Making Better Product Decisions
How can teams make better product decisions?
In this fireside chat, Joe Leech and Janna Bastow will jump into the tricky topic of how teams can make better product decisions. They’ll explore frameworks like Jobs to be Done and how to optimize for speedier decision making, and give you instant insights you can start using in your day-to-day product world.
About Our Guest Speaker
Joe Leech coaches founders and leaders at large organisations and start ups to help them build the right things in the right order for the right reasons.
He is also the author of the book ‘Psychology for Designers’ as well as a keynote speaker at International conferences like Mind the Product and Business of Software. He is also the author of the upcoming book based on the podcast ‘Making Better Decisions’, where he interviews leaders from Instagram, YouTube and others.
He has worked with big organisations like MoMA, Trainline, Disney, eBay and Marriott as well as helping to supercharge high growth businesses and startups.
- Examples of some bad product decisions seen in the wild
- How Jobs to be Done can be used to make better decisions
- How to switch your focus from competitors to what really has impact
- Asking better questions, getting actionable insights and feedback
[00:00:00] Janna Bastow: Hey, everybody.
[00:00:01] Joe Leech: Hello everybody!
[00:00:02] Janna Bastow: Welcome to the ProdPad Product Expert webinar. This is a series of webinars and we have a ton of past talks recorded, so you can always go back and watch the other ones.
We have a mixture of presentations and firesides, and we always invite amazing product experts from around the world to come and join us and talk about the insights that they’ve gathered from their experience. And there’s always this focus on the content and the learning and the sharing and just making sure that you all have great takeaways from the day.
And so it is a chance for us to have a great conversation, as well as you all to jump in on the conversation. So make use of the chats, make use of the Q&A, let us know what you what you think and what kind of questions you have. In the meantime, I am going to introduce you to Joe in a minute, but I am going to talk you through and show you a little bit about ProdPad before we get started. This is a tool that was built by myself and my co-founder we were both product managers ourselves, and we needed tools to do our own jobs.
Essentially, we needed something to help keep track of the experiments we were running to hit our business objectives and to solve customer problems. We were trying to keep tabs on all the ideas and feedback that made up our backlog and building ProdPad gave us control and organization and transparency.
And so it wasn’t long before we started sharing it with other product people around us. And today it’s used by thousands of teams around the world. It’s free to try. We even have a Sandbox mode, which is like a preloaded version of ProdPad that has example product management data, so you can see how things like lean roadmaps and OKRs, experiments and how everything else fits together in a product management space. And we’re going to use it to learn how you might use this to help your own product management processes. And our team is made up of product people. So if you ever have any questions, let us know. And of course, let us know your feedback. Enough about myself and what we’re working on. I really look forward to introducing you to Joe Leech. So Joe is a friend of mine and a great product person in the scene.
I know Joe through the product management circles—he’s been working with the Mind the Product, being doing talks and workshops there for quite some time. And runs an amazing workshop. I think some of that comes from your background as a teacher, right?
[00:02:20] Joe Leech: That’s right. Yeah. I was an elementary primary school teacher for a while. It’s always lovely to go back and wear that teacher’s hat, especially with product people.
[00:02:29] Janna Bastow: Translates really well to guiding a class, guiding a room of people. And we were just talking about the fact that the last time Joe and I, Joe was actually one of the last people I saw in the real world.
We were on the stage together at Mind the Product Engage in Manchester back in February 2020 before everything shut down. And so I’m thinking back to that with big heart and just really loving that experience and really loved Joe’s talk. One of the phrases that really stuck out to me was “The hole is not the goal!” And he’ll probably tell you a little bit more about what that, and get some context to that.
[00:03:10] Joe Leech: That’s a really interesting one. Cause that was me reacting to the everybody knows all that cliche and product management of people don’t want a quarter inch drill.
They want a quarter inch hole. It’s that kind of that quote is actually came from economics. And to me. I don’t want a hole. I want to put a picture up or I want to put some shelves up. The hole is not the goal for me in terms of that things. That’s where the hole is not the goal came from, for me, is that always, when I look at what people’s requirements are for anything it’s never. One level deep, it’s always two or three or four levels deeper. The hole is never the goal for me. Never.
[00:03:43] Janna Bastow: Yep. That the hole is not the goal. It’s not what people actually want to do. And I love how you tied it back to what jobs to be done means to us making a better product decision. And so Joe is also the author of Psychology for Designers and worth pointing out that he’s the author of the upcoming book, Making Better Decisions, which is the topic of the day.
This is what we’re mostly gonna be talking about today. It’d be really great to hear from you, Joe, let’s bring everybody up to speed. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your background?
[00:04:17] Joe Leech: Yeah. Yeah. So my background before I was a teacher, I studied neuroscience.
