My 2017 year in books

Just as I believe that travel is critical to being an empathetic, intelligent, and thoughtful person, reading is a big piece of my effort to be a better human. To that end, I mostly read non-fiction but occasionally mix in a good novel.

My level of reading in 2017, like most years, was less than I aspire to. Nonetheless, I read some great books! This year, it appears that every book was in Kindle format, no physical books. Despite being a Kindle enthusiast since the early days of e-reading, 2017 was probably the first year that I didn't read a single book in print format. According to Amazon, I read a measly 9 books. That's one book ever 5 weeks and 4 days...pretty pathetic. Although, looking back at my 2016 in books blog post, I increased my reading by 80% over the past year, so I'm proud of that. Like last year, only one of the books I read was fiction.

In no particular order, here are the books I read in 2017 (titles link to Amazon.com):

Cracking the PM Interview

In 2017, I changed jobs....twice! I only planned on doing it once, but life brings unexpected opportunities your way! Anyway, I hadn't interviewed in a while and wanted to brush up on my skills. Additionally, I was interviewing with Google in January and this book came highly recommended by both Google recruiters and other people that had interviewed there. Like many publications on career advice, this book was filled with good stuff that is mostly common sense. A nice reminder of what to do, but nothing earth shattering.

Mindfulness

My job change, move out of Oregon, and moving in with my girlfriend brought a lot of stress to me all at once. To help deal, I read Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. The book offers tactics for grounding yourself by clearing the mind and going into a state of connection between body and soul. It includes links to digital audio files that walk you through guided meditation, which was probably my favorite part of the experience. The author of this book literally 'wrote the book on' Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which is now a well accepted treatment for phobias and anxiety.

The First 90 Days

This is a book for managers and leaders that want to get off on the right foot at a new job. It offers strategies for evaluating the work situation you are entering, planning for success, winning buy-in from your manager, and executing on the plan. It has a lot of great insight for anyone that isn't a manager, but is or wants to be a leader, as well as specific advice for managers of people. The book even covers situations like inter-company transfers, being promoted above your peers, and other situations that could lead to failure if not planned for. Great stuff, but again, mostly common sense and a good reminder.

Everybody Lies

I heard about this book while listening to a podcast and I bought it immediately. The author is a former academic turned Google data scientists turned independent author/researcher. The book is anchored on his work using Google search data to uncover the hidden (and not so hidden) racism surrounding Barack Obama's 2008 (and then 2012) election as President. From there, it uses search history to unlock a variety of topics, even using pornography web site searches to make that case that there are way more gay men in the US than are out of the closet. If I had to pick a favorite book of the year, this would be a strong contender. I learned so much about human psyche and basically don't trust people as much now (only partially kidding). I also learned a lot of tips and tricks for data analysis. This book was an enjoyable, easy read that taught me a lot.

Never Split the Difference

My brother-in-law, who shares a passion for lifelong learning, recommended this book to me. Its a book about negotiation, written by a former FBI negotiator. I picked it up because I wanted to be more successful in my daily negotiations, recognizing that every single day in my personal and professional life, I am dealing with some form of negotiation. Not every negotiation is life or death, like what the author faced as a FBI hostage negotiator, but the tactics he used can be used in daily life. Its not just about winning, either. This book helps you what you need, which is sometimes simply clarity or agreement.

What happened

This book by Hillary Clinton was a tough choice for me. On one hand, the election was over and my candidate lost...why rehash old things? On the other hand, this election may prove to be the most important, critical, and unusual election of my lifetime, shouldn't I learn more? I picked it up, am glad I did, but would struggle to recommend it as a read for others. In this book, Clinton describes just what the title says, what happened, from her point of view. I learned a lot of things about her as a person, which I enjoyed, but also read through a bunch of "but Bernie!" and "but Trump!" commentary over, and over, and over again. What I did walk away with was an evidence based belief that Hillary was undoubtably treated differently by the press and other candidates because she is a woman. I now blame the press more than I blame her, Trump, or Trump supporters. She was treated differently, and it is despicable. Glad I read this book, but not eager to read another like it for a long time.

