46 / Whether Building Software or Snowboards


One concern we product builders often cite with our C-suite sponsors is their disdain for discovery. “We know what users want,” is a frequent refrain when we recommend investment in user research. Sometimes, even we fall victim to that flawed “we got this” mentality. When we do, we limit our own market exploration by rejecting the notion that there’s always more to be learned.

With that kind of thinking, we tend to get in our own way, says Lesley Betts, who joins Sean and Paul on this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast. As Senior Product Line Merchandiser for Burton Snowboards, Lesley shows us how going beyond “our little maple curtain” – a Vermonter’s term for thinking outside the box – helps us align our role as product managers to what’s actually happening outside the industry.

“We know the product so well and as snowboarders we’re users of the product,” she adds. “But that’s where we have to challenge ourselves to do things that are outside the norm. We have to listen and be mindful of what our users are telling us.”

The lesson here actually goes much deeper.

When we invited Lesley to join the pod, we thought it would be fun to get an expert’s insights into the physical product development space. We knew there would be similarities between our physical and digital worlds – but even we were amazed how exacting they are. In fact, aside from the product life cycles, the number and nature of parallels between software and snowboards are freakishly close. As are the responsibilities product managers share across industries.

Listen in as Lesley describes her role as “the hub of the wheel” when it comes to product leadership, “… as far as identifying problems, working with the creative team, collaborating with ‘team riders’ (i.e., in-house product experts), marketing, sales, and our customers…yeah, every single one of those touchpoints always comes back to the hub.”

Sound familiar? We thought so too. Enjoy!

[02:13] Creating the correct product requires a ‘rider-driven mentality’. We had to listen to our customers. We had to be advocates for them. We had to listen to ourselves as well. At the end of the day, we’re all snowboarders.

[04:23] The PM role by any other name. Whether product manager or merchandiser doesn’t matter. I’m the hub of the wheel. Identifying problems, working with the creative team, working with our team riders, marketing, sales, our customers. Every touchpoint always comes back to the hub.

[06:25] Physical product vs. software product. The life cycles may be different, but the development process is very much the same.

[07:55] Self-awareness and trusting your team. If I were better at snowboarding, I could be the person leading that. But really, I just need to trust and lean into those guys.

[10:26] Culture, mantra, rallying cry. At Burton, we call it “The Stance.” It’s what we believe and what we do. It bleeds throughout the building, and it’s the reason people come here:  because it feels like you’re part of something bigger.

[12:11] The 7-minute focus group. Every time you ride the lift, sit with someone new. Just have a conversation: “Why are you riding that product? Why are you riding here? What brought you here? Where did you get your board? You can learn so much just from a few moments with a person, in the moment.

[12:53] People don’t trust brands. People trust people.

[14:22] Get out of your own way. Developing product, we can actually get in our own way; we know the product so well. That’s where we have to challenge ourselves to do things that are outside of the norm.

[16:16] The ‘white room’. Like an innovation workshop or design sprint, we need to pause. To remove all other responsibilities so that we can truly focus on one problem statement.

[18:53] Innovate for the little things too. We can’t always be solving the big things. It takes a special kind of mindset to maintain this concept of innovation within the day-to-day culture.

[23:05] The power of why. We learned more about ourselves in the white room process about how we need to work together as a team. By sharing your why with the team, you’re just going to get the best results.

[24:48] Innovation. If I can change something for someone. I know that seems very simple, but innovation is making something better for someone. Who that is, I don’t know. But if you take something and create an enhancement or a better experience –  a better day on the snow – then I feel like we’ve done our job.

Lesley’s Recommended Reading

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown.

About Lesley

Lesley Betts is the Senior Product Line Merchandiser for the Snowboards Category at Burton Snowboards, where she brings to life the best snowboards in the world.  Lesley’s focus has always been to bring to her job the same amount of energy, excitement, and passion that she shares for snowboarding.  When she’s not snowboarding, Lesley’s goal is to pet every dog she sees.

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45 / Motivation and Self-Determination Theory


With so many touchpoints between Self-Determination Theory and software product development, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps with this: self-determination theory is fundamentally focused on answering two questions. First, what is it that brings us fulfillment in life?”; and second, what things will accrue to high-quality motivation – that is, doing things that I value, that have meaning, that I love?”

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Scott Rigby, Ph.D. to discuss the interplay between Self-Determination Theory and software product development. The fit is ideal. As product leaders strive to improve users’ lives, what better way to fulfill this mission than to embrace the needs that drive them. Scott guides us well beyond the theoretical, venturing deep into its application founded on two critical shifts since his work in this area began.