My background is really in psychology. So big part of my early career was using psychology really because I came from a user experience background. It was applying psychology to product and digital design way back when, and that was early days with people like eBay. I helped support and led the relaunch of Trainline in 2010 in the UK, which is the UK train ticketing system. Marriott was one of the big ones, I worked on the 2014 relaunch for that in 18 languages, 36 countries. So I’ve done some really serious heavy-weight product relaunches in my career for people like Disney, as well as other people like MoneySuperMarket and yeah, most recently, I basically, what I do these days is I supercharge product managers and teams and leaders. So I work with often with CEOs through to CPOs, through to senior product folks, just to supercharge them and their teams to do good things. That’s really where my background. So via user experience to product, to where I am now working with senior leaders in tech.
[00:05:19] Janna Bastow: Excellent. Very good. And so tell me about this new book that you’re writing—this new angle that you’re on around making better decisions.
[00:05:26] Joe Leech: This was interesting. So I, had this thing where I would talk a lot about people about decision-making in organizations and because I’d had that quite a varied level of background.
People always say how, do people make choices and decisions in this world? And actually it started when I, in a period when I was working an agency actually, and I, over the period of a year, we worked with two organizations. We worked with hotels.com and we also worked with another hotels company called LateRooms who were very similar.
And this is about when the UK, when these two folks where we’re competing with each other, for hotel bookings in the UK, I remember going one day into Laterooms, Hotels.com have launched this amazing new feature. We should absolutely copy it and take it and we should do this. And it’s okay, doesn’t seem like a great idea, but let’s do it anyway.
And about six months later, I was in the opposite. I was in hotels.com and they were like, yeah, LateRooms has done this amazing new feature. We should totally copy what they’re doing. And it just opened my eyes to the fact that these organizations were just basically copying each other and it’s like this one-upmanship and nobody’s really coming in and transforming that industry.
And so many years later, I got the opportunity to work with Booking.com, who dominate, really now, in the hotel booking space. And what was interesting about them is they don’t focus on the competition. They’ve got an eye on the competition, but the competition isn’t the primary focus.
And that, for me, was really interesting as it was, I’d always suspected that because everything they did was based around customers and their needs. And so that started me on this journey of understanding how do organizations make decisions and choices. And so I started with Booking.com and I was working with them and I interviewed one of the product directors there—one of the lead product directors for that rental car operation, actually here, in the UK. I interviewed him and we worked it out as a podcast and it’s really fascinating to me and I thought I’m going to do more of this. So I, again, having worked on the internet for so many flippin’ years now, I had a good black book of people I could call up and talk to.
And so since then, I, on the podcast, I’ve spoken to folks from WordPress, from YouTube, from Instagram, from The Knot, which is this huge wedding website, just loads of really interesting smart leaders within tech and product, and I just interviewed them and asked them, how do you make decisions then? Tell me, how is this done?
What is your secret sauce of this? And because I just wanted to know it was just really fascinating for me and everybody else wants to know. So I started with the podcast. The podcast really was a place to start. And so what I’m doing now is taking that podcast and distilling that into a book. And we’ll talk about that today.
Some practical tips, really for you lot, to make better choices in the world that you’re in and how you can support your business, your team, and whoever, and making better decisions in the business.
[00:07:59] Janna Bastow: Excellent. I love that. And I love how the podcast is basically like an MVP of the book, like a way to test the premise.
[00:08:04] Joe Leech: I wish I planned out to do that. Yeah, that was okay. But yeah books, I feel like, honestly, like you’re shipping an enormous product and it’s one big launch. It’s one big waterfall project and it’s it’s scary, really. So I’ve been blogging lots about it in sprints, but yeah, writing a book. Yeah. Anyway, that’s a different thing, but yeah, definitely the podcast has been the MVP of that.
[00:08:26] Janna Bastow: Yeah. And you’re talking about those different hotel travel companies that were copying the competitors. And it’s really interesting that dynamic, where they were saying “they’re doing this, we have to do that.” And you, as the product person on the team, you end up feeling like you just have to do it because somebody on the team comes up with this prerogative to do it. And I remember being in those positions as well, where I just assumed that somebody higher up in the business had some knowledge that this was the right thing to do. And so you go along with it and in hindsight, you look back going, I should have called BS on that. ” Where did that come from?”
[00:09:02] Joe Leech: You assume your competitor’s got an insight that you haven’t got. What was interesting about going to the two of them is neither of them had that insight.
Neither of them had that ability to experiment, to really get to the heart of what the user wanted, like Booking.com do. They didn’t have that. So they were just always one-upping each other. And it was like an arms race between them, which is, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to succeed in certain industries, but it doesn’t allow you to leapfrog and to really push and forge ahead, like Booking.com does.
They totally dominate now because of that absolute focus on user need and experimentation to get them there. It was fascinating being in that world, really.
[00:09:36] Janna Bastow: Here’s a question: Going back, what would you have done different if you were working at, was it LateRooms that you were at? And they were the ones that were copying the competitors?
[00:09:42] Joe Leech: Because LateRooms are gone. They were the big in the UK now, big in Asia as well. And they’ve gone kaput. They were there, their domain was sold for like 40,000 pounds recently. They were multi, hundreds of millions of dollars, hotel booking company across Europe and the UK and Asia as well.
