words more often used in your org context or jargons etc. They make the core message lose some shine!
Building a great culture
As HoP, you have to create space for your product talent to succeed. If your org structure comes in the way of creating strong product culture, you have to additionally balance with detailed role descriptions and a clear definition of responsibilities with partner orgs. And as a guiding principle, you have to take care of the product, people and process; and ensure that each of your PMs has the next bigger challenge lined up for them which ensures they keep learning!
If you are a product leader managing other PMs: 7/10
If you are an individual contributor PM: 4/10
If you are a non-PM leader who frequently works with a PM leader: 6/10
Can this be the first reading as a product leader seeking answers to questions posed here? No, the book assumes familiarity with certain concepts from the readers!
What would have made the book even a greater addition to your reading list?
More emphasis on practical scenarios and how the author has tackled them in her work situation
A coherent sequencing for some chapters, some of which appear disconnected. For example, chapter 24 in Part 4 around managing senior PMs could probably have been better slotted in Part 2 as managing teams
Sometimes content is inserted abruptly e.g. Agile manifesto, many book references, infrequent quotation from the Internet could have been placed better or perhaps omitted altogether
Citations could have been directly linked to specific portions in the text. Though overall references do appear as good recommendations to go through later, they appear disconnected and intimidating to get good grip on the content
Do you know the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis?
An assumption is something that you suppose to be true, such as “Often PMs are engineers.” A hypothesis is also something that you suppose to be true, but it is stated in an unambiguous way so that it can be tested
This is the second edition of the famous book UX Strategy by Jaime Levy. While I wanted to read the first one, that never happened! There are a lot of tactical level details in this book which are omitted, in my view, because of the conciseness of the book, nevertheless it should serve as a good reference point! In short, if you want to give structure to your product development philosophy, you should give this book a try. One important caveat the author makes is that the UX strategy practice she described in the first edition is now synonymous with product strategy. So relax all the product managers out here!
I have tried capturing the essence of the book in the following headers
A. On Business Strategy, UX Strategy and Product Vision
A shared product vision means that your team and stakeholders have the same mental model for your future product
A good business strategy is one centered around the customer. This is why you must validate your presumed customer segment and their unmet needs.
User experience (UX) strategy lies at the intersection of UX design and business strategy
It’s an empirical process!
Experience strategy is the combination of business strategy and UX strategy. The “user experience,” or “UX,” is how a human experiences a digital product while attempting to accomplish a task or goal
A stellar UX strategy is a means to disrupt the marketplace through mental model innovation
As a product matures with a growing user base, it’s crucial to revisit your strategy. Conducting validation experiments to discover new customer segments, marketing channels, and revenue streams is a job that is never done
B. On Components of UX Strategy and Lean Startup
Four tenants of UX strategy are 1. Business strategy 2. Value innovation 3. Validated user research 4. Frictionless UX
The discovery phase is where UX strategy begins. The output of the discovery phase should be based on empirical evidence, such as getting direct input from target users before going straight from an idea to wireframes and development
The business strategy identifies the company’s guiding principles for how it will position itself and still achieve its objectives while beating the competition. For this to happen, the business must continually identify and utilize a competitive advantage
For a more mature company, the strategy is about building on the company’s core value proposition while trying to evolve the company’s infrastructure and internal processes to support that growth, often called digital transformation!
Business Model Canvas—customer segments, channels, value propositions, revenue streams, and customer relationships—are elements that are essential to creating a product’s online and offline experience
Lean startup made conducting validated user research a make-or-break aspect of moving forward on a product’s strategy. Validation is the process of confirming that a specific customer segment finds value in your solution
Lean Startup was proposed by Ash Maurya in 2010. Its components are
Unique value proposition
C. On User Research
Research hypotheses are the answer to the question “What are the most important things I need to learn to determine if my solution is desirable and viable?”
Use your research to validate your decisions and ensure that the product vision is aligned with the end user’s needs
The purpose of conducting user research is to understand the needs and goals of your target customer in order to inform the product’s value proposition
Confronting your target customers is nonnegotiable. We must learn as quickly as possible if the idea we are working on is stupid and worthless
Don’t take what your stakeholders or team says at face value. To learn what potential customers want, hunt them down in person
It’s contested if you should ask a customer what they would pay for a product. Customers may lowball you or have no idea. however, getting a sense of what customers expect to pay may be helpful for informing marketing and pricing strategies
Customer discovery is about listening and not selling. The customer interview is actually made up of three parts: the introduction, the screener, and the interview. When you ask the money-shot question, just capture the essence of the person’s response and, if appropriate, ask any relevant follow-up questions
Qualitative research relies on the observation and collection of nonnumerical insights such as opinions e.g. focus groups, contextual inquiries, and ethnographic studies.
