I’m reading around problems, experiments, and solutions

There's a lot of product management talk at the moment about defining the product roadmap in terms of problems, rather than features or solutions. I will write up my reading on roadmaps another day, but today I wanted to collate and synthesise some of my reading on approaching individual steps, opportunities, and problems along the roadmap.

I recently watched the Bill Constantino's presentation, "Toyota Kata Unified Field Theory", it's ten minutes long and well worth your time. In the presentation, Bill outlines a method for moving from a current state to a solution, referred to as a "Target Condition", which is located outside our current area of knowledge; examples of a Target Condition might be to crack a new market, or reach a new level of efficiency. The method moves towards the desired Target State by identifying a series of problems between the current state to the Target Condition, pushing out the edges of the area of knowledge as you go. Eventually you have navigated a series of solutions, routing through what was unknown territory, and you are able to achieve the Target Condition.

Mark Rosenthal, on whose blog I found this presentation, summarises the process of the Improvement Kata neatly, and provides a nice animated GIF of the process (read the article, and you'll find the animation towards the bottom):

The process becomes one of progressively solving problems, identifying the next, and expanding our understanding. Once there is sufficient understanding to anchor knowledge and take the next step, do so. Step and repeat.

– Mark Rosenthal, Bill Costantino: Toyota Kata "Unified Field Theory"

So the path to a solution is to navigate feelingly across a field of experiments and related problems. Teresa Torres has related angle on "feeling navigation" with her Opportunity Solution Tree. The Opportunity Solution Tree starts with a clear Desired Outcome, like the Target Condition of the Toyota Kata. Working backwards from the Outcome, you identify a number of Opportunities based on your customer knowledge anchored in your customer research and contact. (In a recent Pragmatic Live podcast, Teresa describes how she prefers the term Opportunity to Problem, as Opportunity allows for finding moments of delight with one customer and bringing that delight to a broader audience. Interestingly the Bill Constantino presentation also avoids the more negative term "Problem"… something for me to ponder.) For each Opportunity, the team then works up a number of potential Solutions… and for each Solution areas of uncertainty or unknown elements are de-risked with targeted Experiments.

Start by defining your desired outcome. What’s the most important metric your team can impact? You want to pick an outcome that will drive the most value for your business right now.

Then start to enumerate the opportunities that might drive that outcome. Remember to stay in the problem space. If you can, do some generative research to frame the opportunities in the same way your customers would.

Finally, try to connect each of your solutions to those opportunities. If you have some solutions that don’t connect, look for a missing opportunity or set the solution aside. It’s a distraction for now.

Teresa Torres, Why This Opportunity Solution Tree is Changing the Way Product Teams Work

The whole article is worth a read and provides useful illustrations of the approach. In the article Teresa further describes how visualising the wider view of a team's approach allows that team to spot when they are overly focussed (jumping to a single Solution quickly, without considering alternatives or running sufficient experiments to check their direction), or overly broad and unfocussed (getting overly enamoured of the "infinite funspace" of all the possible Solutions for all the Opportunities, running many many experiments and never delivering value).

As I'm reading and musing how to apply these ideas in my own practice, I'm wary of imposing process and of becoming overly bound to that process. In Jeff Bezos' 2016 letter to shareholders, he writes:

Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?

Jeff Bezos, 2016 Letter to Shareholders

Naturally, there are times when experimental method and process are largely unnecessary. In a recent episode of the Roadmunk podcast, Melissa Peri talks about the necessity of considering and experimenting to ensure that we are building the right solution, but acknowledges this is not always necessary:

For example, I like to use a checkout page. Checkout pages have been explored. People have experimented with them. There are pretty well-known best practices in the industry of how to create checkout pages. Maybe I take some of those best practices. I implement a checkout page, launch it, and start measuring to see my results.

Product to Product: Melissa Perri on how to think like a product manager

There's always going to be steps we need to take, elements we need to build, which are necessary prerequisites to providing value to our customer, but which are not able to really magnify or multiply the value provided. Foundational elements. For these, where they're well understood elements like a login page or checkout, it's fine to follow best practice.

Those key elements of our products, the elements which will allow us to provide value and delight to our customers, and propel us past our competition, these are where we need to consider our approach carefully to ensure we give ourselves the maximum chance of success.

Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or feedback on these subjects. I'm learning.

I’m reading about… Product Managers

At WordPress.com VIP we're looking into more formal Product Management, to help ensure that all our teams are aligned behind a consistent vision and a clear set of priorities. As such, I've been reading around about the Product Manager role to understand best practices from other organisations and from leaders in the field.

As one of the founding parents of modern software Product Management,  I found Marty Cagan a good place to start:

I want [Product Managers] to understand they need to worry about all aspects of the business, but I also believe strongly in the importance of humility for a product manager, and I need to make sure they’re not thinking the title gives them anything beyond a shot at earning the respect of their team.

