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.



41/ No Such Thing As The ‘Perfect’ Product Manager


Not every product management role is the same. Each requires a different skill set balance, a different temperament, and a different approach to problem solving. Why is that? Because users are individuals. Unique individuals. And while we share basic needs, ranging from physiological to self-actualization, each of us draws satisfaction and delight in different ways and from different sources.

Given all that, can there be such a thing as the perfect product leader – the superwoman or superman who knows everything there is to know about a product, technology, market, set of users, and the team who builds it? It seems the space too complicated for that to be possible, right?

That’s precisely why, in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul were so eager to speak with Alicia Dixon, senior product manager at Apartment List. Alicia brings a hands-on, no-nonsense approach to doing product.  And she speaks from a rich, wide-ranging experience. Alicia started in product as a technical designer in the fashion industry before bringing her perspective to software.

Alicia comes from the “builder sense,” she says, “the wanting to make things, and getting a sense of joy out of seeing someone use or wear what I worked on.” No matter your industry, she adds, “You really have to put yourself in the shoes of [each unique user]. I took the same approach then as I’m doing in product now. You know, understanding the user, knowing what their problems are, and solving for those problems. There’s actually a continuity there.”

Lean in for more of today’s pod to hear Alicia discuss how equity and inclusivity must be part of every product conversation. Catch her thoughts about whether product managers can remain relevant as the lines between specialties begin to blur. Her takes on these and other topics are seriously on point!

[02:09] Product managers are high achievers and go-getters. It’s a common thread that connects us.

[02:09] Job descriptions for products managers stink. Not every product management role is the same, and some roles need skills that others don’t.

[03:58] Three steps to building better product teams. Be intentional about team needs. Take time to develop people. Target specific learning.

[05:28]  Driving equity and inclusivity in the product space. If product people are to serve a diverse set of users, we must do more to reflect the composition of our markets.

[06:56] Tangible benefits of addressing inequity. There’s definitely an economic side to addressing problems.  There’s a very real return on investment.

[07:42] Portability of product skills. Making things, experiencing someone’s joy, connecting with users.

[08:08] Empathy. My work is to understand the user, know their problems, and solving for those problems.

[09:16] Diversity is empowering. Geography, socio-economic, experiences…all contribute to the perspectives we have and can bring to the table.

[11:32] Are product managers still relevant? If we get to a place where all those specialties can talk to each other and everyone’s working toward a shared goal and not their individual KPI, product management could go away.

[13:13] Flow. We’re living at the intersection of everything, and it’s very hard to stay in flow.

[14:28] Leading big products vs. leading small products. The elements of your day-to-day are similar, but what changes is how much you roll up your sleeves to help out.

[15:51] Ambition. The trait that (almost) all product managers share.

[16:32] Product manager’s dilemma. Where do I want to go? When am I most happy? Why do I get up for work every day? Answer these and then define success for yourself.

[19:09] Toxic intellectualization. The act of over-thinking and delaying action.

[19:58] Using a framework to solve a challenge. I would bet that most successful teams didn’t start with the framework. They started with a, “let’s get something done,” mindset, and that’s what they worked toward.

[20:53] PM’s future. As long as we continue to add value – making someone’s life easier, releasing a product that helps us save money or time, or creating a thing of beauty that can be appreciated – there’s a long horizon for product to continue.

[22:06] Find your own intrinsic satisfaction.

[23:07] Why there’s still no Product Management Book of Knowledge. Even though they spent years writing it, what they came up with didn’t resonate. It’s too big a question.

[25:14] Innovation. The process of coming up with a new way to do an old thing.

Alicia’s Recommended Reading

It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage, by Arlan Hamilton and Rachel L. Nelson.

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), by Elaine Welteroth.

About Alicia

Alicia Dixon is a Senior Product Manager at Apartment List, a platform that connects renters with apartment listings through an online marketplace. She brings more than 2 decades of experience building products and creating technology solutions for consumers and enterprises.  Her specialty is software product management, where she enjoys focusing on new product development, product strategy, and market research. 

Alicia has held management positions at leading companies including Hilton, UPS, Dell, and Fruit of the Loom.  She is a proud alumnus of Howard University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree, and holds an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY, and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama.

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Special Edition / Delivery + UX = Client Value


Strong leadership and eager collaboration serve as the hallmarks in the long list of contributions made by ITX veterans and Vice Presidents Nancy Neumann and Lisa Young, the company’s most recent additions to its Board of Directors.

