One Way Cube-Dwellers Crush Remote Employees

I was humbled by the response to 6 Ways Remote Employees Crush Office Cube-Dwellers. Nearly 5,000 of you read the post, and more than 30 people shared their thoughts through comments. It is clear that for some cube-dwellers (and those who work remotely too) I touched a nerve.

One Way Cube-Dwellers Crush Remote Employees

I was humbled by the response to 6 Ways Remote Employees Crush Office Cube-Dwellers. Nearly 5,000 of you read the post, and more than 30 people shared their thoughts through comments. It is clear that for some cube-dwellers (and those who work remotely too) I touched a nerve.

Design Avocados

dedicated to Terri, who told me this story when I was a young whippersnapper In a previous post, I talked about a particularly challenging job assignment I had. In my darkest hour, a seasoned co-worker pulled me aside. She told me a story that left an imprint on me to this day. Now, I don’t…Read more Design Avocados

Missionaries vs. Mercenaries

One of my all-time favorite quotes in our industry comes by way of the legendary VC, John Doerr, where he argues that "we need teams of missionaries, not teams of mercenaries.” This point captures so much, and gets right to the heart of the most important trait of strong leaders, strong organizations, and strong product teams.

This is not hard to spot, either way.  Teams of missionaries are engaged, motivated, have a deep understanding of the business context, and tangible empathy for the customer. Teams of mercenaries feel no real sense of empowerment or accountability, no passion for the problem to be solved, and little real connection with the actual users and customers.

In my experience with product teams, there’s simply no comparison between the morale, speed and most importantly, the results, of a team of missionaries as compared with a team of mercenaries. 

So why don't more companies get this?  There are typically three main reasons I see:

1. Leadership.  So many executives and stakeholders think they know the answers, and they really don’t even want to discuss or debate it.  They just want a team that will follow their directions.  These same leaders usually complain to me that the team moves too slowly, and that unless they spell out every little detail the team gets it wrong, and in any case they rarely blame themselves for the poor results.

2. Staffing.  Some leaders absolutely get the importance of a team of missionaries, but they have inherited an organization that is staffed by people that are resigned to the mercenary model.  A variation of this is when the organization has significant outsourcing of the designers or engineers that are on the teams.  It’s nearly impossible to have a team of missionaries when your engineers work for another company and are under contract to build what you tell them to.  That’s pretty much the definition of a mercenary.  And it leads to epic waste.

3. Process.  Several product development processes out there, especially those that claim to be designed for “the enterprise," are predicated on the mercenary model.  Now none of them would ever describe themselves that way, but that’s very much what I argue is going on.  For example, a few people have asked me about SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework).  I always tell them that what I know of SAFe is all second-hand because I literally don’t know of a single strong product company that uses it.  But from everything I have heard and read about it, I have a hard time imagining a worse model for true, technology-powered product companies that depend on a stream of consistent innovation.  In contrast, the Spotify model of scaling Agile is much more in line with what I advocate, and I would argue theirs is predicated on the missionary model.  More on this topic in upcoming articles.

The three issues above are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, over time one usually leads to the others.  And when the objective is to transform an organization to best practices, these are among the most critical yet toughest parts of that transition.

So how do you change?

It begins with those same three areas:

First, we need to educate the leadership team.  

Second, we need to raise the bar on the staff – starting with product managers but also product designers and at least the senior engineers / tech leads.  If the company isn’t set up this way already, then it’s critical to move aggressively to durable, cross-functional, co-located (whenever possible) product teams (“squads" in Spotify lingo).  

Finally, it’s about adopting the processes and techniques that allow teams to show what they can do.  There’s quite a bit here but it starts with a compelling product vision combined with business outcomes (objectives with measurable key results) for the organization and for each product team.

If your organization is acting a lot more like teams of mercenaries rather than missionaries, then I hope you’ll consider seriously why this might be the case, and whether your organization has the capacity and the will to turn this around.


Kind People Show Their #Hatitude

It all started with an idea to start showing more gratitude and a goofy hat a green-and-white snapback cap that was a family gift collecting dust in my closet. For the story to make sense, you need to know that we get the entire company together twice a year.

Kind People Show Their #Hatitude

It all started with an idea to start showing more gratitude and a goofy hat a green-and-white snapback cap that was a family gift collecting dust in my closet. For the story to make sense, you need to know that we get the entire company together twice a year.

3 Surprising Product Lessons from the CEO of Yahoo

Yahoo_Logo.png

Marissa Mayer is currently the CEO of Yahoo. Prior to Yahoo, she led the development of Google’s most successful products for more than 10 years. These products included Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News and Gmail.

These product lessons are curated from my friend Chris McCann’s interview notes. You can read his full interview notes here.

Lesson 1: Leadership Skills are Just as Important as Technical Knowledge in a Rockstar Product Manager

We looked for people who were technically excellent but more importantly we looked for people who understood how to apply technology — not just people who knew how to code.

We designed questions to test for this such as “what is the coolest thing you have seen in the past 6 months and how will that affect the market”?

The other tough part is, we had to acknowledge that we were hiring someone who was taking on a leadership role who had no previous experience. We needed to find someone who was humble and also a great listener.

The humble piece was important because these Associate Product Manager’s (APM’s) had to win the respect of the engineers on their team. The engineers on the team might be 15+ years the APM’s senior, so you can’t just go in and run the meeting — the right way to win them over is: let me take notes, let me do scheduling for you, let me get the machines you need — by doing all of the hard work and the process work.