Zone to Win

This is a business book that is the 4th in a 4 part series that includes Crossing the Chasm and Escape Velocity. Oddly enough, I haven't read any of the first 3 in the series. I picked up this book because the leadership at my new employer, PagerDuty, is using the concepts as a guiding framework. Essentially, the book lays out 4 zones for each product investment at a company. The first 2 are for existing products, the second two are for new/future products. Good read, all made good sense. That said, probably should have read the first 3 in the series ahead of this one.

Origin

The only fiction book in my reading list in 2017, Dan Brown comes back with another Robert Langdon thriller. I first fell in love with his style after reading The Da Vinci Code. I've read every Dan Brown book since, as well as going back and reading Angels & Demons, which was published before his The Da Vinci Code popularity. Origin is the same style and main character as every other book, its no longer a unique or interesting style, but I still love his books! My guilty pleasure, I guess. This book takes place in Spain, one of my favorite places on earth, so the familiar sights and locals added some extra interest for me.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This book had been on my reading list for years, and with a new job in September where I'd be building a new product from concept to delivery, I figured the time was now. In the book, author, entrepreneur, and investor Ben Horowitz tells the stories of his startup life. He tells tails of near failure, some incredibly tough decisions that turned out to be critical turning points, and the hard thing about doing something new and difficult: there is no playbook. I really enjoyed the real life stories and was engaged from cover to cover. If you are an entrepreneur, or an intrapreneur, pick up this book and study how Horowitz behaved. He didn't know at the time that he was doing the right thing, but his approach was the difference between success and failure.


Those are my nine of 2017! On deck for 2018 includes When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir of a neurosurgeon exploring the meaning of life, recommended by Bill Gates; Zero to One, a book on startups and innovation by controversial entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel; and Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir of growing up in "hillbilly country" and insight into what drives some people to vote against their own interests. I want to read at least a dozen books, so I need 9 more...what would you recommend? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

My 2017 year in travel

A number years ago, when my personal and professional life took a major turn, I committed myself to traveling more. Prior to that, I was fully wrapped up in work, and when i wasn't, I just wanted to stay local where I was comfortable. It was a short-sighted view that kept me from really experiencing life.

Since then, I've had some of the best times of my life while traveling near and far. I've grown in my knowledge, respect, and appreciation for other cultures. I've improved as a human being, and I think I've even gotten better at my job because of travel.

In 2017, I failed at traveling internationally. I try to do at least 1 international trip a year, but this year that didn't happen (I don't count Canada as international...its too similar to the USA to be considered a growth experience for me). I had planned to go to Argentina, but job changes resulted in putting that trip on hold, for 2018.

So, 2017 was a year of domestic travel for me! I traveled a fair amount, returning to some places for the first time in years, and revisiting common destinations. In fact, in 2017 I moved from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California, so some of my travel was to PDX, the first time I've been an adult visitor to my 'home' town.

This year's travel included:

  • Two trips to San Francisco as a visitor, before I moved in February
  • Five trips to Portland as a visitor, after moving to San Francisco in February
  • Moline, IL/Davenport, IA...also called the Quad Cities
  • Chicago, IL
  • Wichita, KS for a family reunion
  • Orcas Island, in Washington's San Juan Islands
  • Las Vegas
  • Seattle three times (once for work, twice to visit friends)
  • Two Hawaiian islands (Oahu and the Big Island)
  • Hartfort, CT
  • Isle La Motte in Vermont's Lake Champlain (with some time in Burlington)
  • Toronto

I also got to explore my new home of Northern California a bit! I spent a few various days in wine country, including a spa day in Calistoga on one trip, some wine tasting around Heildsburg on another, and kayaking in Lake Sonoma while playing hooky from work. One weekend my girlfriend and I went to Palo Alto, just 30 miles away, in search of a hotel with a pool and air conditioning...totally worth it!