Yeah. What would I have done differently? I mean that, just that obsessive focus on customer needs really is number one, what absolute do our customers need? And that’s not only, because again, they’re a marketplace, it’s not only the customers themselves, but also the hotels at the same time. And back then they had quite an antagonistic, and don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of that, an antagonistic relationship with their hotels. And so if I was going to tackle that problem today, if I was going to compete with Booking.com. I would start to build extremely strong relationships with hotels. If you can build a strong relationship with the hotel and you’ve got supply, the market will follow, okay? Any clue with any marketplace, I would do that, but I would have a rigorous focus on matching both sides of that marketplace, because at the moment it’s balance too differently. So absolutely customers and their needs. It’s classic stuff. And often this point, it feels like a cliche to, just to say that you should do that.
But often what’s interesting about decision-making is why people don’t do things based on user need, why they don’t do that sort of stuff. And that for me is more interesting than why, cause everyone knows you should, but what’s more interesting is why don’t organizations do stuff around users and what they need.
[00:11:03] Janna Bastow: Yeah, that’s exactly it. The thing is we’ve been talking about this concept of doing your customer discovery and asking the right questions for years and years and individuals get it. You talk to any individual and they’re like, yeah, totally. I can do this. But when you look at organizations— that company failed back then, but there’s still companies failing today for the exact same reasons, because you have people in the company who are making bad assumptions, and there are other people in the company who may or may not spot these patterns, but aren’t empowered to call it out. Aren’t able to say, Hey, should we go back and do something about this? And what they actually need are the tactical, practical things that they can do to call it out and do something about it so that they don’t end up with some story like you, 10 years later going, yeah.
Company went kaput and we sold it all for pennies.
[00:11:51] Joe Leech: And I’ve got lots of those stories of bad decisions and failures. I’ve got lots of them and they’re not shared much in our world, but I’ve got a lot of them. And a lot of them share some very similar themes in that they don’t have that.
So I talk about this concept of, I call it the Decision Diamond. And it’s it’s, based around Henry, I can’t even pronounce his surname Henry from, he works at Minecraft now and he was at Spotify for awhile. He had this concept of how decisions are made, he had a triangle.
Henrik Kniberg. Thank you, Janna. That’s exactly who it was going to be. Anyway. There’s, four points to this diamond. One of those is user research and user insight discovery, classic qualitative user research at one point of that. And there are three of the points where the other one is of course data. Data is key. Really. If you understand what’s going on at scale on your product, that’s really important to know that you’ve got two elements of decision, right?
And there were two more. One of them is obviously business drivers is something. If there’s a business need, there’s a business opportunity. If something’s going wrong in a particular business area, you’ve got some focus through a business lens to go. We should be doing more of this, or should we be doing less of this there’s business as well?
And then the fourth one, which is often I think, overused or underused, if anybody can guess what it might be, as you’ve got your business, you have user research, you have data. And the fourth one, which I think is over often over focused on in some organizations, under focused on the other ones, is instinct or gut feel.
And to make a good decision, you need data points from all four of those things. So often what can happen in organizations that make bad choices is they might come in and instinct or gut feel. Boss says we have to do X right now, or competitor wise just launched this. We’ve got to do it. That is just instinct.
That feels like something we should do. What you need to do as a product manager is stop and go. “Okay, great. What other points have you got on the decision diamond to make and support that choice? Have you got any user research data to prove that this is something that people want? Have you got any anecdotal stuff from user discovery or interview, so as to understand that this is something people need. Is there a business case for us doing that?” And you look at that decision diamond and go, “Okay great. We’ve got one point on there. We need two, and if he got two points of the diamond, okay. It’s probably an okay decision. If you’ve got three points on the diamond, like you’ve got data, you’ve got user research and you’ve got business. Great! It probably should mean, you should definitely do. All four are there—gut feel, user data, user research, and business, get on it.” That’s the point to leap onto it. And what this tool is really great for is not only doing that, it’s making it obvious something you should do by pushing you forward because you’ve got four points, but stopping those elements where you’ve just got one point on that decision diamond, just one piece of data.
So I speak, I’ve spoken a lot, worked a lot with Google over the years, Google are heavily data-driven and typically they would just react to data. And that’s great and that can get you a certain way through, but it’s not going to be a completely solid decision if you don’t. In fact, I speak to in the podcast, a very senior user researcher at Google, who’s trying to empower managers and product managers with the right information to make better choices.
But again, often these things can come from just one data point. And if one point on that decision diamond, if they come from one point, probably not a good place to start, you need to go and get more information before you jump into that decision. And that choice.
[00:15:02] Janna Bastow: Yeah, I love that, because that actually echoes some of the things that I’ve thought about in terms of you see companies going out there and say, oh, we’re data driven and you go “Is data driven the thing that you really want to be? You want to be data informed. Are you customer driven? And you don’t want to be customer driven. You don’t want to just build things cause your customer say so, but you do want to be customer informed. And so I like that, cause splits it out into the other things that you’re actually considering the business side, as well as the gut-feel side, because some of our job really is just listening to our gut.
And it does sound a little bit unscientific, but keep in mind that there is something that, when it comes to our gut, it is driven by a multitude of decisions that we are making when we actually get to that point. Uncountable number of things that you can’t just quantify and say “this one times this one equals this decision”.