– Marty Cagan, My Favorite PM Interview Question

Are you just administering the backlog, or are you actually tackling and solving difficult problems for your customers and your business?

Marty Cagan, Product Manager vs. Product Owner Revisited

There's a phrase which originated with Ben Horowitz's post Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager, "the CEO of the product". It's a phrase I initially railed against in my reading, particularly in context of our Automattic culture which values independent, self-motivated, and extremely capable individuals. In my initial thinking I was leaning more towards a collaborative model, but the Marty Cagan posts above (and some key chats with others in my team) have turned me around, and now I see the value of the responsibility and strong links between the measure of the product manager and the success of the product.

Horowitz points out that his Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager article was written many years ago, but even with that perspective it's worth a read:

Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product.

Ben Horowitz, Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager 

Rarely do any delivery functions report to the Product Manager, meaning Product Managers are dependent on others to deliver the product they are measured on. A fact which is emphasised in this line from one of Marty's quotes above: "I need to make sure [Product Managers are not] thinking the title gives them anything beyond a shot at earning the respect of their team". This tension is felt keenly in some of the articles I've read, in particular:

…you are not the CEO of anything…

This may seem like mere semantics but the distinction is important. Too many product managers I meet buy into this trope of CEO-of-the-product and believe their role is to act like an authoritarian CEO, often with disastrous results. These product managers tend to believe they have all the answers, that they produce the best solutions and designs, and that their teams should just do what they’re told. They’re mini-CEOs after all!

…Truly successful product leaders instead embrace their lack of authority and lead their teams and the wider company through communication, vision, and influence. They focus on collaborating across the company, bringing together the best people to move the product forward, and setting those teams free to execute on their product vision.

Martin Eriksson, Product Managers – You Are Not the CEO of Anything

Having re-read the Eriksson and the Cagan posts, both seem to me to be arguing for very similar positions: leadership without authority, and closely linking the success of the product to the measure of the Product Manager. The reference to CEO is a positive assignment of responsibility, not a licence to a command and control style of leadership.

More on Product Management as I find it; as my honoured colleague John Maeda says, "I'm learning".

A Hot Toddy

I went with 8 oz hot water, a twist of lemon, 2 cloves, juice of a lemon, a generous teaspoon of honey, a small stick of cinnamon, and 2 oz Talisker; the end result was almost too medicinal, for which I side eye the Talisker, but a definite balm and I’m now off to bed.

Inspired by Nigel Slater, and my friend Zé (I’ll try the Apple juice next time, Zé, I had none in). I also avoided the prevalence of tea in recipes online (thanks due here).

Trump: The Presidential Precedents, Andrew Jackson

To the east coast establishment he was an uncouth demagogue, to his supporters [two term US president, Andrew Jackson] was the tribune of the people, the embodiment of white masculinity.

– BBC Radio 4 – Trump: The Presidential Precedents, Andrew Jackson

I know little about US history, but this short Radio 4 programme yesterday caught my attention. The programme focussed more on Jackson’s “colourful” campaign, and little on his policies beyond a brief mention of the Trail of Tears and the destruction of The Bank of the United States; but one thing that struck me was that despite how his opposition mobilised against him, he won a second term. How does this section of history inform our view of Trump, I wonder.

Interesting too that Jackson is considered the founder of the Democratic Party.

Political Scrapbooking 

… the notion that large numbers of pro-Brexit voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse is both unproven and irrelevant. … And it is hard to avoid the feeling that much of the Remain camp disappointment comes from people who are simply not used to losing votes that might negatively affect their own lives. As Manchester Professor Rob Ford put it, the English middle class is simply experiencing what UKIP voters have had to put up with for years.

Uniting the United Kingdom by Anand Menon for Foreign Affairs

As so often, political reality will trump the lawyers. Alan Renwick of the UCL constitution unit argues that there is now a political imperative for the next prime minister to hold a parliamentary vote before the invocation of Article 50. But it is hard to imagine that MPs would choose to overturn the majority decision of the referendum on June 23rd.

Who has the right to trigger Brexit? In The Economist

Click to access Brexit%20Options%20A3%20final.pdf

This is fascinating:

…by their silence Corbyn and his troubled, paranoid court have delivered us, in effect, and for the time being, into a one-party state…

Britain is changed utterly. Unless this summer is just a bad dream by Ian McEwan for The Guardian

Political Scrapbooking – Monday 04 and Tuesday 05 July 2016

What concerns me the most, as a historian, are the reports of UKIP party members now defecting and rejoined the Conservatives. This is not a good thing. This means those whose beliefs were considered too far right for mainstream politics, now feel mainstream politics has caught up – that they can rejoin a main political party and find their views supported. It is the most subtle and dangerous form of subversive politics. Racism and xenophobia now wears a mainstream face.

