Product.House Values, Goals, Soft Skills and Apprenticeships
Something I learned There is something I learned from all my years of work, business development, as a human being continually keeping track of my…
Something I learned There is something I learned from all my years of work, business development, as a human being continually keeping track of my…
I know, too many quotes and often taken out of context do not mean much for an internet surfer who wants to break in or…
I know, too many quotes and often taken out of context do not mean much for an internet surfer who wants to break in or learn more in the product management scene. That's the reason that we'll use them as starting points instead of "rules of law" and we'll elaborate on it.
Allow me to erect some borders to the Quote-as-a-entrepreneur-life-defining type of thinking:
...but as a stimulus to thought and action.
It is nothing more than a picture in words of some insight into life which is valid now and which may be modified or even invalidated by later experience: personal experience, professional experience, group experience, painful or playful ones.
A quote is not meant to be applied to every situation. As the years pass, you will realize that the older you get, the more you start to understand that there is no one way to do anything and that there are multiple ways of doing the same one. You'll understand the notion of context as a truth-killer and your ability to filter information needles (shining pearls) in a haystack will grow exponentially.
We want truth. Most of us will be at some point impressed by the written word from a book we believe in (whatever this book scriptures come from). This long engraved human habit of believing the words is what makes you human, emotional being, and fragile at the same time.
A quote is just a summary or reflection of what the author thinks at that "defining" instant in time, in his life. And it is often very different from what the author might think later on or will experience in numerous other similar context cases.
However, the only way to get anyone to remember something is to make it memorable. Great quotes are memorable. They stand out because of their simplicity, and even more because of their humor, of the emotion it triggers, or its deep darkness.
It’s one way to say something strong in a neat, tidy, succinct way. It can be delivered as a truth, in a pictured, dense, timeless-teaching way.
There’s nothing wrong with living by a quote, especially strong quotes from ancient philosophers, if you intend them to be taken as a way to learn, grow, while reflecting on the impact it can have in your own professional life.
The problem is when people take quotes as fact-checked truth, and then embrace them like they mean a line of truth.
We'll take those quotes as starting points and build on it. Hopefully, it will help us to improve in different aspects of our life.
So let's get inspired, and don't give too much power to these pearls of (practical wisdom from famous entrepreneurs), as (critical) inspiration they generate.
I love quotes — but I chose not to get caught up in a group mentality of beliefs. It’s okay to have our own thoughts and opinions and measure them from time to time to the brightest entrepreneurs minds. It's maybe way more powerful to put them in perspective through the philosophical and psychological lenses.
Maybe I should write a dedicated post on scientific and humanities expert quotes taken from their teachings. In that case I will definitely regard them as deeper, science-based, and enduring. But it's for another post category (soft-skills development).
Ok, I think we get the point here. I'd add this: quotes contain words that are carefully chosen to fit the context and the author's intention. A quote is meant to be an inspiration, a reflection, an idea, a guide and many other things if you insist, but not a rule of law.
Try to apply them in your life and you'll probably get the idea.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, French writer, journalist, historian, intellectual, and literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) made a famous quote: “A great book is a great misfortune for its author.” This quote is credited with inspiring authors and writers to be discouraged from creating great works of literature. Thankfully, this quote does not apply to entrepreneurs and small business owners but some that apply, and taken too seriously (by seriously I mean as a truth that leads to self-depreciation) put in the right context and in the wrong mouth could do harm.
It can be just that: a statement in a specific context, at a given time, in a specific organizational life, a great resource to help you get started when it comes to planning and growing your business, or improve your product or create a new one, build a strong team, and evolve personally..
When used properly, quotes have the power to provide inspiration and motivation, and we'll use them to rebound and share some additional thoughts and comments that hopefully will help you.
Now, enough of my never ending introduction and notes of caution and let's get to it.
According to Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and an early investor in Facebook, if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
It’s exciting to launch a new product or service. It’s easy to be proud of the progress you’ve made on your business idea—that’s one of the reasons you spent so much time developing it. But, don’t fall in love with your idea. Instead, fall in love with making progress. You can always improve on your idea and iterate on it later.
The first version of your product is the most important. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you will launch later and make improvements along the way. The first version of your product is what you need to get right before you launch it to your customers.cal
In the early days of a startup, you have to be prepared for constant pivots. Some will be small, some will be big. Just remember to embrace the embarrassment of an unfinished product or better said of a minimum feature-based product whose goal is to improve from and upon.
One of the most useful lessons we can learn is the importance of a good launch. If we wait until we have every feature in our product perfect, our launch will be delayed — and so will our learning. We'll never get our product right if we wait until it’s perfect.