There’s a reason why product managers are not going to be replaced by AI, anytime soon. It still requires humans to make the final calls and say, this is actually the right decision. I can see this far ahead. And here’s where we need to go.
[00:16:08] Joe Leech: I think it fits back into the kind of management style as well. So one of the podcasts I interviewed Jeff Gothelf, as well, author of Sense & Respond, and Lean UX.
We talk in that podcast a lot about how senior managers struggle with managing the uncertainty of product teams. Then certainty of “Yeah, we’re going to run a few sprints and some stuff’s going to come out at the end of it”, where senior managers have been told, so many years in business programs and throughout the kind of 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s to have the answers, to be able to tell everybody what they should be doing right now.
“I’m not a good boss if I can’t tell my team what they should be working on now.” And that is some behavior that needs to be absolutely unlearn from bosses, as they can’t go around saying I know exactly what we should do. And that’s gut feel often for a lot of them and they don’t have the ability to adequately make good decisions because they don’t have that same access to the data and the user research and discovery that product teams have. So what’s great about the decision diamond is it can work really well. When as you, as a product manager, you sketch it out on that Mural or whiteboard, or whatever it is, to the boss, you give them that tool to help them make better choices. Okay. It’s, not just about you. It’s also about empowering the layers of above you in senior management, to make better, choices and not because somebody has a good idea, like a gut feel, instinct idea from senior management.
You’ve got to support that and work towards that, but you’ve got to give them the tools to understand that they’ve not got the full picture of what’s going on and that can work. If you sketch this tool, you could just use it back with those folks as well, which is great. And you’re successful as a product manager when you see your thinking being taken and used by the CEO, when they’re doing a presentation on something as well, that’s the strength of this, is it can flow through the organization.
[00:17:52] Janna Bastow: I love this. This is actually one of the things I’m really passionate about, is that product management isn’t something just done by the product managers, product managers are the ones who shepherd in a good process for good product management.
They’re not the ones with all the right answers themselves, right? It’s not your job to have the answers. It’s your job to ask the best questions. And the best thing that product managers should do is help people in their team come to the right answers by giving them the tools, giving them the same tools that they would use to come to those decisions so that they’re not sitting there constantly just with this pile of ideas and suggestions on their shoulders and trying to weigh them up themselves.
If, your execs, if your team members can all look at the same framework and say actually this is how Janna would break it down. Therefore, we’re going to put this idea forward and we think this one’s strong, that takes so much weight off you as a product manager and just empowers your team to make better decisions across the board.
[00:18:44] Joe Leech: Yeah. And do you know what the other thing is, I often these days I get called in to help with product vision or product strategy. And often when you come into somebody come asked me to come in to help with that. The number one cause of the product strategy, being, not being in place, not being strong it’s because the business strategy isn’t strong, there isn’t a strong business vision or core provision for what your organization should be doing.
And so it’s very hard to create a product vision. Or strategy because that’s not there above you. And so what I’m finding myself doing a lot more these days, and this is, Hey, career advice for all of you product folks is the skills you’ve got as Janna quite rightly said right now, I’m going to set you up so well for that point, when you’re the CEO and you need to come up with a business strategy or strategy for the company or hold on a minute. I’ve got the skills to be able to do this. This is the same thing, a product strategy. Hey, dirty secret: product strategy is a business strategy. A business strategy is a product strategy. They don’t have to be separate things. The two should flow from each other because, again, the majority of businesses we’re working on these days are heavily tech focused and product focused. The two should be the same. So anything you’re good at as product managers is going to carry you forward into your future career when you’re creating that business strategy. So yeah, every time I get called in for product strategy, the first question I ask is what’s your business strategy?
Oh, we haven’t got one. All right. Okay. That’s the problem. Let’s sort that out. And then probably, meet your boss, let’s go and chat to the CEO and let’s fix this. And then once the business strategy’s done, the product strategy’s straightforward.
[00:20:10] Janna Bastow: Yeah, that’s perfect. And that’s such good advice because that’s the type of thing that can really help lift somebody up in their career.
If they’re able to identify problems that their executive team has and how they can solve that. I always recommend to people when they are joining a company or rethinking their role within a business as a product manager. Your job is often think about what problem your product solves for the customers, but also think about what problem you solve for your business.
When they wrote that job, they were articulating a problem that they had and you have a particular skillset and you can solve unique problems for them. How can you solve those problems? And if you are spotting that they have problems articulating their vision and their, business strategy, you can help them with that because the same things that go into product management are the same things that go into organizational design and business decisions, really. It’s all the same stuff all the way down, to be honest.
[00:21:05] Joe Leech: I’ve got a great story, actually. I’m publishing a video on it next week. I’ve been working recently with a senior Director of Strategy, big multi million dollar global business Director of Strategy. “Joe. We haven’t got a strategy” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting, Director of Strategy, been in your job for a year now, why not?”
“We don’t need a strategy.” I’m like, “You don’t need a strategy?”
