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Leading Product Edition 3
Bonjour | Survival of the Fit(test) | Systems Thinking | Hiring a PM | Your Product's Supply Chain | Contemplation | See ya = 8ish minutes
Welcome to the third edition of Leading Product and thanks for subscribing. It’s still early days for this ~monthly publication, and the contours are still forming: I want to write about product to spark a conversation, go deep on some topics, balance it out with a few quick hits, and hopefully leave everyone better off in terms of practical product knowledge. Oh, and interview cool people.
Have you ever led a product through a localization effort? I did, and it was eye opening. Positioning in a new cultural and linguistic context reveals a lot about the conceptual and technical design of your product. At the time, I remember learning a lot from Brian McConnell about localisation. I got back in touch with him to conduct an interview about localization that will 🤞🏽 appear next issue.
Product ≠ just software, or even hardware. There’s lots of great literature about Product Development from the Consumer Packaged Goods space, and since it’s Easter I was thinking about how facilities retool for a relatively short holiday season. Today’s Found in Scholarship segment takes a look at supply chains for manufacturing (or anyone, really).
Before that, let’s see what Darwin might say about product development, and then explore team topologies and the importance of context. Also, someone cool is looking for a non-traditional PM to build in public. Woah.
💪 Survival of the Fit(test)
Product is Darwinian.
That is to say, fit is the primary determinant of success. And I mean fit across all dimensions and places: the customer’s wants and desires, market context, the team, the business, and so on. A product can’t force itself to be relevant; relevance finds a product because of the wider context and recognition that it’s addressing previously unaddressed.
You might be thinking, no one wanted the iPhone before 2009, and the iPhone is quite popular. It is, because Apple was able to harness a new form factor that enabled people to do things from a device they would have more difficulty doing any other way. The iPhone fit in people’s pockets, and fit neatly into their lives. And other smartphones, too.
The notion of product-market-fit (PMF) isn’t new, and a16z’s D'Arcy Coolican took it a step further by adding zeitgeist to the mix. As a lens to discover new things and potential unicorns, it’s also a great rubric for teams trying to become just that:
Product-zeitgeist-fit is when a product resonates with the mood of the times. It’s the thing that makes users and employees want you to win. It’s also the thing that helps other stakeholders—media and trend watchers, big companies, other builders—spot the next big thing.
Yes, there are pure market forces that influence a product’s success; product people obsess over product-market-fit, as we should. It’s as important to harness the signals that indicate how the approach to what you’re building is going to match “the mood of the times.” And, as you know, those things aren’t static. By doing so, it means seeing and being seen: interacting with the environment.
Darwin is often misquoted to frame his discovery as “only the strong survive” but that’s not accurate. He rejected “survival of the fittest” as the tagline and antecedent thought for the concept of social Darwinism. The species that make it aren’t necessarily the strongest; they're the most adaptable. They fit continuously. The bird’s beak evolves to access food sources unavailable to other animals, who might perish or move on.
The same goes for products. There are many decades-old companies in decline, while others have thrived. (I won’t mention Blockbuster, but the Netflix documentary is pretty good). Companies often think that building and maintaining moats will ensure their survivability, and ability to dominate a market segment. Maybe for a while, but there’s a cost.
Companies must guard intellectual property. At the same time, those companies that put a primacy on being open and integrated - allowing drawbridges over the moat such that others can leverage proprietary technologies - will thrive. Growing beaks is important, and so is cooperation. Cooperation is fit.
Further listening and reading…
🙋 What would you add to the reading / listening list?
🟣🟠🟢 Team Topologies and Organizing for Systems Thinking
Found online (albeit a few weeks later)
Have a spare hour? Watch Eduardo de Silva’s talk that he delivered at DevOps Lisbon 2021. It’s fascinating for many reasons, and he lays out some pretty heavy concepts in a practical, approachable way.
It resonated with me as I think of how companies innovate. Just build new things, right? Ha, no of course not. Companies must organize to innovate, which is essentially the process of aligning offerings with customers’ problems. No small task. Since technology evolves, and problems change, so too must the teams doing the work.
To remain relevant and maximize value, organizations must recognize the dynamisms inherent in the external and internal landscape by adopting systems thinking.
Only then can the system of work (and the people doing it) have the strongest possible linkage to the system of software and, in turn, the market.
How is this useful? Big or small, it’s important to maintain teams that are in sync with technologies that let them build relevant products. That is to say, as technologies and the notion of relevance change, so too must the team composition and the architectural approaches they take. As Eduardo reminds us, change is continuous, and the system must continuously adapt 🦤.
I think the interest in socio-technical architectures, team topologies, and domain-driven design is going to ⏫⏫. In addition to Eduardo, keep and eye on Ruth Malan and Nick Tune. I’m excited to write more about these topics.
⌚ Hiring a PM
Found online + a job skill / mindset review
I’m a huge fan of John Saddington, who writes about the importance of building communities and indie creators. His daily newsletter, YEN.FM, curates some great quick hits that help builders find tools and opportunities.
John recently posted about his search for a first PM, and his own journey trying to understand what that means.
John is pretty serious about the culture fit and how a prospective PM feels about building in public. The thread is illuminating and really cuts to the value that PMs can bring to the table at a small, growing company: run the product so that others have time to build other aspects of the business. It’s a great thing to reflect on when looking for a product role, “What do I bring to the team, beyond just the product stuff?”
Check out the entire thread, which links to some other useful content. Good luck, John!
⛓️ Designing the Supply Chain
Found in scholarship
Ewout Reitsma, Per Hilletofth and Eva Johansson have come up with a useful framework for product teams to better grip the supply chain underpinning their offerings.
Through a meta-analysis, they delineate the supply chain design (SCD) activities across different levels and link them to the surveyed literature. For example, a planning level SCD activity is “the approach to demand forecasting” which means “The manufacturer can forecast known and future demand so that products can be reliably delivered, and customers are (sufficiently) satisfied.” Not at all trivial!
They identify 14 activities all together, worth reviewing in their entirety for those product leaders in the manufacturing space, though it can be abstracted to software development and beyond.
They don’t stop there, and go on to link the SCD activities to specific product characteristics, a super helpful framework.
So what? Activities reflect strategy. Since supply chains have enormous bearing on the success of products, whether logical or physical, product leaders must account for their fidelity from the inception. This framework is a great way to do so.
When constructing and maintaining a moat, what are you potentially cutting yourself off from? Where will you place the drawbridges?
❤️ See ya
That does it. Send prospective interviewees my way, especially people working outside of product: the end users us product people are building for (we did MDs and EMR tech in Edition 1). Keep up the awesome work and have a great week ahead.
Thanks for reading.