The best product is the one that gets the most feedback from users, and you can’t get feedback until you launch. Having a great product isn’t about you, it’s about your customers. The earlier you can launch something and start getting customer feedback, the more likely that you will have a successful business or product (depending on your position: co-founder or intrapreneur).
It’s common for startup founders (or product team member) to be embarrassed about the first version of their product. We’ve all been there. When we launch our MVPs (minimum viable product (MVP), that others call too easily a prototype), we want them to be perfect and can’t help but judge them against later iterations of the same product. Without an MVP, how can your startup be validated? How can you know you are on the right track? You can’t. So let's get on with it and face an "embarrassing" launch with courage!
A word of caution however: an MVP is not a prototype, a POC (proof of concept), or anything like that. It’s not even a minimum feature set. An MVP is a product in its truest form: it’s the first version of the product that early adopters will purchase.
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and to provide feedback for future product development. Product development is a balance between adding valuable features and making the product easy to use.
The goal of this MVP is to test the product idea, business model, and demand for the product before building a complete solution. It is a way to test your product or service in the real world with real people, and it can help you make better decisions about its development.
If you can conquer your fear of embarrassment in showing this dreadful very first version and the result of your hard work, you will put yourself on the right track towards success.
Again, the best way to get feedback on your product is to get it into the hands of your potential customers and see what they think.
It’s a painful fact (even more so for entrepreneurs or software developers involved in the product development) that most of us can’t visualize and understand problems until we actually see them while in the hands of our targeted users.
The key is not to worry about how polished your product looks or how many features it has, but simply to release it and gather as much feedback as you can.
Let's cut this Steve Jobs (or maybe Guy Kawasaki) statement in two for a better grasp of what I think is the true meaning behind it.
If you’re product-first, you focus on your product above all. You’re so focused on building a great product, that you don’t think about building a business. You think “if we build a great product, the business will come later,” but the truth is that if you build a great product and then try to build a business around the product, it’s much harder.
It is a mistake many entrepreneurs make: they focus so hard on the bottom line (potential profits) that they disregard the importance of the top line (sales). You can make a lot of mistakes in your business, but if you "economize on the product'', it won’t matter how much you make.
Furthermore, having the foresight to see how a business will be perceived in the future remains essential to its success. This will allow you to achieve the right balance between profit and product. If you’ve got your eye on the profit obsessively, you’re going to skimp on the product, and that’s a strategy that will be reflected in your customers’ perception of the brand.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from life, work, and hardship is that if you want to succeed, you need to focus on making a really great product or experience for your customers to fall in love with. I have met countless entrepreneurs that are way too focused on making money fast. But if you really focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow. At least it's what Steve Jobs would conclude.
I understand this position but in some very specific contexts (like, just to name a few: solo-entrepreneurship, simple SaaS products, or cash hungry projects, especially hardware based endeavours) we could nuance this a little... and there is so much that can happen inside and outside the product environment and the team control and will.
On the surface, this sounds like a great visionary statement that doesn’t require much thought for obvious reasons related to the fame and achievements of its author. Making a great product and focusing on it should be enough, shouldn’t it? But the problem with this mindset is that there’s a lot more to it than just making a really great product.
(attributed to David Pogue claim)
Andrew Chen published a post years ago that criticized what he called the “Law of Shitty Clickthroughs.” He argued that no matter how many free improvements you make to a product, there comes a point where adding more will actually make the product worse for your customers.
Although this article is mainly focused on the perishable online soon enough overused marketing tactics, I will use Andrew's argument and apply it shamelessly to the "just another feature" or "just one more technical improvement please!" kind of mentality that prevents us to get valuable insights or ship early. I have been guilty of this many times.
Of course as an engineer, I understand that there is no room on technology-oriented markets (and products) for team projects to stay neither constantly updated nor upgraded.
Of course, consistent attention and timely improvements are not only expected they are either demanded from the users and required by the fast changing technological ecosystem. And our "new" product is part of this ecosystem, and as such needs to evolve again and again.
I will however, after having seen so much tech failures over the years, make a point in recommending a minimum features mentality for an MVP, the use the poor bootstrapper common sense way of thinking and claim that the product, however humble it may be, will need testing, minor tweaking, and a mountain load of users feedback as early as possible.
In the words of Pete Seeger, any damn fool can make something complex, it takes a genius to make something simple.
(Quote attributed to Rick Tate and popularized by Ken Blanchard)
Feedback is a funny thing. We all want it and we all need it to get better at what we do. Yet, so many of us never take the time to sit down and ask for it. As entrepreneurs or product manager or leader, we often consider our business or product as our baby. We’re so close to it that we can’t see when our baby’s ugly or not working properly.
That’s where the feedback of other people comes in.