“No, We don’t need a strategy. We haven’t got a strategy, cause we don’t need a strategy.”
And I’m like, “Okay. So what’s that?” And I was like, “Why is that?”
“Well the strategy is obvious.” You’re like, okay, this is this warning signs, klaxons go off in my head right here, is that often what you can see in organizations that make bad decisions is they are lacking in senior levels, strategic thinking and it’s really interesting. That seems to be the biggest issue that I’m facing at the moment. It’s a lot of organizations are growing rapidly, especially in this kind of world, post COVID and lockdown where the world is completely different and certainly, a lot of the tech businesses I’m working with, are like absolutely supercharged by the changes— societal changes—that are here and they’re growing out of control and they don’t feel like they need a strategy to cope with that. And it’s like bad decisions are happening everywhere. And the business is growing despite the bad decisions. And what’s interesting about that is that growth is not it’s not matching market growth, they’re growing, but they don’t match the market growth.
And so there’s lots of sets of challenges around ultra fast growth in any organization. And it’s, again, I spent a lot of my time working with companies that are growing about how, why they need a strategy, why their strategies could help them grow responsibly. And in that kind of way, because again, what happens in companies that are growing super fast with such a high velocity is the person that struggles the most is the product manager, because they’ve got so much pressure to build and to create, build things, but there’s no business strategy for them to be able to base their product decisions around other than “we’re going to grow fast”.
“We need to build all of these 200 things. Here’s some great ideas that we brainstormed last week. Just keep building!” and this lack of business strategy in high growth companies, the most dangerous place to be. Yeah. Interesting times.
[00:23:09] Janna Bastow: Yeah, absolutely. You see so many companies who, as you said companies who are succeeding, even though they don’t have a strategy you actually see a lot of companies out there, who hit on something quite luckily, right?
They, just have something that drives them forward and they strike gold. They strike gold for a little while and they don’t actually learn discipline—the processes and every company goes through that, whole thing of growth and maturity and then decline. It’s just a matter of when, and you can chart it out with every company.
And so these companies that are doing this right, sometimes that’s a huge. Thing upwards. And sometimes it’s a tiny one upwards. But I’ve been in companies that have been on this huge ride upwards, and I could see it slowing down and I was like, hold on a second. This company has no discipline. This company, I don’t understand how this company makes money, this is all going to dry up. And it did.
[00:24:03] Joe Leech: And you hear it, you hear about it. People talk about it, “Oh yeah. We’re surfing the wave” and I’m like “No, you’re not. You’re skiing in front of the avalanche, is what you’re doing. Is that thing’s coming for you”, and you’ve got to make a point that that’s there. And when I worked at Trainline in 2010, I can tell the story, cause it’s 11 years ago, Trainline were like that, they had enormous rapid UK growth, right? No strategy, nothing, no real idea other than we’re going to build something that people can buy train tickets from. And they had an enormous growth because the internet was growing. They were on that wave. 2010 here, two competitors got came along and then suddenly they realized, holy moly, this is not going to last.
We need some serious strategic thinking about, not only our business direction, but also our product direction. At the same time in 2010, we had the, iteration then was great because it met customer needs and all of those things, but it was a real watershed for them. And if they’ve not got that right.
They would have been overtaken, the Trainline wouldn’t be in the same way that it is today in the UK. So I’ve absolutely seen it at that sort of scale, both sides of it really.
[00:24:58] Janna Bastow: That’s interesting. This is one of the reasons why I’m always telling companies, no matter how small you are, no matter how successful you are, whatever’s happening.
Always be looking for ways to disrupt yourself because as you grow. Other companies are going to be seeing that tasty market share, that tasty revenue. Every time you get a new customer, a new logo, a new press release, a new company is going to be up and coming and looking at you going, “Oh, we could build that for half the time and build only the good features. Only the parts that we want to, you’ve already validated”, and people are going to be nipping at your heels. And so you might feel like you are absolutely riding that wave, doing great. But in reality, there are going to be other companies doing it for faster and cheaper than you. And anything that was a competitive barrier before is becoming less of a competitive barrier, right?
Product is no longer a competitive differentiation. And so you should always be thinking of ways to disrupt yourself, carve out time for R&D carve, out time to think about, “if we were to be that startup that was disrupting us, what would rebuild?” And build it before the startup does so that you can disrupt yourself and be the one—you’ve got that one swoop that you’re on—be the next swoop so that we can take that next ride.
[00:26:09] Joe Leech: Yeah, because you see the other thing with these high-growth companies as well. The other symptom they face, we talked too much before about organizations are too focused on the competition. Often that growth phase, they are not focused enough on their competition. If they dismiss other people, like dismiss the other startup that’s nipping at their heels.
When I was working at Marriot, again, I’m out of NDA for that one. When I was working at Marriott in the US they dismissed Booking.com all the time. “Oh no, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just small Dutch company. They know nothing about this stuff. We’re Marriott, we know hotels. And I remember being in so many conversations where they just dismissed Booking.com out of hand, and, now a huge volume of their sales comes through Booking.com and they just didn’t see it coming because they just dismissed them out of hand. Nokia famously dismissed, Apple iPhoneout of hand, Blackberry the same, there’s a lot of history of that, Blockbuster/Netflix. There’s lots of these organizations that have done that, where they’ve not—growth has happened, they’re very successful and they’re doing extremely well—but they’re not keeping an enough of an eye on competition. It’s all of these things were a balancing act, really.