Our APM’s had to be willing to roll up their sleeves and work with the process, listening to engineers and willing the team over by helping the team get organized. Another aspect is while making decisions you can’t point to your previous experience because you don’t have it — so you need to be very data driven. The way to win over engineers is to say I read all of the logs and have seen that our users do x and then do y and we need to make this easier.

To read more on what makes a rockstar Product Manager, check out the post here.

Lesson 2: The Ideal Product / Engineering Ratio in a Team is 1 PM / 8 Engineers to 1 PM / 12 Engineers

We worked together to hire more product managers and we had this interesting issue where our PM’s needed to be deeply technical. After 4 months we hired just 2 product managers. At the same time the head of engineering hired 8 engineers a week.

As a company, you want to scale both engineering and product at a certain ratio. We have found that between 8 engineers / 1 product manager to 12 engineers / 1 product managers is a good ratio. We just couldn’t keep pace.

At the same time the two product managers who we did hire went to support Salar and Susan, so I didn’t have a junior PM to work with. Instead of complaining, I made a bet with Jonathan that instead of going through him, I could hire better product managers than he could — and I could do this any way I wanted to.

Lesson 3: Product Conversations Build Communities in a Company

After I said I’m not doing the “dog and pony show” of laying out the vision for Yahoo I had asked — When do I get to talk with all of the employees at Yahoo?

They responded: I would get to talk with all of the employees at the quarterly all hands meeting.

I responded: Yes that’s where we share all of our metrics — but when do I get to talk about product with all of the employees?

They responded: At the quarterly all hands meeting.

I responded: Oh I see. I get it now.

When I was hanging out in the cafeteria many people came up to me and said “I’m surprised you’re here, no one from management ever talks to us.” Before I joined, there were only 4 meetings a year where executives would go out and talk with employees — now we do this on a weekly basis.

We do deep dives on new products and talk about current events which are affecting the company. Overall it’s been a great communication tool, community building exercise, and it has helped us to bring transparency to the company. One of the things that was important to me was to demystify management and the decisions we make. Now when we have a board meeting, we show all of the board slides to the company beforehand. We try to show as much of the decision making process as we can in those meetings.

Let these lessons sink in.

3 Surprising Product Lessons from the CEO of Yahoo

Yahoo_Logo.png

Marissa Mayer is currently the CEO of Yahoo. Prior to Yahoo, she led the development of Google’s most successful products for more than 10 years. These products included Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News and Gmail.

These product lessons are curated from my friend Chris McCann’s interview notes. You can read his full interview notes here.

Lesson 1: Leadership Skills are Just as Important as Technical Knowledge in a Rockstar Product Manager

We looked for people who were technically excellent but more importantly we looked for people who understood how to apply technology — not just people who knew how to code.

We designed questions to test for this such as “what is the coolest thing you have seen in the past 6 months and how will that affect the market”?

The other tough part is, we had to acknowledge that we were hiring someone who was taking on a leadership role who had no previous experience. We needed to find someone who was humble and also a great listener.

The humble piece was important because these Associate Product Manager’s (APM’s) had to win the respect of the engineers on their team. The engineers on the team might be 15+ years the APM’s senior, so you can’t just go in and run the meeting — the right way to win them over is: let me take notes, let me do scheduling for you, let me get the machines you need — by doing all of the hard work and the process work.

Our APM’s had to be willing to roll up their sleeves and work with the process, listening to engineers and willing the team over by helping the team get organized. Another aspect is while making decisions you can’t point to your previous experience because you don’t have it — so you need to be very data driven. The way to win over engineers is to say I read all of the logs and have seen that our users do x and then do y and we need to make this easier.

To read more on what makes a rockstar Product Manager, check out the post here.

Lesson 2: The Ideal Product / Engineering Ratio in a Team is 1 PM / 8 Engineers to 1 PM / 12 Engineers

We worked together to hire more product managers and we had this interesting issue where our PM’s needed to be deeply technical. After 4 months we hired just 2 product managers. At the same time the head of engineering hired 8 engineers a week.

As a company, you want to scale both engineering and product at a certain ratio. We have found that between 8 engineers / 1 product manager to 12 engineers / 1 product managers is a good ratio. We just couldn’t keep pace.

At the same time the two product managers who we did hire went to support Salar and Susan, so I didn’t have a junior PM to work with. Instead of complaining, I made a bet with Jonathan that instead of going through him, I could hire better product managers than he could — and I could do this any way I wanted to.

Lesson 3: Product Conversations Build Communities in a Company

After I said I’m not doing the “dog and pony show” of laying out the vision for Yahoo I had asked — When do I get to talk with all of the employees at Yahoo?

They responded: I would get to talk with all of the employees at the quarterly all hands meeting.

I responded: Yes that’s where we share all of our metrics — but when do I get to talk about product with all of the employees?

They responded: At the quarterly all hands meeting.

I responded: Oh I see. I get it now.

When I was hanging out in the cafeteria many people came up to me and said “I’m surprised you’re here, no one from management ever talks to us.” Before I joined, there were only 4 meetings a year where executives would go out and talk with employees — now we do this on a weekly basis.

We do deep dives on new products and talk about current events which are affecting the company. Overall it’s been a great communication tool, community building exercise, and it has helped us to bring transparency to the company. One of the things that was important to me was to demystify management and the decisions we make. Now when we have a board meeting, we show all of the board slides to the company beforehand. We try to show as much of the decision making process as we can in those meetings.

Let these lessons sink in.