With that, here are my flying stats: 

  • 40 flights
  • 37,307 miles traveled
  • Average of 933 miles/flight
  • Most unusual flight: About 70 miles on seaplane with 3 take-offs and landings
  • 5 different airlines (mostly United)
  • Thats 23% fewer miles, 20% fewer flights than 2016

Here's to more international travel in 2018! Where should I go? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
— Mark Twain

Adventures in cooking

I just had an incredible meal: wild caught salmon filet with a roasted cherry tomato & red chermoula topping, next to a caramelized endive salad with pine nuts and a lemon dill vinaigrette. The entire meal was organic and fresh. It was paleo, low carb, satisfying, and just $14. Most importantly, it exploded wth flavor and I loved every bite of it.

In fact, I made this meal myself! I have no professional or even home chef experience, but in about 30 minutes I chopped, squeezed, seared, roasted, and cooked this meal from scratch, so-to-speak. I had all the ingredients I needed, no more and no less.

Our salmon with cherry tomato, endive, chermoula, and lemon-dill dressing

This meal came from Sunbasket, the meal delivery service I've been using since March of this year. Sunbasket is similar to Blue Apron, Home Chef, HelloFresh, and other meal subscription services. Once a week, I get an insulated box on my doorstep that has all the ingredients and recipes for 2 to 4 meals that week. All the ingredients are included, perfectly portioned. The recipes have easy to follow step by step instructions. I simply provide salt, pepper, olive oil, and a desire to put in a small amount of effort towards a great meal.

Below is my review. Sunbasket didn't put me up to this, I just love the product and want to share my experience with others. I'm not being paid for this post, but if you sign up with my referral link, I'll get an account credit.

Why a meal delivery service?

My girlfriend and I decided to try a meal delivery service because we wanted to spend less money and consumer fewer calories than our lives had been experiencing. We were either going out to restaurants or ordering in 5-7 nights per week. My wallet, and waistline, were showing it. Using a service like Sunbasket results in far fewer calories consumed, and less money spent, than our typical routine.

Our meals end up being either $12.50 or $14.00 per person, depending on our selection of 2 or 3 meals per week. This is less than even the local taqueria in San Francisco where we live. Far less than our favorite restaurant just a block away, where we'd easily spend $30 per person, not including drinks.

For me, the calorie savings are most important. I'm the type of person that eats whatever is in front of me, as much as is in front of me. Restaurants in America really like to put food in front of us. I suspect that when eating dinner out, I'm looking at a minimum of 1,000 calories...even when ordering a salad. With a meal delivery service like Sunbasket, my portions are reasonable and subsequently, so are the calories....between 550 and 700 per meal.

Why Sunbasket

There are a large number of options for meal delivery services. Blue Apron is probably the most well known, and the company even went public recently. I have no doubt that had we selected Blue Apron, Home Chef, HelloFresh, or any other service, we'd have been reasonably happy. That said, Sunbasket offered some benefits that we were attracted to.

First was the option to select different types of meal plans. We wanted low carb, and while that isn't an explicit option with Sunbasket, they do have a paleo option that offers exactly what we wanted...protein and vegetables, no high-carb, wheat-based products.

We also liked the organic nature of Sunbasket. While we are not religious about eating organic, we select organic options when they exist and are reasonable replacements for non-organic. Sunbasket is 100% organic and non-GMO produce, while meats/seafoods are all humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone-free. Similarly to their commitment to sustainable foods, we liked that Sunbasket ships their boxes in completely recyclable and compostable packaging. The ice-pack is nothing but cotton and water. The insulation is recyclable. You can optionally send the box back to Sunbasket for re-use. This made us feel a lot better about the level of waste with a concept like this.

Finally, we were happy with the delivery day for our zip-code. This is something that took me by surprise, but when I tried to sign up for a different service while living in Portland last year, the only delivery day I could get was Friday. With Sunbasket and living in San Francisco, our delivery day began as Wednesday, but was soon moved to Tuesday (yay!) and this week was Monday for an unknown reason (more yay!).

Since we selected Sunbasket, a few other benefits have popped up. We love that we can pause/skip a week. We like that we can do 2, 3, or 4 nights per week. Their customer service is great, and the product has been improved (faster delivery, more meal plan options, etc).

