Weeknotes 410

This week I did:

Back in the swing of things

Good week, got back in the flow, feeling connected. Amongst other things, I:

  • Joined a product demo for a system replacement project that should really be a user-centred project to help us tackle the real problem.
  • Had a fantastic chat about impact mapping and have some homework to do on the challenges product managers face measuring impact.
  • Chatted to our new tech lead. I’ve got big hopes for what we can do to improve some of the technologies we use, and even bigger hopes for knowledge-sharing and leadership.
  • Had a quick chat about roadmaps, but I think my contribution was mostly unhelpful. I was trying to get us to be clear what problems we’re solving with a roadmap, who the audience is, what they need from roadmaps, and everyone else was talking about the format and look of the roadmap. Misread that and tried to challenge the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  • Went to an interesting session on the ethics of how we’re using ML and AI.
  • We redesigned our prioritisation, shaping and delivery process. As much as I stand by my stance that product management is about looking outwards, sometimes we have to product and delivery working together to figure out things like how work flows and what people do to make that happen, is really great.
  • Started to get a more real sense of the amount of work we have to do to get the product through the introduction stage of the lifecycle and into scaling. We don’t visualise our work (yet) so it’s been a challenge to understand it all in it’s entirety.
  • Was told I’m showing my age by using the word “funky”. It’s all rock n roll to me.

The numbers

  • 45 tasks completed.
  • 18 pages of notes written.
  • 36 people spoken to.
  • 23 hours in meetings.

Team objectives and fast feedback: a better way to improve individual performance

Ranted about why individual performance objectives are awful and how fast feedback within teams is better.

Improvement kata

I’ve been using an improvement kata to keep track of all the different things that I want to change. The basic logic is that for each problem I define the current state, define the perfect end state I want to get to, and then note things we do to try to improve the current state. And each month, I review those things and decide whether they are helping us towards the end state. If they are, we carry on and if not we stop. I really like improvement kata. It’s a pretty agnostic technique for improving anything.

I read:

A computational theory of the subjective experience of flow

I like getting in the flow. This research talks about the idea that flow comes from intrinsic interest, which emerges from mental associations between desired end states and means of attaining them. The more a means and end are associated the more interest the means evokes, and the easier it is to get into the flow. I think there’s something in that for my approach to task tracking which connects means and ends pretty well.

“The Business” is BS

Enough said, really.

And I thought:

The separation of concerns

The separation of concerns is a software idea of creating abstractions to help us understand things. But it doesn’t just apply to software. When we draw diagrams to simplify and explain things, we often separate the concerns (one box for this thing, another box for another thing). I wonder how useful it is for human stuff too. Thinking, talking, doing. Would we talk better if we’d already done the thinking separately, rather than trying to think and talk at the same time. Would our thinking be better if we weren’t trying to do the thing we’re thinking about at the same time. This occurs to me because I’ve been wondering about the percentage of time I spend thinking about things, talking to people, and doing stuff.

Better things to do with our time

I don’t get how Agile vs. Waterfall is still a discussion. Neither is perfect. Nobody has ever implemented either ‘properly’. We should stop wasting time even talking about it and spend our time figuring out the best way for our organisations to deliver value. (Maybe this is Ha rant)

The state of thought leadership

If you look around at all the product thought leadership you’d be forgiven for thinking that the role of the product manager is concerned with org design and internal process. Our one saving grace is Teresa Torres and helping product manager’s do better discovery, but where are the thought leaders on economics and market analysis, or psychology and behavioural science, or sociology, or all the other bodies of knowledge that product managers can use to understand the world outside their organisation? We need thought leaders showing product managers how to understand the world outside their organisation.

The imperfect analogy I’ve been thinking about is training to be a 100m sprinter (this is the product you create), but when you turn up (launch your product) to the race it’s desert ultra-marathon (the market you’re launching into). Product management is about finding where you’re going to be running.


Got done in a couple of hours the things I procrastinated about last week. Amazing what a bit of public admission of failure and accountability to a respected colleague can do.

Read a few things about being busy and doing tasks which made me think about my approach to tasks and that I should try to blog about it.

Ranted about individual performance objectives.

Team objectives and fast feedback: a better way to improve individual performance

I once worked with a team who each had individual performance objectives set with HR, and team objectives set by their manager, but their stakeholders judged them by what they delivered. They reported on long-standing KPI’s for their products but no one could remember who had set them and they weren’t used for decision-making. No one measured any outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t know which measures mattered or how to be successful.

This isn’t an uncommon story. People often have multiple ways of being evaluated at work, and they often lack any kind of connectedness or coherence, and sometimes even conflict with each other. Once a year, managers take a guess at what an individual might be able to achieve over the next twelve months and set objectives accordingly.

There are better ways.

Let’s start by doing away with individual performance objectives.

Let individuals focus their efforts on achieving their team’s objectives. Individuals succeed when the team succeeds. However much an individual contributes to the team’s success, they can’t succeed unless the team does.

And… here’s the magic ingredient that helps the individual improve their performance faster than a manager with annual objectives: the team provides fast feedback that helps the individual course correct to meet the team’s expectations at that time and as they change.

If the individual gets and responds to fast feedback from the team, they have the maximum opportunity to improve. The feedback is humble, because the team understands the circumstances, helpful, because the team wants to the individual to succeed, and immediate, because everyone works together everyday. There is no need for measurement as a separate activity to inform and justify improvement. No need for quarterly or annual performance reviews that are distant from the work.

The role of the manager becomes one of coaching the individual to respond positively to the feedback, to use it to shape their behaviours towards what the team needs from them. Feedback from the team also helps individuals identify skills gaps in a way that individuals can’t for themselves, and which managers can help them to improve on. As they improve, so the team has a better chance of succeeding.

Team needs psychological safety to be able to give each other fast feedback in this way. But team’s need that anyway. And being able to give and receive feedback from each other helps to build psychological safety, so the two grow together.

If the team is the unit of delivery then it’s also the measure of success and the source of improvement.