[00:27:06] Janna Bastow: Yep, absolutely. Joe we were talking about some bad decisions and things like that, but what are some good inputs for decisions? What should product managers consider before they’re making decisions.
[00:27:19] Joe Leech: Yeah, good point. I mentioned the decisions diamond, and I’m into the things, the inputs, and take into it as well. I think one of the most missing aspects of, and this comes from the development and deployment teams generally, is not enough understanding of how the business measures and defines value. So what does, and how does a business, your business, designed to find value? That’s typically most commercial organizations, that’s money, obviously. And if you’re an organization, there’s always something that your business values and measures its values against, is truly in understanding what those findings are.
Now there’s tools, like OKRs, that can help you to get that. But it’s less about the tool. It’s more about the mindset of getting there. If you, as a product manager should be 100% focused on how your businesses defines and delivers value. And that I think is the missing link in terms of really supercharging your work.
So again, I mention that a lot of what I do is supercharge teams to really deliver results. And that’s around delivering stuff that is not, it’s not rocket science, it’s all about delivering the value to the business that’s there and that’s got to match with what the customers want, but absolutely rigorous focus on delivering business value on everything you do is I think honestly, the missing link, still these days. And I see it much more in organizations like large banks is a good example where they’ll have a development organization that they treat is an internal agency where they will tell the agency what to do. “Hey, dear internal bank tech team, can you build us this app that allows people to apply for mortgages” and the tech team, “Right, okay. We’ll build that for you. Off we go and we will go and throw it into our process,” and something will get shut out of the back of itin 18 months—is those organizations and those tech teams are not being proactive enough to tell the business what they need to be doing next. In terms of here’s tech, here’s what you should be doing next business.
We’re not your internal agency building what you tell us to build. We are here with you to help tell you what we think the business should be building based on this user value. We can make more money, 10 times more money, if we did this thing and having the confidence to go into a meeting. Make 10 times more money, if we do this thing, rather than being a service led operation within an organization, which product teams can become, if they’re not okay.
[00:29:25] Janna Bastow: This is something that jives very much with the conversation we had with Jeff Patton, here on the Product Experts webinar. He was talking about some of the problems that you have within businesses that stemmed from early the Agile Manifesto, where, when we talk about the customer and the Agile Manifesto, what we’re actually talking about is the tech team treating the rest of the business as their customer.
Where that causes a problem is that you’ve got this team whose outcome is to just deliver what it is, whatever it is that they asked for. So if it is build an app that does this thing, all they have to do is build the app that does the thing. They’re not actually tied to the outcome, which is we’re here to make money or to change our world in this particular way.
And so, it’s like you say, about getting the, understanding the value for the business, but making sure that is spread amongst the team, it’s understood across the teams, that everyone has bought into it.
[00:30:20] Joe Leech: You know, anybody at any level in their career, number one way to supercharge your career is by understanding how your business measures value and talking to that all the time.
That is what gets you forward, no matter what. Okay. That is the number one thing. My experience I do, I work with a lot of, I mentioned I supercharged kind of leaders, 50% of what I do is we work on the thing—the product, the process and stuff like that. The other 50% I do I work with product managers, it’s giving them the confidence to stand up in the meeting, and go, “No, we should be doing this because it’s going to generate X amount of value-add to this business”, being very confident in that ability for them to do that. So the tail is not wagging the dog in quite that same way, as you are constantly, as a product manager, standing up in that meeting and being “No, we’re going to build this for this reason, for this money.”
And that is often a lot of product managers getting out of their own way. Let me say this, Agile Manifesto. All of these kinds of agile frameworks, I’ve not even mentioned SAFe, all of these things can get in the way of you being great at your job, which is all about you as a product manager, knowing how your organization measures and delivers value.
And just doing that, talking to that in all aspects of your job, you do that. You’re going to go far.
[00:31:26] Janna Bastow: Absolutely. We’ve got some questions coming in from the audience now I like this one from Andy short and sweet. He said, what’s the biggest thing that you used to think about making good decisions that you no longer think is the case.
[00:31:39] Joe Leech: That’s such a great question. I thought that it was process. I thought organizations had like a decision-making process, like on the executive/chief operating offices, there was the decision making process that they went through, like boxes and arrows. First we do this, then we do this. Then we do this.
Then we do this, but I thought it was a process. And I now know it’s not, it’s a state of mind. And a state of being, and a state of culture is the best way to make decisions. Everybody wants it to be a process. Everybody’s asking me for what the best decision making process is, that’s the problem. And a symptom of that, is people asking me, I need a product prioritization framework, please. Anybody asks you, if you think you need a product prioritization framework, warning! Something is wrong somewhere else in your organization, it means that you need that to make better choices. It’s not about that. So yeah, the biggest thing for me was I thought there would be a secret process in this.