This week's box, just 2 meals due to our other evening commitments this week. Everything needed is in those brown bags, and the meat is perfectly chilled during transport.

I feel like an accomplished chef

We are experiencing all the benefits we expected with Sunbasket, and then some. I wasn't expecting to learn as much about cooking, and as much about flavor as I have! As it turns out, there are some easy ways to amp up the flavor of any meal, and I'll take these tips with me well beyond my experience with Sunbasket.

Use salt and olive oil liberally

One thing you'll notice when following a Sunbasket recipe is that you'll salt everything, sometimes more than once. If you make a dressing, you'll be instructed to salt it. When you cook meat, you'll be told to salt the meat liberally. Salt isn't just flavor itself, it brings out flavors in the other ingredients, especially proteins like steak.

Similarly, Sunbasket will make you go through a lot of olive oil, and thats a good thing! Nearly everything is cooked in olive oil, many things rubbed and coated in olive oil, and most dressings are an olive oil base.

Do yourself a favor, and ensure your kitchen is always stocked with artisanal salt (flor de sel), and high quality olive oil. You'll thank me later.

Citrus flavor comes from the peel

Its no surprise that citrus, like lemon and lime, packs a lot of flavor. What I didn't know is that most of the flavor is in the peel! When making Sunbasket recipes, you'll find yourself "zesting" every single lemon or lime in your basket. Literally every time the recipe calls for lemon or lime, you'll be told to zest and use with the juice. So much flavor!

Spices from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are amazing

If you need to add flavor to a dish, turn to spices that have a historical or cultural origin in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The flavors I've experienced with Sunbasket are incredible, and typically when a flavor blows me away, the ingredient is rooted in a spice from one of these three regions of the world.

Chermoula, from tonight's dinner, is from Algeri and Lybia, made from cumin. Tomorrow night, our pork dish has kimchi, an ingredient from Korea. Harrissa is a common spice rub from many of our past meals, a flavor that originates in Lybia and Tunisia. Sumac, basil, and sesame oil are all common ingredients, and all things that are less common in American or European cooking.

There are so many tasty vegetables

I've also discovered that I can have a variety of tasty vegetables at home! I don't have to eat only green beans and broccoli. With Sunbasket, we eat a lot of endive, celery root, fennel, radish, and arugula. Sure, I've had and like all of those things, but I rarely cook them at home. I now know that my options for easy and tasty veggies goes far beyond green beans and broccoli.

Give it a try

If you've been curious about meal delivery services like these, I recommend you give them a try. I believe all the popular services are commitment free (cancel any time) and come with a free week to get started.

Sure, you could go to the grocery store and by all these ingredients yourself for less, but if you are like me, you won't be able to make meals as tasty as these, and you won't be able to do it without an ounce of food waste like you can with Sunbasket.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not being paid for this post and I wrote it of my own accord. That said, if you sign up with this link, I'll get a $25 credit in my account. Thank you!

Fundamental problems with software user analytics

My entire career has been centered on using data to make decisions. From sales, inventory, product, financial, customer, and user data. Not only have I been a consumer of data and user of analytics products, I've built, purchased an implemented analytics products as well. So while I may not be the world's expert on analytics, I have a set of experiences that has led me to some strongly held beliefs, particularly in the area of software user analytics.

So, what is software user analytics? In short, I'm talking about data collected from web applications that tells exactly who, does exactly what in the product, and what the outcome was. This space has evolved a ton since the advent of the web. First we had simple web Analytics, which told us what content on our sites was popular and a bit about the visitors to our site (country, operating system, etc). Then, as web sites morphed into web applications, a new breed of analytics told us about usage, rather than just page loads. I call this User Analytics. Which users clicked which buttons, and what the result were.

While the differences between web analytics and user analytics may seem subtle, user analytics provide us 100x more value, in my estimation, than web analytics. That's because user analytics helps us understand user intent, and the value derived. If content is your product, such as a blog, then web analytics is probably fine for you. However, if software is your product, like social media, gaming, or banking, then you need user analytics. It can tell us where to put a button, which features to build/enhance/deprecate, what type of user gains the most value from the product, what data they desire, and so much more.