In this special edition of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome fellow ITX leaders Lisa and Nancy to better understand the secret to their decades of success.

Individually, they are responsible for establishing, growing, and retaining ITX’s global Delivery and User Experience organizations, respectively. Together, they share in each other’s challenges and successes, building a collective product team that delivers client value and improves users’ lives.

“We look for people who have the right core technical competencies,” Nancy says, “but we also want people who are a fit for the work we do and how we do it.”

Nancy and Lisa believe in ‘hiring hard, managing easy.’

“What’s really important,” Lisa adds, “is that we encourage the growth of our people, helping them to feel related to each other. So that’s the collaboration we have…and it stems from the leadership team’s capacity for caring. It’s what makes people very sticky to ITX.”

Listen in to catch more leadership insights about hiring, mentoring for growth, and empowering teams toward autonomy.

[02:36] Access to experts in every department is key to our ‘special sauce.’ We work with our teams to break down the silos that divide us, which makes us much more collaborative.

[03:51] We’re a collective product team. When we need expertise outside the team, it’s easy to reach out because we’re not just one team of one particular specialty.

[04:48] It’s all about the people. Teams of people working with people to build software products that improve people’s lives.

[05:10] Hiring hard, managing easy. Candidates need to have the core technical competencies that every manager is looking for. But we look for the person that is a fit for the work we do – and how we do it.

[05:40] Passion and curiosity. We need people who have a passion for technology and are curious around where it has been, where it is today, and where it is going. That’s what’s going to drive innovation in digital product design.

[06:16] Context. Putting together all the threads that make up a user in a way that we’re able to walk in their shoes and build empathy so that we understand the experience we’re delivering to them.

[07:49] Finding the right fit. Our culture is so important. New hires need to be a good fit for our culture and our values.

[09:51] There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ If we find great individual contributors that love shining on their own, that’s really not what we’re about.

[11:53] Capacity for caring and management continuity. It makes people very ‘sticky’ to ITX.

[12:48] ITX designers don’t ‘push pixels.’ We give our designers ownership of their work and turn them loose, empowering them to participate in our client’s work and in internal initiatives as well.

[14:13] Relatedness, Competence, Autonomy. Self-Determination Theory personified.

[16:37] Our job is to make people’s jobs easier. We have to get what we’re doing out into people’s hands to find out what’s working, what’s not working. And be prepared to respond to change really fast.

[17:39] Heartfelt congratulations. We can’t think of two more qualified individuals to serve on ITX’s board of directors; and we’re excited to see how your fresh perspective helps ITX craft and realize its long-term vision.

About Lisa

Lisa Young’s career in IT spans 35 years. Over the last 15 years at ITX, and in her current role as Vice President of Delivery, Lisa has built a world-class, global organization of passionate technologists. Under Lisa’s guidance, her Delivery team’s passion and expertise transform our clients’ vision into reality by creating software products that solve their complex business challenges.

About Nancy

Nancy Neumann has been actively engaged in the high-tech industry for more than 20 years. As the VP of User Experience at ITX, Nancy leads our Interaction Design practice, which has become a key source of differentiation, thought leadership, and customer value creation. Under Nancy’s leadership, her group brings a passion for technology, an appreciation for UX as a problem-solving discipline, and a belief that experience is the product.


40 / How A Well-Told Story ‘Weaves In Your Why’


The simple act of telling a story well helps the audience believe that the story is actually happening to them. Whether you’re pitching a product idea to a group of users or to your team, the well-told story resonates. It identifies the key players. It describes the conflict. And as the plot unfolds, it delivers the  narrative and dialogue that best describes their journeys. And at the story’s climax, it reveals how the conflict is resolved.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul catch up with Mark Cruth, part-time storyteller and full-time Enterprise Solutions Architect at Atlassian. When product managers weave just the right narrative, Mark says, we help our teams connect the dots between themselves and the experience they’re creating for users. We help them understand who they are, who their users are, what their mission is, and how they add value to the organization’s larger ambitions. In other words, we Weave in their Why.

Tune in to the pod as Mark weaves his own engaging narrative about the power of storytelling.

[02:17] The difference between user stories and storytelling.

[03:29] Knowing your persona(s).

[03:55] Anti-patterns – e.g., does our product serve only one persona?

[06:57] Storytelling is how we talk to people, how we sell them on our ideas.

[07:53] Oxytocin, dopamine, and cortisol.