The first deals with motivation. Specifically, that motivation is ‘something I do to you’ and that ‘whatever I do to motivate you’ is good because the more I do, the more I’ll get. As it turns out, Scott says, that way of thinking is not only not correct, we just can’t get by with it anymore.

The second shift, closely related to the first, deals with empowerment. We once lived in a world in which companies and institutions held all the power and made all the rules.  Consumers existed only in orbit around them, controlled and manipulated by the way they structured our existence. Not so these days, Scott offers.

“We call it the Copernican turn; we realized that who’s in orbit around what has completely changed.” Over the past 15 years or so, the gravitational pull that companies and institutions once relied on has waned. Now they say, ‘I’ve got to do the right things to have [consumers] select me…I have to understand the thing that drives them to be motivated to make that choice.’

Understanding these shifts introduces only a kernel of knowledge of Scott’s work over the past 30 years. But it’s fundamental to the real-world application of the vast theoretical issues that play out every day across on product development teams in our space.

Listen in to catch even more of Scott’s insights. Discover what he refers to as the continuum of motivation; see the distinction between motivation and manipulation; and grasp ways to put the theory into practice – not only by creating “a consensual language that everyone can understand, but also by providing a roadmap that invites customers and team members to follow the continuum of basic psychological needs.”  

[04:35] The Copernican turn. We realized that who’s in orbit around what is completely changed.

[08:02] We humans have 3 basic psychological needs. Autonomy, Mastery, and Relatedness.

[08:12] Autonomy. I want to be the author of my life. It’s more than freedom. It’s about volition. It’s about engagement.

[09:23] Mastery. I need to feel a sense of growth in what I am doing.

[09:42] Relatedness. I don’t want to do this in isolation. I want what I do to matter to others.

[10:02] Self-determination theory – and people. We can quantifiably measure how autonomy, mastery, and relatedness are being experienced by employees in a company as they interact with  managers and coworkers.

[10:12] Self-determination theory – and product. We can see how those things are being satisfied by how products are designed…the informational feedback from user interfaces…user progression paths…and by how they are implemented in our program.

[10:29] Self-determination theory – and marketing. How are communications telling a narrative that make me feel like those needs are being satisfied?

[11:38] Manipulation and control. If we’re manipulating and controlling, ultimately, we’re undermining the delivery of those needs.

[13:25] The continuum of motivation. High-quality and low-quality; intrinsic and extrinsic.

[17:29] The problem with gamification.

[21:59] When we satisfy those needs. The consumer value for products, value for services, the loyalty that comes from that is astounding.

[29:20] The product of creativity + motivation. Yields an environment where facilitating basic human needs gives us the energy to create one’s own narrative and the confidence to know that I can do it in a way that is competent and masterful.

[35:28] Innovation. Innovation is the emergence of a new idea that has the ability to fundamentally improve well-being. Innovation is very much tied to that sense of well-being.

Scott’s Recommended Reading

The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene.

A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

Scott is also reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese monk. He is very much into Buddhism and The Art of Living.

About Scott

Scott Rigby, Ph.D. is an author, behavioral scientist, and founder/CEO of Immersyve Inc., a company focusing on the application of behavioral science to organizations, products, and services. Scott and Immersyve work with both small and large companies on culture and the development of motivational best practices. He is a leading authority on predictive measurement of motivation and engagement, as well as on interventions to improve organizational culture. Clients include Prudential, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney.

Scott has authored numerous publications, including the highly rated book Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound. He is the creator of the “Personal Experience of Need Satisfaction” (PENS) model, a widely used engagement model in interactive design. His work on understanding engagement and motivation has been featured by Wired, ABC News, BBC, National Public Radio, National Geographic, and Scientific American, among others. He is also the co-creator of motivationWorks, a platform that empowers organizations to build greater employee engagement and stronger cultures using motivational science. In addition to his commercial work, he has also served as the principal investigator on multiple grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health exploring the role of behavioral science to improve engagement and wellness.

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44 / Is What I Am Building Ethical?


What is an ethical product? In an industry whose mission is to build technology that does good in the world, you’d think that by now we’d have figured this one out. You know, develop a checklist of criteria that helps chip away at our assumptions and biases and answer questions like, “is what I am doing meaningful?” and “is what I am doing ethical?”

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Kasia Chmielinski, co-founder of the Data Nutrition Project and technologist at McKinsey & Company in Healthcare Analytics. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Kasia says, ethics are not black and white. They cannot be captured in a series of boxes that will be applicable in every situation. There are, however, processes and strategies to intentionally build a product, they say.

“We already have these processes,” they add, “but the intent behind them is usually monetary or financial – something about growth or ROI. If we modify our processes and strategies to instead think about the end-user, think about the potential harms, think about how people are going to use it, we’d probably have better products for people.” It’s all about trade-offs and balance, they add.