So, what's my beef with user analytics products? Honestly, I love them! Companies like Mixpanel, Google, Heap, and Segment make amazing products that I rely on. I've been successful in my career because of what they've allowed me to do as a user, and I've had my most fun at work when building analytics tools. They just aren't perfect, they leave a lot to be desired, and I believe there is an opportunity to deliver more to users today, while building for the next shift in software tomorrow.

I see 3 fundamental problems with User Analytics...

1. Most analytics providers want to own the entire solution stack

Most user analytics products do three things: they help collect data from an application, they store the data, and they offer visualization capabilities on that data. Naturally, they price for these benefits. When you buy a user analytics solution, like Heap or Mixpanel, you pay for all 3 things, whether you need all three or not. However, most businesses don't need all three for user analytics.

Any enterprise worth their salt has data as a central piece of their operations, and no piece of data they collect lives in a silo. These organizations are running a data warehouse, a collection of all the data used to run their business, including user analytics, sales data, financial, marketing, customer success and more.

While companies like Mixpanel and Heap offer best in class data capture for user analytics, they aren't a data warehouse and they don't offer best in class data visualization. In fact, its nearly impossible today to buy best in class user analytics data capture and pair it with your own data warehouse for visualization alongside your other data. Take my recent experience as an example. I recently led the selection and implementation of a software user analytics solution where I work. One of our many requirements was to reduce the effort necessary to collect usage data by at least 80%. Another of the requirements was that we could store the data in our own Redshift instance, and query it with our visualization tool of choice (Looker). So I needed to buy data capture, but not data storage or querying. We got what we needed, but we had no choice but to pay for more than we are using.

Best in class data capture for user analytics comes from Heap and Mixpanel, with their auto-track capabilities. However, Mixpanel won't let you use that data outside of their product, and Heap charges a premium for that capability. To get best in class data capture, you have to pay for data storage and data visualization, whether you want it or not. Sure, Segment makes it easy to put my user analytics data anywhere I need it, but without auto tracking, they fall short of the best in class label. My options were limited, to a single provider, and today we pay for more product than we need.

As we collect more data from more places, its not acceptable for data to live in walled gardens. We need to marry our marketing data with our sales data with our usage data. At the same time, enterprises expect control and ownership of their data. They are building Business Intelligence teams that require sophisticated data warehouses that offer flexibility in how the data can be used.

Unfortunately, buyers have to choose between enterprise grade business intelligence (Segment to Redshift, in my opinion), or effortless usage data from our web apps (Heap or Mixpanel for their auto track features). Why can't we have both, without pay for things we don't need?

2. Little value comes out of the box

In the early days of the internet, web analytics solutions offered out of the box value. Once the tracking code was dropped onto a site, web analytics tools like Google Analytics and Webtrends would tell you a whole lot about your users...no other effort required. No writing queries, no building reports, no curation of dashboards. Just login and immediately view how many visitors you had last week, which pages were popular, where your users came from and what type of device they were using.

Unfortunately, that level of data isn't good enough anymore. I need to know which form was filled out the most, what selection from my dropdown menus resulted in the most exports images, which sequence of steps result in the most purchases, and which of my sales reps have the most customers interacting with the new feature we launched in beta.

To get any of that, most user analytics solutions require the user has to put in significant effort. Start from scratch...literally a blank page. Learn a data structure and definitions. Learn a query language/system, then start creating charts, graphs, tables, and dashboards. This may sound easy, but you are looking at many, many hours of effort, only to get data you may not fully understand and may not even be correct.

The other day, I had to contact the customer support team of an analytics product I use, to get help on how to count the number of unique users my app had. With all my experience using, buying, implementing, and building analytics products...I had to contact support to get help with the most simple, fundamental of queries.

