Product #41

Product #41


Escaping the Build Trap · Melissa Perri · 2018

Escaping the Build Trap is a top 10 product book - there aren't many better. It gets to the heart of what's important about product management and how you can practically do it within a company.

The 'Build Trap' is when product teams forget what drives value and they focus on (and celebrate) shipping features instead. They measure success based on outputs, not outcomes.

Project management culture infiltrating into product teams is a common mistake. Productivity metrics become more important than product metrics. Shipping becomes more important than solving problems.

To escape the build trap, you need to understand and apply problem-solving and experimentation techniques throughout your product teams. You need to understand your goal, and everything you do needs to be in service of it. You need to identify metrics that enable you to measure progress - and build a culture centred around learning.

Key Highlights

  • Building things feels productive - but building things that nobody want’s isn’t. Teams should be putting time and energy into researching customer needs, measuring the impact of previous work and creating a coherent strategy for the future. If you’re not doing these things, you might have fallen into the build trap.
  • Being agile isn’t enough to ‘Escape the Build Trap’ - you need to shift the focus from building things to achieving outcomes. Product managers can help you do that - if you’re willing to become product-led.
  • Becoming product-led is hard, you’ll have to rethink incentives, culture, team shape, org structure, product strategy and how you work.
  • Organising around products (not projects) gives you space to do research and measure impact. It frees you from having to ‘know what to build’ in advance - by embracing research and measurement - you can learn faster and de-risk product development.
  • Organise teams around goals (if small) OR value streams (if large) - doing so will encourage the shipping of value. Don’t organise teams around APIs or technologies. Once you’ve established an API, move on as many of that team as possible to tackle bigger priorities.
  • Your strategy should be focused on outcomes not outputs - and your ability to deliver it depends on the gaps between plans, actions and outcomes. The alignment gap, the effects gap and the knowledge gap.
  • To scale an organization, you need to deploy a strategy and give teams autonomy. The 4 levels of strategy:
    • The Vision: In 5 years, what does the business look like? What impact is it having on the world?
    • The Strategic Intent: The challenges that stand in the way of achieving the vision.
    • Product Initiatives: What user problems can be addressed in products to tackle the challenge?
    • Product Options: What are the different ways to address those user problems?
  • Product Kata helps you fall in love with the problem, not the solution. It's a problem-solving framework that encourages you to work on the most important thing (which might be research or experimentation).
    • Step 1: Understand the Direction.
      • Company vision & strategic intent
      • Product Initiative
    • Step 2: Analyze the current state
      • Current state of intents
      • Current state of initiative/product
    • Step 3: Set the next goal
      • Product initiative
      • Option Goal
    • Step 4: Choose Step of Product Process
      • Problem exploration
      • Solution exploration
      • Solution optimization
  • To determine if you're getting closer to achieving your product initiative, you need to break success metrics into something we can measure on a short time scale. Every level of strategy should have a metric. Lower levels of strategy should have tractable metrics that respond quickly to change (leading not lagging). This allows the product team to iterate quickly.
  • You're done only when you've achieved and measured the outcomes you set out to achieve. This is how you build with intent and get out of the build trap.
    • The Vision: In 5 years, what does the business look like? What impact is it having on the world?
    • The Strategic Intent: The challenges that stand in the way of achieving the vision.
    • Product Initiatives: What user problems can be addressed in products to tackle the challenge?
    • Product Options: What are the different ways to address those user problems?

Full Book Summary · Amazon

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In the News

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The best way I can describe how I feel about the Vision Pro is a strange combination of utterly thunderstruck and mildly underwhelmed. The magical interface, the giant screens, the immersive experiences—they’re just unfathomably cool and awe-inspiring. It feels like a sneak peek at the 2030s. But after a couple of days, I found myself thinking, “Is that…it?” Wait But Why · Article

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Google Gemini Advanced (previously Ultra) is now available. I have been using it all weekend and the results have been mixed. In my experience, it outperforms GPT about 50% of the time. However, I have noticed that hallucinations are more pronounced, and I have even encountered a response switching from English to Mandarin halfway through. It feels unsustainable to have 3 LLM subscriptions, so it’s going to have to provide some value beyond ChatGPT 4. Frustraiting that the App isn’t available yet · Article

· · · Some commentators are speculating that models trained on the "open internet" will converge in performance, as the data is the limiting factor, and that they’ll be viable open source free to use alternatives. Bear that in mind when you read this article on the cost of training the top performing foundational models · Article


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This is rumoured to be the entire ChatGPT system prompt · Tweet


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Quick Links

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What's your organisation's clock speed? · Article

An astonishing regularity in student learning rate · Paper

Bizarre News

Peter Thiel backed Olympics but with performance enhancing drugs · Website

GOODY-2, an LLM so good it won’t answer anything controversial, or anything at all · Website


Speed Matters · Jake Brutlang · 2009

Experiments demonstrate that increasing web search latency 100 to 400 ms reduces the daily number of searches per user by 0.2% to 0.6%. Furthermore, users do fewer searches the longer they are exposed. For longer delays, the loss of searches persists for a time even after latency returns to previous levels.

This is the paper that proved the importance of speed on the web. I still see people reference this paper today. Every time you perform a search on Google, it proudly displays the number of results and the response time (0.45 seconds for my last query).

View the Paper


Book Highlights

To meet a challenge, you should first work to comprehend its nature Richard Rumelt · The Crux
My best work happened when I had a big challenge and not quite enough time. Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz · Sprint
If you’re not getting together to have rich discussions about your stories, then you’re not really using stories. Jeff Patton and Peter Economy · User Story Mapping
There are moments where you simply cannot function as a human, never mind a leader, and you need to recognise them and walk out the door. Don’t make a bad decision because you’re frustrated and overworked—get your head on straight and come in fresh the next day. Tony Fadell · Build

Best of X

All self-help boils down to "choose long-term over short-term.” Naval
For most of my adult life I always thought my goal was to have a chill life, but the truth was that I just wanted a chill nervous system. It took a long time to understand the difference. Marie Poulin

What I’m Listening to.

Left: Sirens of the Subnet

Right: Every Lil’

There's a guy in my head, and all he wants to do is lay in bed all day long, smoke pot, and watch old movies and cartoons. My life is a series of stratagems, to avoid, and outwit that guy. Anthony Bourdain