[10:25] Use the backlog to tell the story of your product’s evolution.

[11:26] Value stream mapping the product backlog to describe your user’s journey as a narrative.

[12:29] How the story plays out in product, we can build a better experience.

[14:59] Integrate a team of teams to weave the story together.

[17:06] Rapid prototyping to potential users.

[18:21] Build advocacy by sharing the product story with users and the product team; both benefit by knowing what the next stage will be.

[20:54] Communicating value. “Hey, we contribute to this part of the journey.”

[21:45] Product Manager tip #1: Ask your teams to create their own canvas; talk about who they are, who their customers are, what their mission is, how they add value.

[24:47] Product Manager tip #2. Ask yourself: When we implement this, what do we expect to happen? Make it a quantitative metric…and then measure it over time.

[30:20] Connect the dots from the organization’s strategic level down to each individual user story.

[31:36] What’s the why? Stories have a way of helping organizations discover their why and communicating it to their teams.

[33:11] Innovation. Innovation is something that we do all the time. It’s allowing ourselves to let go of our preconceived notions and think differently. Thinking differently, that’s innovation.

Mark’s Recommended Reading

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss.

Long Story Short, The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Margot Leitman.

About Mark

Mark Cruth is an Enterprise Solutions Architect with Atlassian, working with organizations around the world to improve the connection between the work being done and the goals being pursued with the help of Jira Align.

An Agile advocate since 2009, Mark has made it his mission to inject the values and principles of Agile into everything he does. His deep knowledge in Agile product development and team dynamics stem from his diverse experience supporting transformation and value delivery as an Agile Coach, Scrum Master, and Product Owner across several different industries, including Manufacturing, eCommerce, Big Data, and FinTech.

When not heads-down in the latest book on self-management or deep in conversation with a leadership team, Mark can be found reading one of his favorite sci-fi novels (specifically anything by Brandon Sanderson) or playing with Legos with his kids.

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39 / Behavioral Science and Product Design


As product builders, we use data science and behavioral science to help us design software solutions that line up with our users’ initial intent. Data science helps us understand who’s likely to take some action. Behavioral science looks at the factors that drive us to take action in the first place. With so many inputs influencing our decision-making process, it’s hard to know where to start.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Nate Andorsky, CEO of Creative Science and author of Decoding The Why. His many contributions to our space appear at the intersection of human behavior and the ways in which it can improve human outcomes.

Nate recommends taking a behavior-first approach to solving product design challenges. “Zero in on the behavior you’re trying to change and work backward from there,” he says. “Oftentimes when we build products, we get into this habit of thinking solution first.”

We collect all sorts of information about users from focus groups, surveys, and in-person interviews. Much of it lands in two big buckets: what people say and what people do. All that is great. But too often the say and the do don’t line up. So as product leaders we need to continue our discovery process to better understand the “Why?”

Tune in to the pod as Nate shares insights around his concept of “say data, do data, and why data.” The why data explains the subconscious factors that are actually driving user behavior, the types of things your users aren’t even aware of themselves.

Once you understand that, Nate adds, you have a foundation and a decision-making framework to create amazing products that make a positive impact in the lives of others.

[02:28] Behavioral science vs. Data science. Behavioral science looks at what factors drive us to take action? Data science looks at who’s likely to do what.

[03:06] The $64,000 Question. How do product builders get people to do that thing. That’s where behavioral science layers back in.

[03:47] How to institute change in a product ecosystem. Zero in on the behavior that you’re trying to change and then work backward from there.

[05:09] Say data. Do data. Why data. Decode the WHY to understand the subconscious behaviors that drive user behavior.

[06:36] The 15-year delay. Academic research precedes implementation by about 15 years.

[07:17] The need for sophisticated individuals. It takes a sophisticated individual to understand how to convert academic theory into product solutions.

[09:16] Hyperbolic discounting and present bias. How we think about our products doesn’t always align with how our users feel in the moment.

[13:39] The ethics of product design. Use your powers for good; that is, design product solutions in ways that line up with users’ initial intent.

[16:06] How do product managers discover the delta between say-do data and extrapolate the why?

[18:25] Top 2 behavioral economics heuristics. The identifiable victim/beneficiary effect and the power of storytelling.

[20:24] Personalities and behaviors. Behavior might not be driven by one’s personality, but even more so by one’s environment.

[21:34] Digital experiences as motivators and organizers of behavior. Hopefully, behaviors we want to see in the world.