It doesn't have to be this way. It wasn't this way with early web analytics, and its not this way with software performance analytics. When I log into New Relic, I am immediately presented with data that provides value, answers questions, and leads me down a rabbit hole. Yet, when I engage with user analytics tools....I'm starting from nothing. This pain isn't isolated to getting started. Even once I've spent hours.....days setting up dashboards, reports, graphs, and charts, I'll still have to start from scratch at other times. Build a new feature? Start writing more quires to know how that feature is used! Want to know something different about your app? Get working on a new dashboard!

Nothing comes for free with user analytics. We have powerful access to data, but the data is meaningless without a significant investment to use that data. Why can't user analytics be more like New Relic software performance monitoring?

3. Users must know what they need to know

I find most user analytics tools to be incredibly limiting in the value they provide. The benefits are in theory unlimited, yet to reach much of that value, the user has to know what they need or want to know. With the amount of data we collect these days, and the rate at which our data collection grows, I believe there is significantly more value hidden in the data, and we don't even know how to extract it.

As discussed earlier, most use analytics tools require the user to write queries, create charts and graphs, and build dashboards. We do this with what we know. We know we want to see a count of user. I know I want to see what percentage of my total user base was active in the last month, I want to see which pages are the most popular, which option from the drop down menu was the most popular, and what percentage of people drop off at each of step of my ideal user flow through the product.

What if users forged their own path through my product, defying the path I thought they would take, and the path I created my reporting around? How would I know? How would I measure and see the impact? I likely wouldn't know. Something in the data would have to peek my interest and drive me to discover this funnel of user behavior, before updating my dashboard to capture my new learning.

How many more insights like this might be hidden in my user analytics data? I'm guessing there is a virtually unlimited number of observations that can be made on user analytics data, and through the noise is likely signal that we are missing, because we didn't know to look for it. I want the user analytics solution of tomorrow to tell me what I should know, instead of waiting on me to ask the question.


User analytics products aren't perfect, but they aren't all bad either. I'm a new user of Heap Analytics, and I'm really enjoying the product they have built...their auto track + retroactive data capture saved by butt the other day! Mixpanel offers a fantastic product, and is the best solution for funnel and cohort analysis on web or mobile apps. Google Analytics was a game changer and one of the best things that has happened to content producers.

What do you think, how do web and user analytics tools need to evolve in order to provide value tomorrow? Let me know on Twitter or comment where you were linked to this post.

More on Product Management (Part 2)

Recently, I published a post that outlined 9 principles that make for great product management (On Product Management; May 23rd, 2017). I enjoyed writing the post as it was helpful for me to get my beliefs in a single place, and I was lucky to attract a great audience. My readers had some valuable thoughts, insightful questions, and astute clarifications via LinkedIn comments, Slack discussion, and direct emails.

In this post, I want to address some of those points of discussion, clarify a few things from my original post, and explore a few more principles that make for great Product Managers.

If you haven't read my original post, take a moment to read it and come back to this one. Finally, thank you to everyone that contributed thoughts, counterpoints, questions, and praise...you've helped me become a better writer, and a better Product Manager!

More on the Product Manager's role with vision & strategy

I started my last post out by saying that the role of a Product Manager is to shepherd through a vision...the vision of a Founder, a CEO, or a Chief Product Officer. I went on to talk about the PM's role as a leader, rallying the team around a vision and strategy, and developing products that serve multiple stakeholders. A couple of my readers pointed out that my message might have contradicted itself, and could be taken as a statement that vision and strategy aren't the role of the Product Manager.

This topic gets at a phrase that is commonly thrown around around Product Management, that being a PM is like being the CEO of a Product. I like this statement because it alludes to the type of work that a PM does, and the level of leadership they must demonstrate. I dislike this statement because it implies that the PM is ultimately in charge, that they can do what they want and have no equal in the organization.

While I absolutely believe that Product Managers should influence and contribute to company vision and strategy, and they should set a vision and strategy for their area of responsibility, the truth is that most of us work as part of a larger organization. Most of us have a boss, have a leader we work with. Many of us work at the companies we do because we were attracted to the mission and vision that their leadership put in place. If the Product Manager is setting company vision and strategy, rather than the C-suite, there's a problem. Similarly, if a Product Manager isn't helping the C-suite refine, build on, and advance the vision, there's also a problem.