[00:32:36] Janna Bastow: Excellent. I love that. And thank you for saying that, because I’ve heard that before we needed a decision-making process and something in me, just freezes. And I wasn’t able to put my finger on why, but but you’re right. It is more of a mindset. It’s about understanding how and why we’re making these decisions and how it’s framed back to what we’re actually trying to achieve, but not tight process that means that we’re going through this flow diagram before we make any decisions. We don’t want that.
[00:33:07] Joe Leech: One of my most interesting interviews was with Instagram. So one of the leaders of the Reels program. And I asked him about this and Instagram was, this is my favorite podcast.
I’ve just put it in the chat, go and listen to it, after this. Tim is a great, wonderful human being at Instagram. And anyway, they talk—it’s all in the culture there. Then what’s interesting about how he talks about his team making processes: they talk about jobs to be done. They talk about. Rocks and pebbles and sand, if you’ve used that one, they talk about bets. They talk about lots of these frameworks to help you make decisions. But what’s interesting about them is they take the best bits of all of them and they make them their own. And so what’s interesting is again, I saw this, is a big trend, is that they take all these organizations take the best bits, and they create their own way of talking about decision-making—the best bits of thinking in bets, they take the best bits of which is again, similar to some stuff that the Spotify use. It take the rocks, sand pebbles, which is something that PayPal have famously talked about as well. I’ve got links to all of this stuff as well, on my blog, I can share all this with you, Jobs To Be Done, which is obviously something I would talk about as well, but they take all of these processes and just take the best bits and make their own way of doing it. And what’s interesting about Instagram, is the teams are encouraged to make their own ways and processes of working on certain things.
HelloFresh do similar things as well. So there’s lots of organizations who design and create their own approaches to making decisions. Okay. And that’s the best way, is you just take the best bits of all of them and make something that’s your own.
[00:34:31] Janna Bastow: Excellent. So there’s another question in here from Colin.
And this is reflecting back on something we were talking about just a little bit prior and he said funnily enough, we’ve been having this conversation at work. He says a large UK government department, just today about the importance of really having a good high level view of our products and a clear pathway to how this breaks down into low level features.
How do you recommend we put together and document this pathway?
[00:34:59] Joe Leech: I’m going to be truly honest with you, Colin. There’s a lot—if anybody knows this—in the UK, the government, working for the government is—there’s so much government work available at the moment in the UK. US, I think, is the same way. I don’t do government work and I’ve done a lot in the past.
And the thing that I struggle with government organizations is they don’t have a clear—and I talked about this earlier on—how they measure value and success in that government department. And that’s what makes all of this stuff really acute in those areas, is how does your department measure success and deliver value?
And that’s ultimately where you talk about products and clear pathways, is you need to define and understand truly how your department measure success and delivers value. What are those two things? And that will give you that clear pathway. If you don’t have those things or those things aren’t abundantly clear to everybody in the room, especially the senior decision makers, you don’t want to address the fact that, in part, that’s keeping ministers happy, part of that is political, part of that’s based on consumers, whatever those things might be. You need to map that out. And once you have that decisions are easy to make. Okay. That’s the challenge in working in government is that, that stuff’s not always clear people. Don’t like to talk about it. And that’s always been my weakness with working in government is I asked for that.
I pushed for that and that doesn’t always exist. So I’ve been—is sacked the right word? Yeah, I have been by a number of folks. A lot of my friends have been through the Government Digital Service in the UK, and I’ve worked with a few of them, but I’m not the right person for that because I ask those difficult questions and those difficult questions, don’t, aren’t always answerable. I know that’s not your question, Colin, but I would look for you to map success and value and then it will flag.
[00:36:36] Janna Bastow: Excellent. Excellent. This actually reflects back to a conversation I was having with a fellow product friend of mine who works in a UK government area.
We were talking about how they they lacked discipline. And this is in regards to the expense, the expenditure. Government agencies often don’t have the same constraints on spending that public companies do. Having been in startups—what a contractor costs, what a freelancer cost, what an in-house person costs, and how long something is going to take and how much it costs, and oftentimes they don’t see how much money and how much time is going to go into something, and therefore don’t reel it back. And therefore things just run on and on because they don’t have the discipline.
[00:37:22] Joe Leech: That’s why they often, they hire these really expensive management consultancies, or service companies like Capita or Serco or Accenture, or any of those, they bring those goes in because they expect those guys to bring it. But those guys don’t come in. They come in with clever contracts and smart ways of working that means that they don’t have that accountability either. And it’s a real struggle to get that, because again, nobody’s measuring successes or value or setting goals for that stuff. It’s starting to change, don’t get me wrong and it really is starting to change, but it’s a slow process to get there.
And I have my issues with the large management consultancies, especially in the world of product and business strategy and tech strategy, especially cause they don’t really know. And this truly understand what they’re doing for that blanket statement there. So feel free to disagree with me, but yeah, it’s a real challenge of government Collins.
I absolutely feel your pain. If you want to reach out or another therapy session, I’m here to chat to you about it. My friend.