This topic is of tremendous importance and can be studied and understood at different levels. I will try to only address three first kind of directional feedback:
(for now, I'll put aside the investors, partners, and stakeholders bilateral feedback game. We'll probably touch these points in another article)
Feedback is one of the most powerful tools for you and your project progress. It is indeed the breakfast of champions. It’s the most effective way to build your brand and grow your business. It helps you understand what you’re doing well, where you are doing it well, and where you can improve or fundamentally change.
Everyone loves praise, but if you’re looking for sustainable success, you need to learn how to handle constructive criticism.
Of all the benefits of giving feedback, helping your team learn how to improve is the most important. As a product manager, "product team leader", or entrepreneur, you can’t do this alone.
A great leader must have a great team, and a great team receives and gives feedback. Fostering a culture where team members feel comfortable asking for, giving, and receiving feedback is one of the best things you can do to help your team grow and improve.
What do champion athletes, successful companies, and strong leaders all have in common? They’re all feedback junkies, they love getting feedback. Feedback has the ability to push us forward and help us grow. If you’re looking for a simple way to improve your business, career, and life, ask for feedback more often.
As you intuitively know, however, anyone can give negative or destructive feedback. Most of the time it comes across as rude. Sometimes it can appear as beneficial if we fail to identify a covert (passive aggressive) way of presenting facts and findings.
Constructive feedback, on the other hand, has a totally different impact. It’s about providing someone with information that they can use to develop themselves further, and it’s a real skill that anyone can learn to better themselves.
Whether you run a business or lead a team, you have to acknowledge that constructive feedback is a necessary and even indispensable part of your personal and professional growth process. You need to learn to listen to it and use whatever really makes sense to improve on what you’re trying to achieve.
So, what is constructive feedback?
To introduce it simply: constructive feedback is a method of giving feedback that focuses on the positives and helps develop a person or organization. It should be based on facts and observations, and can be very helpful to people who want to improve their work or professional relationships.
Constructive feedback is a structured, goal-focused method of providing feedback that helps us get better at the things that matter. It’s a way to give "performance" feedback that helps to develop people and improve, based on their past performance and a plan and-or path for their growth.
Constructive criticism is the process of giving honest, well-meaning, and respectful feedback. It's an essential skill for managers, leaders, teachers, parents, and anyone who wishes to improve their own performance.
Constructive criticism is a valuable tool in education, business, and personal growth. It’s an opportunity to learn from someone else’s insight or expertise. Whether you’re a student of Product.House or a product manager, learning to give — and accept — constructive criticism effectively will help you to be a more effective communicator, leader, and educator. And believe it or not, it could completely change your sentimental and married life. I would love to share some of my stories and discoveries here. It has served me tremendously.
Instead of sharing my stories, that could bore you, I'd suggest some concrete examples of constructive conversations for growth.
Your teammate or one of your product managers (imagining you are acting in a product leader position) misses an important goal. Important enough that it could lead to unexpected results and additional delay. Your product launch could be significantly impacted for the worse.
You wouldn't omit to acknowledge his/her hard work first and then of course clearly hear the disappointment.
Use this as an opportunity to learn from the experience, and not shame them for missing. It could be something like:
"Your team is really great, but I'm worried that you take way too much on yourself. I know it's a big project and we can definitely feel the pressure. But there are only 24 hours in a day. I can hear you think the work you do isn’t as high quality as it should be. How do you feel about that?"
Don't fake it. Use your own words and be as genuine as you can be.
Here is an example of a more directed conversation:
"I’d love to see you more focused. What do you think? You absolutely crushed your work last quarter, with solid, valuable accomplishments.
You’re really good, but what can we do to make your goals more attainable? I know it can be challenging to push yourself to new limits, especially this time. Luckily, this is exactly the type of opportunity that reaps big rewards in the future. Let’s discuss how we can achieve even better results in the future.
"What do you think? Can we work something out together."
A last example with a stronger stance:
"In order to focus your energy and efforts on fewer tasks, I suggest you scale back.
Let's avoid a situation where you’re over-committed and floundering.
Your work on X, Y, and Z was good, really, but it doesn’t sound sustainable.
The great thing about scaling back is that it gives you the bandwidth to focus on one thing at a time, which can give you more of an opportunity to succeed. What's your opinion?"
Let the discussion unfold, then you could conclude:
"Don’t you worry – we still can create ambitious, real-world goals for you that are more spaced out and secure. Let’s meet this afternoon to talk about possible goals."
You can find many different resources on the net on this topic. You can find training seminars, coaches, and facilitators in case you need these professionals. There are all kinds of resources on this particular aspect of the emotional intelligence skills we all need. Let's not overlook this difficult to deal aspect of team and stakeholders relation.
(Attributed to Jeff Bezos)
Here is the quote context: "“We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details…. We don’t give up on things easily. Our third-party seller business is an example of that. It took us three tries to get the third-party seller business to work. We didn’t give up.”