– A Cry Against Anti Intellectualismby Fern Riddell

Leadsom is having none of it. She says the situation is “nothing like” the “systemic crises” of the 2008 global financial crisis or 1992’s Black Wednesday. “I just don’t accept the premise that we have any economic issue with voting to leave…

Brexit Would Have No Impact On UK Economy, Says Andrea Leadsom by Emily Ashtpn for Buzzfeed

The research, carried out online among 18-75 year olds, finds that 89% of leave voters say that the referendum result was the right decision for the United Kingdom, while exactly the same proportion of remain voters say it was the wrong one. Similarly, 80% of leave voters say the result makes them feel more hopeful for the future, but 83% of remain voters say it makes them less hopeful.

Britain remains split as 9 in ten say they would not change their referendum vote, Ipsos MORI

But unfortunately for those who see the UK playing hardball over Article 50 the EU does have other options at its disposal if things get confrontational. The most obvious of these, says Prof Chalmers, is to use a qualified majority vote to pass laws specifically designed to punish the UK and squeeze national finances already under strain from Brexit-related uncertainty. These could, for example, include removing the City’s right to clear euros, or, say, changing terms of agricultural grants that would cut off funds to UK farmers.
Michael Gove avoids questions about invoking Article 50 Play! 00:44

In short, vicious targeted measures aimed at giving Britain the hurry-up. It would take seven to nine months to get the legislation through, but in Prof Chalmers’s view (and top eurocrats delight in saying the same) Europe can make things “pretty nasty, pretty quickly” if Britain delays unreasonably on Article 50 to try and weaken the EU’s hand.

The EU won’t let Britain dither around forever – here’s how it could force us to leave by Peter Foster for The Telegraph

4. Losing a triple-A credit rating is bad news after all

“If a downgrade happens, it is a huge blow for our economy, and will potentially set us back several years on repaying our debts, and returning our finances to health,” Leadsom wrote in 2009.

from 9 reasons you should be truly terrified of PM Andrea Leadsom in the New Statesman

With the resignations of Cameron, Boris Johnson, and now Farage, it seems few leading politicians are keen to “own” Brexit and its consequences. If those individuals wish to step back from accepting the consequences of Brexit, might that tendency spread more generally?

When will the United Kingdom invoke Article 50? by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution

Further Brexit scrapbooking

No one seems capable of stepping forward and offering reassurance. The Leavers, who disagreed on what Brexit should look like, do not think it is their responsibility to set out a path. They reckon that falls to Number 10 (where they have appeared in public, it has mostly been to discard the very pledges on which they won the referendum). Number 10, however, seems to have done little planning for this eventuality. It seems transfixed by the unfolding chaos; reluctant to formulate answers to the Brexiteers’ unanswered questions.

Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel by Bagehot at the Economist

The fifth [leave] group is those who like and benefit from both cultural and economic globalisation – but not as much as they would like. They want more of both … People with these kinds of views voted Leave. Some of them ran the campaign. This is – in varying degrees – the political and economic theory of Dominic Cummings (who ran Vote Leave), Michael Gove and Steve Hilton (Cameron’s former advisor). There is an argument out there that Leave didn’t really want to win. Don’t believe it. These men wanted to win.

Who won the referendum? by Alan Finlayson at Open Democracy

But some notes were significantly more gloomy. John Llewellyn, founder of Llewellyn consulting and a former chief economist of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the UK was heading into recession at a time when its economy was not fixed and the BoE appeared to be the only functioning authority.

– Osborne’s calming words undermined by economists by Chris Giles and Emily Cadman at the FT

Our membership of the European Union has conferred a host of legal rights on British citizens, some through incorporating statutes, some granted directly in domestic law. Applying the common law principle found in The Case of Proclamations and Fire Brigades Union, the Government cannot remove or nullify these rights without parliamentary approval. Its prerogative power cannot be used to overturn statutory rights. Statute beats prerogative.

Pulling the Article 50 ‘Trigger’: Parliament’s Indispensable Role by Nick Barber, Tom Hickman and Jeff King in UK Constitutional Law Association

Many of the comments on the above mention this seems like an exercise in wishful thinking, including:

Sorry to disagree, but I think this is an exercise in wishful thinking. I don’t think you can reduce the principle of the dualism of domestic and international law to a mere technicality, and I think you are making too much of Fire Brigades Union, which not only involves very different facts, but a wholly different policy area, where there are no strong issues of justiciability.

– by Aileen McHarg

Very interesting, but will not bear up to serious scrutiny. Also, just pause and think about the politics – London based lawyers go to Judges to thwart the will of the people. An interesting academic exercise, but pursuing this line of attack would not be well advised. If there is an ‘answer’ to Brexit it will have to be a political one, following a general election.
– by Joe Barrett

perhaps, there is the language we use. Who cares about “the economy”, “growth”, “trade”, if we can’t translate them directly into “incomes”, “jobs”, “living standards”. We must start speaking more plainly. And we must also link these things to real people, to the poor, to those in the middle, to parents, to families, to workers and to pensioners.