Ethnographic research—the study of people in their natural environment—is all about getting to the deep, dark places, much like the qualitative personas
Do not begin interviews with small talk. Be professional!
D. On Value Proposition
A value proposition takes the form of a concise statement that summarizes the unique benefits customers can expect from your product or service i.e. value proposition is what a company promises to deliver to the customer
But value propositions are not valuable if they do not solve a real problem. The followings are the steps to define a value proposition
Define your primary customer segment
Identify your customer segment’s (biggest) problem
Create provisional personas based on your assumptions
Conduct customer discovery to validate or invalidate your provisional persona and problem statement
Reassess your initial value proposition based on what you have learned!
E. On Customer Segmentation and Value Creation
The customer segment is a group of people with a common need. These segments can be identified by a combination of demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes. For B2B products, you should create two personas: one for the person who will be paying for the product (i.e., the CTO) and one for the person who will be using the product
The problem statement should not presuppose a solution until the problem has actually been validated. By having product teams focus on the problem statement, they are more likely to have an open mind when ideating on solutions
Don’t confuse persona archetypes with stereotypes. Because personas provide a precise design target and also serve as a communication tool to the development team, the designers must choose a particular demographic characteristic with care
Because the provisional persona represents a group of people rather than one person, think of a concise, descriptive name to characterize the segment, such as “Gen X Parents in Los Angeles” or “Jewish Expats in Berlin.” It is useful to articulate common demographic denominators. Location is useful because it forces your team to pinpoint where a market for your product might exist instead of targeting the entire world
Motivation and behavior lie at the heart of value creation. Whatever product you are devising, it is crucial to understand what will motivate people to use it
F. On assessing customers’ needs and goals
What are their product-relevant hopes and dreams? What do they need to solve their primary pain point? What specific needs or goals aren’t being satisfied by available solutions or workarounds? What are the limitations they face? What is the job they are trying to get done?
This section is particularly important to get right because it will inform your product strategy the most. You want actionable statements that address underlying customer concerns
G. On Competition, its definition and analysis
Direct competitors are companies that offer the same or a very similar value proposition to your current or future customers. Indirect competitors offer a different value proposition, but somehow their solution may satisfy the needs of your target customer
Investigate your competition
What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Why should customers come to you?
Conducting research on the competition is a crucial component of business strategy
The most efficient way to do a comprehensive competitive analysis is to collect all of the data in a matrix
Scour YouTube and Vimeo for publicly available demonstrations, tutorials, and product reviews. If you need more information than what you can find online, you may need to bring in an outside agency
For native mobile apps, you can currently get the last month’s downloads without an account using Sensor Tower
One always needs to be on your toes, agile, and ready to scrutinize your competitor’s newest ideas and immediately see how they might affect your product vision
By benchmarking the competition, you’ll find opportunities to create value by either innovating or optimizing the best UX and business model practices of other competing products
If something looks incomplete or missing, did you or whoever did the research overlook an obvious competitor that needs to be considered?
SWOT analysis of a nonexistent product or business moves us into the land of make-believe. This is why it’s more meaningful to use it for evaluating competitors from their perspective
H. On what to build?
Reaching beyond existing demand is a key component of achieving value innovation
To get your idea juices flowing on the key features, ask yourself these questions:
What will make your provisional personas (hypothesized customers) love this product?
What is the aha moment or part of the user’s journey online or offline that makes this product unique?
What is a major pain point that you are trying to solve that is not currently being solved by competitors?
What kind of workarounds are your potential customers currently doing to accomplish their goals?
What is the core benefit for your customers that is derived from the output or manipulation of either your proprietary algorithm and/or data set?
What is the functionality or page/screen layout that needs to be designed from scratch because there is no reference for it in any other digital product?
A product recommendation should answer the following questions
Can a specific feature be majorly improved or new technology integrated to help customers do something that currently is too complicated or time-consuming for the existing alternatives?
How can you make the product experience more personalized or “smart” to increase adoption and engagement?
Is there a new revenue stream or disruptive business model that can be experimented with?
How can you achieve a competitive advantage that your competitors can’t easily replicate?