[22:35] The value of personas. They’re definitely informative. But they’re neither industry specific nor individual specific. They’re human specific.

[25:22] Advice to generate new ideas. It comes with experience and getting your hands dirty.

[25:56] The biggest breakthroughs come with a new intervention or a new design that is pieced together from four or five different things that we’ve seen work.

[26:51] Add fuel, remove friction. Avoid swimming against the current. Share a path with your users that matches the narrative they want for themselves.

[27:59] Innovation. It’s the cross-discipline of different studies and ideas. Innovation is when you start to break down the silos that separate these disciplines and understand how they all fit together.

Nate’s Recommended Reading

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson.

Decoding the Why: How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design, by Nate Andorsky.

About Nate

Nate Andorsky is an entrepreneur who uses behavioral science to build digital strategies and technology for today’s most innovative companies and nonprofits. He believes the key to unlocking the potential of technology lies within our understanding of the psychological factors that drive human decision-making. By combining scientific findings with outside-of-the-box thinking, he helps turn human understanding into business advantages.

As the CEO of Creative Science, he leads a team focused on this mission. He is a frequent international speaker, has been featured in Forbes, INC Magazine, and Huffington Post and his team’s work has earned accolades from Fast Company and TopNonProfits.com. Prior to Creative Science, he was a team member at the Startup America Partnership, a nonprofit led by Steve Case to help build entrepreneurial communities throughout the US. He geeks out about the intersection of human behavior and the ways in which it can improve human outcomes.




38 / How To Recapture Lost Innovation ROI


Investment in innovation will bring business energy, they say, and will enable new revenue growth. Investment in innovation will lead to more efficient business operation and will deepen your brand’s hold on existing clients while attracting more prospects. Investment in innovation will help level up your team’s skill set. 

Innovation is powerful. Investment in it is a necessary condition for any growing, visionary organization. But investment in ITD (innovation, transformation, and digital) is a means to an end. Growth remains the objective. According to Mark Zawacki, it’s a difficult lesson many have learned the hard way. 

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Mark joins Sean and Paul to closely examine true impact of investment in innovation on organizations large and small. As Founder and CEO of 650 Labs, Mark is intimately aware of the challenges confronting today’s businesses. And the news is troubling.

“We’re experiencing a real crisis in corporate innovation,” Mark says. “Tens of billions of dollars invested every year, and it doesn’t appear things are coming out the other side. We’re finding it difficult to see the relationship between investment in innovation and ROI.”

Much of Mark’s analysis stems from his work with large multinational organizations, but he makes clear that the same issues scale to the business unit and team levels too. “When you unpack it, we see the same issues appearing in five key areas: Structural, Organizational, Methodology, Cultural/Political, and Advisorial.”

Here’s a quick look at the root causes of what Mark refers to as poor ITD performance:

  • Structural. Large organizations are built for stability, reliability, and predictability with executive compensation aligned with near-term results. This is hardly the environment for nurturing innovation and a new way of doing things.
  • Organizational. Digital leaders in larger organizations are rarely on the fast track to the C-suite. This suggests that they are more interested in securing the incremental innovations that come along and not the big, strategic shifts that innovative organizations pursue.
  • Methodology. The traditional companies, the incumbents, follow a pretty standard playbook. But they’re aren’t showing results for a variety of reasons – mostly because their playbook has become obsolete.
  • Behavioral/Cultural/Political. So many organizations are filled with smart but risk-averse people who tend to hire in their own image. Organizational politics is the result of individuals acting in their own self-interests. Progress grinds slowly in that environment, and radical ideas are ridiculed.
  • Advisorial. These issues arise when your incentive/compensation system is misaligned with actual problem solving.

So, how do we break through these big, hairy challenges to build an environment where innovation and risk-taking are not only welcome, but encouraged?

The answer lies in creating a new “edge” business that operates separately, but in parallel, from the company’s “core” business. Where the core is focused on delivering short-term results with incremental innovations, the edge business is built for flexibility, uncertainty, and long-term growth opportunities.

The key, Mark says, is to make sure you keep separate the core and edge pieces of your organization. Historically, we’ve tried to create the edge business within the core – and that’s where it’s not working. The edge business is designed and operated to ultimately replace the core business’ declining revenue. Why bring a high-growth asset into a low-growth environment?

Tune in to the Product Momentum Podcast to hear more of Mark Zawacki’s insights into the core/edge organizational model and how to bring transformative innovation and ROI to your organization.