More on user stories and project management

In my first post on effective product management, I made what turned out to be a controversial statement. I said that effective Product Managers aren't JIRA jockeys. This raised a lot of eyebrows and had many readers asking "but if not the PM, who?"

I firmly believe that the greatest value a PM delivers is not in JIRA, Pivotal Tracker, or any other project management tool. Thats not to say that a Product Manager shouldn't spend any time in these tools. These tools provide value to the team, and Product Managers should be involved in the workflow that takes an idea and turns it into reality.

Great Product Managers avoid being JIRA jockeys by doing two things: they communicate effectively early in the product development process, and they share the responsibility of management and oversight with other leaders.

Effective, clear, and complete communication upfront avoids the need for a micro-manager in JIRA. I do this through a Product Requirements Doc framework that aims to give my teams enough information about the problem and desired outcome that they can create development tickets with much more involvement from me.

Product Managers aren't the only leaders on a team. If the PM is the 'CEO of the Product' then the Engineering Manager is the CTO. Strong Product Designers have been present on every great product team I've worked on, and they should be looked to for leadership and direction. Finally, at larger organizations, Technical Product Managers can work alongside Product Managers to provide direction, validation, and management of the development process.

I believe that the amount of time spent in JIRA or similar tools is a view into a company's culture and the effectiveness of a PM. Product Management does not equal Project Management.

Effective Product Management orgs report through the CEO

Something I didn't touch on in my earlier post was the placement of Product Management in the org chart. There are a two common reporting structures for Product Management: Through the CEO or through the CTO. While both can work, I believe the best results come from Product Management organizations that report through the CEO.

This preference of mine stems from the idea that Product Management is about more than engineering. Engineering groups are singularly focused on technology, whether its the technology that customers interact with directly, or the backend and foundations that the product is built on. Conversely, Product Management is cross-functional by nature, working across pricing, customer support, sales, marketing, and more.

While the Office of the CTO can effectively lead Product Management, reporting through the CEO is a better fit. Like Product Management, a CEO's role spans the entire organization, influencing all aspects of delivering a product. Reporting through the CEO avoids potential conflicts of interest, where tough decisions must be made and priorities identified, and more easily allowing for a solution that might not be an engineering one.

Product Management is about more than code

In my last post, I may have ignored a principle which I feel is so important. The product is more than your software. The product is the entire experience that a customer or user has with your company. From how they first learn about your product, to how they are sold to, how they are on-boarded, how they use the product, how they are supported, and even how they are 'off-boarded", so to speak. Its all your product to the customer, they don't put walls between your marketing and your code, or between sales and support.

Effective product managers influence and lead all aspects of the product. They think of things like user documentation as part of the product. They know that interacting with customer support is part of the value being delivered. Sometimes the best way to move a product forward, to move the needle on sales or net promoter score, is to fine tune the non-software aspects of your product. If a Product Manager doesn't take responsibility for a cohesive product experience, its likely no one will and each customer touchpoint will remain silo'd.

Nike doesn't just sell shoes, they sell an identity. Blue Apron doesn't just sell meal kits, they sell time-savings and the joy of cooking. Software companies don't just sell access to code, they sell solutions to problems.

Am I living in a Product Management dreamland?

So am I crazy, or is my view on effective Product Management realistic? Truth is, its both. I have outlined a bit of a dreamland, a perfect world, but not a world that I've experienced at any single company or role I've held. That said, every philosophy that I've outlined is one that I've experienced personally or seen at other organizations. All of these philosophies are reasonable individually, and together they are a rare but special reality.

Some of these principles are ones that we can do on our own, as individuals seeking to be better at our jobs. Some of these principles require the mandate and support of our organizations and our bosses. If you desire more of a strategic and leadership role in your work as a PM, ask yourself two things. First ask if you are doing the things you can do with autonomy to be a more effective and efficient PM. Then, ask yourself if you are working for a company that wants and values leadership in a Product Manager.


This is part 2 of a 2 part series on effective Product Management. If you haven't read part 1, head on over to On Product Management for principles exhibited by great Product Managers.