It’s a significant challenge (pardon the understatement). We’re solving big, hairy, complex problems for an audience of users whose experiences and ethics are as varied as snowflakes. With so many combinations and permutations – and so many dependencies – it’s no wonder the question about meaning and ethics remains unanswered. 

Or has it? Have a listen to the pod as Kasia methodically tackles the question – precisely as you would expect a trained scientist would – but with an added sprinkling of optimistic philosophy that suggests their answer will help us all create better products and do more good in the world. 

[02:00]  Use your powers for good. There are a lot of tools you can create that can be used for good or evil.

[03:02] The stories we tell should be true. But they can’t just be true. They have to be engaging, and appropriate for our audience.

[04:06] The user story is less about storytelling. It’s more about having the right components of the story…and phrasing it in a way that’s going to get you budget and people and resources.

[05:38] You can’t use a story to fix a bad product.

[07:44] In the realm of machine learning and AI, we’re so focused on the outcome of these models that we’re not really thinking about all the inputs that shape the outcome.

[11:05] Ethics are not black & white. And they can’t be captured in a series of checkboxes that answer the question: “Is what I am building ethical?”

[11:56] Tools are agnostic. It’s the use case that makes the difference. So we need to have the conversations and make the observations that help understand the necessary tradeoffs and balance.

[13:59] How are people using my product? And how did their use align with the moral compass we established to begin with?

[15:56] Iterate toward better products over time. That should be a big part of what we do as product managers.

[16:43] Keep your tech people really close. There are so many points at which you have to make decisions technically that also could seriously impact the product.

[18:45] It’s important to think about where we get our energy.

[20:31] When considering your next position…. Is it challenging technically? Is it interesting from a product management perspective? What are we trying to accomplish? How will it affect people?

[22:24] The Data Nutrition Project. Just this little team of people who are mostly volunteering our time on nights and weekends because we want to make the world a better place.

[23:10] The hardest thing about product management. You don’t have direct power over anything.

[23:56] ‘CEO of the Product’. I think they tell us that as a joke. It’s like, “don’t you wish?”

[24:23] Innovation. There are categories of innovation. And they’re all related by movement. Movement of an idea or a concept or a product in a direction that hasn’t been explored. Or movement further in a direction that has.

[25:44] Source of inspiration. The most inspiring things come from hanging out with like a 13-year-old. Nothing will change your mind like hanging out with a kid.

Kasia’s Recommended Reading

Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert Macfarlane.

About Kasia

Kasia Chmielinski is the Co-Founder of The Data Nutrition Project, an initiative that builds tools to improve the health of artificial intelligence through better data. They are also a technologist at McKinsey & Company in Healthcare Analytics and previously worked at The U.S. Digital Service (Executive Office of the President) and Scratch, a project of the MIT Media Lab.

They studied physics at Harvard University. When not in front of a whiteboard or a keyboard, Kasia can be found birdwatching or cycling uncomfortably long distances on a bicycle.

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43 / PM101: The Influential Product Manager


What does it mean to be an influential product manager? In short, it means doing the job well. Easier said than done, right? The product manager is the one role in the organization who seems to own all the responsibility for getting things done, but none of the authority to actually do it. And that’s why influence is the key to success.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Ken Sandy. Quite literally, Ken wrote the book on influence in the PM role. His The Influential Product Manager: How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products is a comprehensive primer for both seasoned PMs and newcomers. And as a lecturer at UC Berkeley, he pioneered and now teaches the first product management course offered in the Engineering school – choosing to ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness.’

There’s no aspect of our conversation with Ken that you’ll want to miss. He covers a lot of ground: behaving like a product manager; conquering self-doubt; understanding the power of trust; and finding your place within the 2×2 matrix of product manager ‘mindsets.’ You’re won’t be great in each of these quadrants, Ken says, or even comfortable.

“But you shouldn’t avoid them either. You want to get in there to make sure you’re practicing those techniques, getting better at them over time. Because if you don’t, no one else is going to do it for you or your product.”

Remember, the product manager is the one individual in the organization that nobody else seems to work for. And who, it seems, works for everybody else.

Listen in:

[02:18] Influence as a key skill. How do I teach that?

[03:32] Different flavors of product managers. What connects them is how they operate within their organization – through influence, not authority.

[05:35] The four mindsets. Explorer, Analyst, Challenger, and Evangelist.

[12:26] Context matters. Especially in the product space.

[15:10] The art of saying ‘no.’ Nothing challenges PMs more than trying to prioritize competing initiatives. Saying ‘no’ to stuff.