[00:38:15] Janna Bastow: That’s wonderful. Thank you.
[00:38:18] Joe Leech: Anyway, other questions.
[00:38:23] Janna Bastow: Excellent. Colin did actually mention something about documenting stuff.
And that brings a question to my mind, which is how do you think about documenting decisions?
[00:38:34] Joe Leech: Good question. I’ve been writing about this in the book at the moment. The ways I’ve seen this being done is, I really love the way Amazon do it, with they, do things like write the press release for the thing that they’re building and designing and doing it.
And that’s often a great way to do it because that uncovers a lot of what you’re working on. I really liked that way of doing it as well. Other people do things like they’ll do a pre-post mortem, they do a post-mortem so all the things that can go wrong in that decision making there’s lots of ways you can start documenting it by pushing yourself forward and— is it called a pre-mortem? I think it is—a pre-mortem of what what could go wrong and documenting that stuff as well.
But I really liked the way Amazon do it in such a lightweight way of just doing that press release of what it can look like and how it can work. But yeah, again, other things, decision documents, great for that as well, because that gives you accountability again. Oh, we’ve done what you’ve got. All of those four things.
Wonderful. You’re going to work really well. So the decision diamond can help also with writing those documents, but honestly you make them as visual as possible because senior folks don’t read them and make them as pithy and as well-written as you possibly can, like the way that Amazon do it with their press release that they write before they design and create some thing.
[00:39:34] Janna Bastow: Yup. Yup, absolutely. Thanks for that. Amanda asked a question and she said what are some good examples for strategy when the biggest pain point for the company is the cost of running a legacy platform? So all the efforts are for creating a new platform to transition to the existing features.
[00:39:50] Joe Leech: Yeah, I’ve been here with this a couple of times. Actually I worked at a startup—they’ve just gone, retired in their legacy platform for something new. It depends really where, what state you’re in, terms of that stuff. If it’s a brand new platform based on— so again, this is more of a technical issue, I think, than probably a product thing.
I don’t know what your technical strategy is. Replacing that existing product, that legacy platform. If it’s a swapping of one for another, that’s dangerous. So again, having worked on large legacy products that work, the best approach is often, and this is getting technical, is using and developing things called microservices, which are based around individual features.
You build a microservice of one feature that plugs into your existing legacy platform when you do it that way, and you keep plugging in. And cutting it off. So you’re not boiling the ocean. You’re cutting that thing up into smaller pieces, replacing small bits of functionality as you go. Because again, that minimizes risk in terms of dependencies. It’s going to work, so you’re not like on Friday turning one off and Monday turning the new one on—is small microservices to do it. So I’d imagine Amanda, if you’re asking me this, that perhaps your tech strategy is the one that’s weak here, not your product one. I don’t know if that’s true. But it makes it harder for you as a product manager, if you’re waiting for six months for the new one to be released and you can’t build anything on the old one, because the old one’s out of date and you don’t want to put any cost already into the old one, you’re gonna spend all your developer resources for the new one, the symptoms there, you recognize those symptoms that nobody has to do any work on the old one and saving all your good stuff for the new one.
And you’re not going to ship anything for 18 months. Get in touch. We can chat about it Amanda, I think, yeah. That’s probably a tech strategy issue that.
[00:41:24] Janna Bastow: I would echo that, which is this idea around rethinking the refactor.
A lot of people will think when they’ve got a refactor, they’ve just got to take the old product and rebuild all the functionality and relaunch it as it was. But, rethink that what you should be doing is taking imagine that you are a startup coming in and disrupting You the original existing company in that space. Which features would you build first?
Would you build that feature here? Would you build that feature there? Go and build those one pieces. As Joe said like a micro service or whatever it is, a small piece of that, and just prove that you can build a nice new version of it with nice new tech and get a few people moving over to that new beta.
And of course it won’t do everything if they still want to configure stuff and do all their, all the other stuff, they need to go back to the full app. You can reduce the dependency on your one product versus the other one.
And so over time you move people off the one to the other, and eventually you can make your other one deprecated, all while building up your other one and what then happens. You might actually find that you don’t have to rebuild the entire app as it was in the first place. The chances that you rebuild your entire app as it was in the first place, it’s actually really slim.
[00:42:35] Joe Leech: If you’ve got any questions, just get in touch. Any of the things you’ve seen today, you’re like, struggling, I’m here.
[00:42:42] Janna Bastow: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time here today and thank you everybody for your questions.
If you have other questions, feel free to reach out to Joe directly or to us and we’ll absolutely take the time to make sure that those get to Joe and in the meantime, this has been recorded. It’s going to be up on our YouTube channel and will hear from us soon.
[00:43:03] Joe Leech: Wonderful, amazing questions.
[00:43:08] Janna Bastow: All right. Take care, everybody have a good one.
[00:43:10] Joe Leech: Bye.
Watch more of our Product Expert webinars
Tell us where to send your copy of The Outcome!
You’ll join 60,000+ other product people who get our highly curated exclusive tips, tricks and handy resources sent straight to their inbox. Foreword and exclusive product management context written by founder and product expert Janna Bastow.