“If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall and you won't see a different solution to a problem you're trying to solve.”
Do you need a vision to create a successful business, or product? Yes, it helps.
So how can we describe what vision really means?
A vision is what you see with the eye of your mind as I often read. It’s a picture of how you want things to be in the future. Your vision will not only serve as a motivator throughout your journey, but it will also help you make better decisions as an entrepreneur (in some ways, although you CAN NOT be considered as the CEO of a Product; as a product manager you still share some "job description" traits with business owners).
Let us pause for a minute here. These are powerful sources of personal development cited here and in some ways I do not agree with the above statement. Let me detail this:
So the eye of the mind entails conscious choice based on motivation. At least, it is the way I see it. Unfortunately, it is very far from being enough.
Here are some of my personal beliefs that served me well even more in turbulent times while building a product or a business:
(I purposefully use "Alignment in" instead of "Alignment with" in these cases. I promise I'll write extensively on these heavy topics since it's key to Product.House education framework).
A vision must be "seen", "felt", and "emotionally charged". I'll go in depth on this topic in another dedicated article, but to TL;DR-it, I'd say: "you aren't really vision-driven if all that you "feel" while reading your "Mission Statement" comes from the rational part of your brain. You "feel" it with your head and not either with your heart, your guts as much as within your brain.
We often try all sorts of "Motivation" seminars, techniques, tips, incentives for teams to get on board, on track, on schedule, with the same level of ingenuity, passion, and dedication, they were expected to show (and hopefully feel) towards the objectives of their job description.
I love motivational speakers. But they serve a momentaneous purpose. Even with whole battle-tested, heavily promoted, and successful training seminars refined by years of improvements, nothing EXtrinsically motivating can last. Simply put, what "must" motivate you means external (extrinsic, exogenous), short-lasting motivation in the not so long run.
So, back to your vision, can you feel it with all your YOU? Or is it something you fake "because we all need to get a job"? Choose your next professional experience wisely.
Anyway, here are the basics that can help you while writing your product team statements (mission and vision) and give you a more concrete perspective on what a vision, a mission are, and how to articulate them.
I understand that it couldn't be limited to these 4 points but it could help.
Now I'd like to add some acrobatical comments that could make you cringe but bear with me: an organization is often considered as a legal entity or "legal person". Let's now consider this special persona as comparable to a flesh and blood person with his/her life challenges, it will add to the "Mission, Vision" picture.
Some definitions that could help in terms of conclusion:
A mission statement is as important to a company as a resume is to an individual. A mission statement defines the company's business, its objectives, its approach to reach those objectives and its overall direction and approach to reach those objectives..
A Mission Statement is a declaration of what a company is about. It’s an expression of the company’s core purpose or raison d’être, and answers the question, “What business are we in?” It describes the company in terms of its purpose, its products and services, why it exists and what it plans to accomplish.
A mission statement is as important to a company as a resume is to an individual.
A vision describes the brightest envisioned future.
As I mentioned above, it is ideally emotionally strong, appealing, and empowering (I understand perfectly that this claim could hurt to read this, especially during challenging times). I did not use the word "motivating" for reasons you indulge me by now I hope.
The vision statement is not meant to customers, or the outside world primarily. It is an inside job, a rallying cry, a mission accomplished declaration.
A mission is accomplished as a vision is fulfilled and objectives are met and goals achieved.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict every detail of your business’ future and there is a 99.99% chance this vision will never be fulfilled. So to avoid cynicism, we need to see this vision of a bodily creature as a sextant.
As cited in Britannica: "Sextant: instrument for determining the angle between the horizon and a celestial body such as the Sun, the Moon, or a star, used in celestial navigation to determine latitude and longitude. The device consists of an arc of a circle, marked off in degrees, and a movable radial arm pivoted at the centre of the circle."
In this way, to attain this "celestial entity" (our fulfilled vision), our (organization or product team) ship will sail in troubled waters, continuously monitoring the crew dedication, and getting all safe to the harbor.
In a long journey, the captain of the ship needs to readjust continuously while keeping the measuring tools intact, the direction under control, and the goals achieved.
I'm sorry, I sometimes forget myself and go adrift.
If you don’t prepare for the future, or don't invest in your own future and don’t strategically plan for this, there's a big chance there won’t be any that awaits you at the harbor.
In this case, any crew, wind, or harbor will lead to the same challenging and gloomy ending.
Hopefully, these comments will help you go the extra mile that few want to go. This represents a great opportunity to be in any PM recruitments short-list. Many business owners take time to hire in strategic positions. By relentlessly improving yourself in all aspects of what makes you a special human entity will undoubtedly bear fruit in the not so long run.