If your analysis reveals that the initial value proposition is facing certain risks, your recommendations may need to suggest a pivot on the targeted customer segment or the specific problem
Your future customers need to want to choose your solution over any other because
a) it’s significantly more efficient than what’s currently out there,
b) it solves a pain point they didn’t know they had, and/or
c) it creates an undeniable desire where none existed before
I. On Prototyping
As we prepare to prototype, we’re finally juggling all four of the tenets at the same time. Don’t burn your time, money, or efforts on a product that has not been tested and validated with target customers
These are the critical questions that we need our prototype to answer:
Does the solution solve the problem or major pain points that the target customer expressed?
Does the target customer find the key features valuable?
Would the target customer pay for the product or use it in a way that can be monetized?
The answers to questions 1 and 2 help us validate our value proposition. The answer to question 3 will help us validate our business model
To keep the long story long, this line from the book has resonated well with me. Sometimes, people have fixed ideas, and no amount of research will change their minds. <Then ask yourself> Will I help this person make their product regardless of the research, or do I walk away?
Tough words, how many of us have the courage to walk the talk?! If you don’t get this part right – costs will have to be borne by the team, company and often careers of the people involved whether or not they realise it at that point. In short, don’t solve wrong problems for your own good!
PS: Pop Quiz for UX Geeks!
Q. Do you know the difference between concierge, Wizard of Oz and mechanical turk?
A. These are the techniques for conducting value proposition experiments!
Unlike concierge, customers don’t know that a human is in the loop in case of Wizard of Oz
When someone says they are mechanical-turking a product, it typically means they are building a frontend with a human-powered backend to manually simulate a complex digital product. It’s like a crowdsourced version of Wizard of Oz
Finally I got hold of this book “Making of a Manager: What to do when everyone looks to you” by Julie Zhuo, I heard about it from Twitter and got intrigued. I recommend reading this book to all managers, especially the ones newly-minted as well those who want to ensure they are not reinventing learning from wildly successful companies like Facebook where the author has learnt the ropes – rising from an intern to VP of Design. Seeing the recommendations from Silicon Valley stalwarts in the first few pages of this book would probably motivate you to dive into as it did for me!
You would find this book easy to read (can be finished over the weekend), situations relatable and advice quite sensible to put into action immediately. That said, the overall tone of the subject matter is generalist in nature and may not especially cover for the peculiarities that PM managers face. That should however not deter you from imbibing the deep lessons embedded in the short 10 chapters of this book. What follows is my key takeaways in the order in which they appear in the book
A. What is management?
A manager’s job is to
build a team that works well together,
support members in reaching their career goals, and
create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently
Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together and therefore if the team’s outcomes are mediocre, you cannot be termed as a great manager
Being awesome at the job means playing the long game and building a reputation for excellence
Manager’s tasks can be filled into 3 buckets – people, process and purpose (making the team aware of what success looks like and ensure they care about achieving it)
Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Role is to improve and process people or the purpose of the team! However if you are in survival mode, do what it takes!
How to know if you will be a great manager?
Do you find it more motivating to achieve an outcome or play a specific role?
Do you like talking to people?
Can you provide stability for an emotionally charged situation?
While manager is a specific role, leadership is the particular skill of being able to guide and influence other people and therefore in order to be a great manager, one has to be a leader!
If you can pinpoint a problem and motivate others to work with you to solve it, then you’re leading
Also leadership is not something that can be bestowed. It must be earned. People must want to follow you
B. What to do in the first 3 months as a manager?
The playbook varies depending on whether one is a freshly minted manager (apprentice), founding team member grown into a managerial role, new boss leading the team internally or an external hire or a successor replacing someone
To have hard conversations, it is essential to internalise that you own your team’s outcomes
To get honest feedback from your reportees, ask how their dream manager looks like
You need to proactively invest in building relationships. Being vulnerable sometimes helps in generating trust
You will be far more successful aspiring to be the leader you want to be and playing to your strengths than trying to live up to some other ideal
C. How to lead a small team?
No matter what work you do or the size of your team, knowing how to diagnose and solve problems with your reports is critical to your shared success
Trust is the most important ingredient
If the answer to your questions around “How are you” is fine for multiple weeks from a report, take it as a sign to prod further!
If you don’t truly respect or care about your team members, you cannot fake it! Managing is caring!