We economists must face the plain truth that the referendum showed our failings by Paul Johnson for The Times

Britain is now a source of global instability, economic turmoil, and political uncertainty. This may not last more than a few years, but London’s reputation is damaged forever. When UN Security Council reform belatedly arrives, it is unlikely that Little England will keep the permanent seat that has been reserved for Great Britain over the last seven decades.

Brexit Threatens World Peace and Security by Alex de Waal for the Boston Review

The referendum was a vote against something but it wasn’t a vote for anything. It tells us nothing about the new relationship people want with Europe. The Brexiteers never told us what they collectively stood for.

It’s not too late to negotiate a way out of this disaster. But it’ll take courage by Jonathan Powell for The Guardian

The point is that neither Trump nor the Brexit leaders have ever believed for one moment that any of these promises are real.

Brexit and the politics of the fake orgasm by Fintan O’Toole for the Irish Times

Politics however is just exploiting an information ecosystem designed for the dissemination of material which gives us feelings rather than information.

The truth about Brexit didn’t stand a chance in the online bubble by Emily Bell for The Guardian

More Brexit scrapbooking 

“Suddenly [Cameron] found himself trapped by his own manifesto promises — promises made to placate the Euroskeptics in his own party and see off the threat posed to his right flank by the virulently anti-European UK Independence Party.”

David Cameron Was a Historic and Disastrous Failure

…except I’d argue it wasn’t “suddenly”.

Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions. Never has a revolution in Britain’s position in the world been advocated with such carelessness. The Leave campaign has no plan.

There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove by Nick Cohen

In all three of the second referendums, the Yes campaigners used two new strategies to tie the hands of No campaigners. After the initial rejection, the government sought reassurances from the EU on the controversial themes of the first campaign, effectively allowing them to ask the same question again. Having changed the context successfully, the Yes side could thereby frame the question differently.

Asking the public twice: why do voters change their minds in second referendums on EU treaties? by Ece Özlem Atikcan

Seems like wishful thinking, to believe we will get a second referendum, but if we do the odds are more favourable.

The Brexiters could not have dreamed of more favourable circumstances in British and EU politics.

WHY BRITAIN VOTED TO LEAVE (IF IT DOES…) by Charles Grant (published before the result)

Remain suffered from five disadvantages: the messengers, the message, migration, the media and the campaign machine – in short, the five Ms.


“Do you know what I’d like to do with the £10 billion? I’d like that £10 billion to be spent helping the communities in Britain that [the] Government damaged so badly by opening up the doors to former communist countries. What people need is schools, hospitals, and GPs. That’s what they need.”

On Good Morning Britain on results day, Mr Farage however said: “No, I can’t [guarantee the money would go to the NHS]. I would never have made that claim.

Video evidence emerges of Nigel Farage pledging EU millions for NHS weeks before Brexit vote, The Independent

If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost.

Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.

With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership.


Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.

And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.

The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.

The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?

Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?

Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.

If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.

The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.

When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.

All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign.

– Comment on Brexit: UK’s most senior EU official resigns after leave vote – as it happened by Teebs

The £350m per week that Vote Leave had said would be used to fund the NHS. “We never said that,” IDS replied.

“Yes you did. So even if there was £350m per week, which there isn’t, how are you going to fulfil all of your other spending promises?”

“We never made any commitments. We just made a series of promises that were possibilities.”

– IDS goes off-message on Brexit plan while Labour tears itself apart by John Crace

Finally, the setup of the referendum gave Leave cause to run riot. Unlike the Scottish independence referendum, there was no obligation for Leave to outline a plan or costings for a Brexit. Unlike commercial advertising, there’s no penalty for lying in political advertising. And unlike a Parliamentary election, there’s no way of booting the winner out if it turns out they have lied.

Post-truth politics : how Leave hacked the political system and what it means for us by Chris Applegate

Brexit scrapbooking

Some things I’ve found, which I want to refer back to…

Lord Ashcroft’s survey on reasons for voting Leave or Remain

Bim Adewunmi’s heartbreak over the result

By the same token, it seems unlikely that those in these regions (or Cornwall or other economically peripheral spaces) would feel ‘grateful’ to the EU for subsidies. Knowing that your business, farm, family or region is dependent on the beneficence of wealthy liberals is unlikely to be a recipe for satisfaction (see James Meek’s recent essay in the London Review of Books on Europhobic farmers who receive vast subsidies from the EU). More bizarrely, it has since emerged that regions with the closest economic ties to the EU in general (and not just of the subsidised variety) were most likely to vote Leave.

– Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit by Will Davies