[17:04] The prioritization methodology. You are empowered as a product manager to make the prioritization decisions about the product and the business. Don’t do that in isolation.

[18:52] Goals and evaluation criteria. If you can’t agree on the goals, you’ve got no chance on anything else.

[20:13] Build trust before you need it. Don’t wait until that first moment of having to deal with an issue or asking a stakeholder to do something on your behalf.

[22:34] Stakeholders are not always ‘senior leaders.’ Don’t overlook the broad spectrum of where you need to build those relationships.

[23:55] Communication is a two-way street. If you’re asking for something every time you talk to a stakeholder, you’re in the ‘self-interested land.’ But if you’re asking them about their goals and how you can help, you’re in a much better territory.

[25:18] Constructive conflict and psychological safety allows for everyone to put their cards on the table and kind of get down to it.

[29:10] Understanding bias. A very important skill for product leaders. The tools are getting much better.

[30:22] Innovation. Bringing together people with different points of view and looking at problems in new ways. From there, being able to create solutions to those problems that may not have existed before.

Ken’s Recommended Reading

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic, by Steven Johnson.

About Ken

Ken Sandy is a 20+ years veteran in technology Product Management. Ken pioneered and teaches the first Product Management course offered in the Engineering school at UC Berkeley, which has over 400 PM alumni practicing in industry. Throughout his career, Ken consistently defined, launched and managed award-winning, innovative Web and mobile products loved by customers and used by millions of users across 60+ countries.

Previously, Ken served as VP of Product Management at leading online education companies, MasterClass and lynda.com (Linkedin Learning), and is currently an executive consultant and advisor for startup and scale-up companies in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.

​He’s recently released “The Influential Product Manager: How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products” a highly practical and approachable guide to becoming more effective and navigating the challenging collaborative aspects of the product manager’s role.



42 / Shaping: A Different Kind of Product Work


Product work is rarely (ever?) as straightforward and ordered as we’d like. It’s important for us as product leaders to embrace this fact and to plan for the interdependencies among all the moving parts. Shaping puts a name to this important work. We get clarity of direction from the guardrails Shaping provides. At the same time, we draw greater autonomy and room for learning and growth. Shaping offers product manager a different kind of work; we should do more than write tickets.

In this episode, Sean and Paul talk with Ryan Singer, Head of Product Strategy at Basecamp and author of Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters. Ryan has experience in all things software, giving him invaluable insights into what really works when designing products from start to finish. By doing the shaping work, he says, product managers enjoy a clearly defined vision for the product and create realistic constraints for the team to work within.

Is Shaping the game-changer product managers have been looking for? Maybe. It isn’t waterfall. And it’s not pure Agile. But it might have a profound impact on the clarity to your direction and the anxiety level of your team.

Be sure to listen in to catch Ryan’s unique takes on the nature of work and creating meaningful products.

[2:20] Business challenges have changed. Now, we focus on defining progress rather than reacting to clients’ changing requests.

[4:04] Product strategy. Defining the big things that differentiate your offering from others based on those who use it.

[5:46] Don’t delegate strategy. Too many leaders delegate important design and product decisions.

[8:52] Shaping provides vision without micromanagement or a lack of leadership.

[11:41] Redefine your work. Shaping gives a name to important work that isn’t coding, design, or writing tickets.

[12:59] Embrace constraints. Scarce resources create an environment that motivates us to make tradeoffs and collaborate differently.

[17:29] Reduce risk. Do prototyping and figure out interdependencies before committing to a project that might take more time than anticipated.

[21:19] Don’t be afraid to kill projects. If it were worth doing, you’d have done it. Set deadlines and constraints and stick to them.

[24:05] Output vs. outcome. Be intentional about the product rather than focusing on deploying new features that may not be important to users.

[24:20] What’s wrong? Diagnose problems from performance, shaping, betting, and building by clearly defining these processes.

[27:55] The value of learning. Create an environment where the team is able to understand the big picture and how moving parts interact.

[29:50] Take ‘management’ from the product manager, and move it to the team by creating realistic constraints.

[37:02] Swimming in unknowns. The main work of the R&D phase.

[38:02] Cleanup mode. Designate time for tying up loose ends.

[42:39] Innovation. Doing something new that’s useful.

Ryan’s Recommended Reading

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, by Clayton Christensen, Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall, and David S. Duncan.

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

About Ryan

Ryan Singer has worked on all levels of the software stack, from UI design to backend programming to strategy. Through more than 17 years at Basecamp, he’s designed features used by millions and invented processes the teams use to design, develop, and ship the right things. These days he’s focused on product strategy: understanding what Basecamp’s customers are trying to do and how to make the product fit them better.

Ryan is also the author of Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters.


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