Supporting and caring for someone doesn’t mean always agreeing with them. What caring does mean is doing your best to help your report be successful and fulfilled in her work
If your report feels that your support and respect are based on her performance, then it will be hard for her to be honest with you when things are not going per expectations
If you can remove a barrier, provide a valuable new perspective, or increase their confidence, then you’re enabling them to be more successful
Your report should have a clear sense at all times of what your expectations are and where he stands
Help people play to their strength. However it does not have to always work since sometimes success is a function of personal and org priorities!
When you decide to let someone go, do it respectfully and directly. Don’t open it up to discussion
Change is hard, but trust your instincts. Would you hire this person again if the role were open? If the answer is no, make the move
The end goal of management is to get better outcomes. When someone isn’t a great fit for his role, there is a cost
The growth mindset has taught us that anyone can get better at anything given the will, hard work, and time. The question is, how long would it take? And how would that affect the team?
Don’t tolerate brilliant assholes on your team, it actually is better off when they leave! In general, you should make people moves quickly!
D. How to be a great manager? Art of giving feedback
For a leader, giving feedback—both when things are going well and when they aren’t—is one of the most fundamental aspects of the job
Four common ways to inspire a change in behavior
Set clear expectations in the beginning
Give task specific feedback as quickly as you can
Share behavioral feedback thoughtfully and regularly
Collect 360 degrees feedback for maximum objectivity
Every major disappointment is failure to set expectations
You feedback only counts if it makes things better
The best way to give critical feedback is to deliver it directly and dispassionately
Own the decision, be firm and don’t open it up for discussion!
E. How to manage yourself better?
Being a great manager is a highly personal journey, and if you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team
No matter how often imposter syndrome rears its ugly head, it doesn’t have to derail you
Be brutally honest with yourself
The first part in understanding how you lead is to know your strengths—the things you’re talented at and love to do. This is crucial because great management typically comes from playing to your strengths rather than from fixing your weaknesses
Develop a growth mindset i.e. be motivated to seek out the truth and ask for feedback because you know it’s the fastest path to get you where you want to go
When a negative story takes hold of you, step back and question
Is your interpretation correct?
Are there alternative views you’re not considering?
What can you do to seek out the truth?
To fight self-doubt, visualise success. It is a powerful tool!
Maximize on the job learning. Treat your manager as the coach and not as a judge!
Take advantage of formal training! Or maybe professional coaching
When you invest in your personal learning and growth, you’re not just investing in your own future but also the future of your team
F. How to organise meetings?
Analyse efficacy of meetings by their purpose. It could be broadly of 5 types 1. Making a decision 2. Information sharing 3. Providing feedback 4. Generating ideas 5. Strengthening relationships
A great decision making meeting has the following components
Gets a decision made
Includes the people most directly affected by the decision as well as a clearly designated decision-maker
Presents all credible options objectively and with relevant background information, and includes the team’s recommendation if there is one
Gives equal airtime to dissenting opinions and makes people feel that they were heard
Invite right people to the meeting
Give people a chance to come prepared. Float a pre-read if possible
Before concluding the meeting, summarise next steps
Make it safe for people to contribute. Sticky notes or having a round-robin around the table are helpful
Some meetings don’t need you and be ruthless in culling ineffective meetings
If you trust that the right outcomes will happen without you, then you don’t need to be there
G. How to hire well?
Hiring doesn’t just matter at scale—even a single great hire can make a big difference in your team’s outcomes.
The most important thing to remember about hiring is this: hiring is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to build the future of your organization
Design your team intentionally. Have a thoughtful one-year hiring plan in the beginning. Tweak as you go along
Hiring is your responsibility. Align with your recruiter in defining the role, sourcing, the onboarding process and onboarding really closely
Describe the role as clearly as possible and deliver an amazing interview experience
Examine a candidate’s past experience. They are probably the closest predictor of performance at the job!
Hiring is a gamble but do make smart bets! And since it’s a gamble, reject weak hires!
If you are going to make a bet, bet on someone who has at least a few passionate advocates in the interviewing panel!
References matter the most, contact your common connections towards the same
Prepare your interview questions in advance. Take a long term view with top talent!
Build a team with diverse perspectives, hire people who are more capable than you!
You can’t create great outcomes without consistently attracting talented people and ensuring that they can also hire well
Make it clear that building the team is not just one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job!
H. How to make things happen?
Start with a concrete vision. An inspiring vision is bold. It doesn’t hedge. You know instantly whether you’ve hit it or not because it’s measurable. And it’s easily repeated, from one person to the next. It doesn’t describe the how, it simply describes what the outcome will be
Create a believable game plan i.e. strategy
Craft a plan based on your team’s strengths
Focus on few things well, prioritise
Define who is responsible for what
Treat big projects like a series of small projects. Keep in mind the planning fallacy: our natural bias to predict that things will take less time and money than they actually do
Choose perfect execution over perfect strategy
Good process is ever evolving. A resilient organization isn’t one that never makes mistakes but rather one whose mistakes make it stronger over time
I. How to lead a growing team?
Differences between big and small teams
People treat you differently. They’re less likely to tell you the ugly truth or challenge you when they think you’re wrong, even if you’d like them to
Context switching, everyday
You pick and choose your battles i.e. what are the most important topics for you to pay attention to, and where are you going to draw the line
At higher levels of management, the job starts to converge regardless of background. Success becomes more and more about mastering a few key skills: hiring exceptional leaders, building self-reliant teams, establishing a clear vision, and communicating well
Delegation is an art. It doesn’t mean you walk away!
The rule of thumb for delegation goes like this: spend your time and energy on the intersection of 1) what’s most important to the organization and 2) what you’re uniquely able to do better than anyone else
Anything your report can do just as well or better than you, you should delegate
People trump projects—a great team is a prerequisite for great work.
Beyond people, you and your report should be aligned on why you’re doing what you’re doing and what success looks like
The act of constantly trying to replace yourself means that you create openings to stretch both your leaders and yourself
J. How to nurture culture?
As you manage more and more people, you’ll play a bigger role in shaping culture. Don’t underestimate the influence that you can have
Pay attention to your own actions—the little things you say and do—as well as what behaviors you are rewarding or discouraging
Make a list of the aspects of culture that you admire about other teams or organizations. Why do you admire them? What downsides does that team tolerate as a result?
Never stop talking about what is important
If you say something is important to you and you’d like the rest of your team to care about it, be the first person to live that value
When a report does something difficult that is in the spirit of your team’s values, recognize them for it
Invent traditions. Rituals are powerful
This is a great book, do read and internalise the lessons. Almost all of those are universally applicable across roles!
PS: Additional recommendations from the author for frequent referencing are the book “Crucial Conversations”, articles like High Output Management and How to Win Friends and Influence People
The book “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel has been a rage last year, that aroused my curiosity to read the book. Although this does not strictly fall into the domain of product management, I would cover it here since quite a few principles the book details out are applicable to many situations a PM faces. And it never hurts to get wiser about money matters, right?!
Image 1: Book Cover of “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel
The rest of the article is key takeaways in a list format. The book is quite an easy read anyway, and one can start reading it from any chapter
The premise of this book is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people. The author calls this soft skill “the psychology of money”
Generations behave differently with respect to their perspectives towards money since their view of money was formed in different worlds. And therefore a view about money that one group of people thinks is outrageous can make perfect sense to another
Another important point that helps explain why money decisions are so difficult, and why there is so much misbehavior, is to recognize how new this topic is, mostly 20-50 year old compared to let’s say a 10,000 year old epoch when one can start discerning some behavior changes in species!
Luck and risk are both the reality that every outcome in life is guided by forces other than individual effort
As much as we recognize the role of luck in success, the role of risk means we should forgive ourselves and leave room for understanding when judging failures. Therefore we should focus less on specific individuals and case studies and more on broad patterns
The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving that is to recognize when one has had enough money
Some invaluable things in life are reputation, freedom and independence, family and friends, being loved by those who you want to love you and happiness. One should protect these things away from harm by knowing when to stop taking risks that could take them away. And knowing when you have enough!
Counterintuitiveness of compounding may be responsible for the majority of disappointing trades, bad strategies, and successful investing attempts. Time is the most important factor here
There’s only one way to stay wealthy: some combination of frugality and paranoia
Applying survival mindset in real life boils down to appreciating three things 1. Be financially unbreakable to stick around long enough so that compounding can work wonders 2. Plan for the plan not going per the script. Having plan B is critical 3. Be optimistic about the future but paranoid about what will prevent you from getting there
Short term paranoia is important for surviving long enough and exploit long term optimism
Tails drive everything. The distribution of success among large public stocks over time is not much different than it is in venture capital
By accepting that tails drive everything in business, investing, and finance one would realize that it’s normal for lots of things to go wrong, break, fail, and fall
If there’s a common denominator in happiness, it’s that people want to control their lives. And therefore controlling one’s time is the highest dividend money pays
Since controlling time is such a key happiness influencer, people don’t feel much happier now since over generations that control have diminished. One should use money to gain control over time
The single most powerful thing to do better as an investor, is to increase the time horizon!
If respect and admiration are the goals, be careful how one seeks them. Humility, kindness, and empathy will bring more respect than any horsepower ever will
Wealth is financial assets that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff one sees
Building wealth has little to do with income or investment returns, and lots to do with savings rate
The value of wealth is relative to what one needs and therefore past a certain level of income, what one needs is just what sits below the ego
Saving is a hedge against life’s inevitable ability to surprise at the worst possible moment. It is like taking a point in the future that would have been owned by someone else and giving it back to yourself
Flexibility is perhaps one of most important competitive advantages, in the world where intelligence is hypercompetitive and technical skills are getting automated
Do not aim to be coldly rational when making financial decisions. Aim to just be pretty reasonable
Reasonable is more realistic and one has a better chance of sticking with it for the long run, which is what matters most when managing money
For example, it may be rational to want a fever if you have an infection. But it’s not reasonable and therefore we want to suppress fever anyhow even when it can be advantageous for us!
The reasonable investors who love their technically imperfect strategies have an edge, because they’re more likely to stick with those strategies
Anything that keeps you in the game has a quantifiable advantage. Become OK with a lot of things going wrong. Be nicer and less flashy!
Acting on investment forecasts is dangerous. However, people try to predict what will happen next year. It’s human nature and is reasonable!
The most important driver of anything tied to money is the stories people tell themselves and the preferences they have for goods and services
Recessions have become more sporadic over time because 1. Maybe Fed is getting better at managing business cycles or extending them 2. Service industries which have dominated last 50 years are less prone to boom-bust cycles that heavy industries
Image 2: Recessions cycles have become more sporadic in the last 50 years. Credit: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
Since economies evolve, recent history is often the best guide to the future, because it’s more likely to include important conditions that are relevant to the future
Unknowns —are an ever-present part of life. The only way to deal with them is by increasing the gap between what you think will happen and what can happen while one manages to survive. The concept of room for error is important. Having a gap between what one can technically endure versus what’s emotionally possible is an overlooked version of room for error
One has to take risks to get ahead, but no risk that can wipe one out is ever worth taking!
The biggest single point of failure with money is a sole reliance on a paycheck to fund short-term spending needs, with no savings to create a gap between current and future expenses
People are poor forecasters of their future selves. Sunk costs—anchoring decisions to past efforts that can’t be refunded—are a harmful in a world where people change over time
Career, relationships and money can take years of planning and decades to grow!
The price of a lot of things is not obvious until you’ve experienced them firsthand, when the bill is overdue
Thinking of market volatility as a fee rather than a fine is an important part of developing the kind of mindset to stick around long enough for investing gains to work wonders
An iron rule of finance is that money chases returns to the greatest extent that it can!
Identify what game you’re playing and what game others are. One should make sure that he actions are not being influenced by people playing a different game
Real optimists don’t believe that everything will be great. That’s complacency. Optimism is a belief that the odds of a good outcome are in one’s favor over time
Money and health are the two topics that will affect everyone’s life whether one is interested in them or not!
In investing one must identify the price of success—volatility and loss amid the long backdrop of growth—and be willing to pay it
The more one wants something to be true, the more likely to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true
The illusion of control is more persuasive than the reality of uncertainty so we stick to stories about outcomes being in our control
Respect the power of luck and risk and one will have a better chance of focusing on things one can actually control
Wealth cannot be built unless one can control having fun with the money right now!
“Does this help me sleep at night?” is the best universal guidepost for all financial decisions
Independence, at any income level, is driven by savings rate. And past a certain level of income your savings rate is driven by your ability to keep your lifestyle expectations from running away!
Good decisions aren’t always rational. At some point one has to choose between being happy or being “right”!
The author in the last chapter diverts towards how Americans behave towards money especially the post-War generations. Sharp inequality became a force over the last 35 years, when the Americans have held onto two ideas 1. That you should live a lifestyle similar to most other Americans and that taking on debt to finance that lifestyle is acceptable
The author also prophecies that the current chaotic era of radial expectations that “this is not working any more” may go longer and can get even worse. Two weeks into 2021, I couldn’t agree more!