[02:06] A crisis in corporate innovation. Tens of billions of dollars invested every year, and it appears there’s nothing coming out the other side.

[05:35] The relationship between investment in innovation and ROI. At a macro level, we’re finding it difficult to find one.

[06:36] At the micro-level, are companies working on the big things to replace declining revenue? If so, where? That’s when the conversation gets a little difficult.

[07:10] What’s going wrong on the inside of these companies? There are five buckets, or problem areas, where large organizations are having difficulty.

[07:32] Structural issues. Large organizations focus on the short term. They’re built for stability, reliability, and predictability. That’s the reverse of innovation and the reverse of doing new things.

[09:15] Organizational issues. The company’s digital leaders are rarely on the fast track to the C-suite. This tells me the business isn’t really thinking about big strategic change.

[10:15] Methodology issues. Start-ups don’t always play nice with corporates. They don’t make an appointment and say, “Hey, how do we partner together?” They break into your house at 3:00 in the morning and steal your stuff.

[12:05] Behavioral, political, cultural issues. These are the issues that slow innovation. Failure is a bad word that translates to “no real risk-taking.”

[12:50] Don’t confuse new ideas and great ideas. A great team with an average idea always beats an average team with a great idea.

[13:28] Advisorial issues. The vast majority of advisors are fee-based; when you have a fee-based model, your incentives are misaligned with solving problems.

[15:22] The hard stuff is easy. Hard stuff doesn’t mean difficult, but “hard” as in more scientific.

[16:18] The soft stuff is hard. The people skills, knowing talent, applying leadership and management models. How do you go about upskilling? How do we build great teams? That’s hard.

[18:43] Recipe for success. Small team, big goal. Get out of the way and they’ll figure it out.

[20:27] Dunbar’s number. Overwhelming evidence that teams of 150 – ideally under 100 – are more high performing than monolithic teams of thousands working on a goal.

[22:15] Merge the core business and the edge organization? No, never. Why bring a high-growth asset into a low-growth environment?

[29:16] “Burn the ships.” Here’s how to test a person’s intrapreneurial spirit. Few people have the risk profile to forego pay for equity, to forego comfort today for opportunity tomorrow. It’s an example the reality that we’re in.

[31:14] Pooh-poohing incremental innovation? Not at all. It’s necessary but insufficient. We are hurtling toward the technological singularity. We know in 10 years AI eats the world.

[34:13] Three horizons of innovation. Incremental, the horizon three, and transformative.

[37:11] Innovation theatre. You get all the buzz words, all the excitement. But when you push on it, when you look down the pipe to see what’s coming out the other side…that’s when results are disappointing.

Mark’s Recommended Reading

Fightback: How to win in the digital economy with platforms, ventures and entrepreneurs, by Felix Staeritz.

Dual Transformation: How To Reposition Today’s Business While Creating the Future, by Scott D. Anthony, Clark Gilbert, and Mark W. Johnson.

About Mark

Mark Zawacki is a business strategist and Board advisor, management researcher, author, keynote speaker, and investor.  Since 2001, he has led or supervised engagement teams on more than 400 clients globally, working through myriad revenue-related initiatives including growth, corporate strategy, disruptive innovation, business and corporate development, organisational change/transformation, and variety of people issues (leadership development, organisational design, talent strategy, corporate culture, etc.)

To date, he has worked in more than 80 countries. His clients span a wide variety of sectors, most notably financial services, mobile/telco, retail, media, automotive, healthcare, technology, and energy.  He has also provided strategic counsel on growth and innovation to the European Union and the governments of The Netherlands, France, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and others.

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37 / Validate and Verify the Customer Voice


Whatever we think we know about our users doesn’t always hold true when we release our products into the wild. Faced with compressed cycle times and pressure to release something, product managers sometimes fall in love with a product only later to discover we were among the few who did. Our mistake isn’t being passionate about the feature or solution; our mistake is failing to first measure our users’ response to it.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Ash Maurya, founder and CEO of LEANSTACK and creator of Lean Canvas, a popular business modeling tool. “It’s about bringing in the customer voice,” Ash says, “and gathering the right qualitative and quantitative metrics – starting with qualitative.”

It’s the easier place to start, Ash continues. “With qualitative, we get to see patterns and learn the big themes – what I call ‘the signals and the noise.’ Validate qualitatively, but then verify quantitatively because otherwise you can get a lot of false positives.”

Throughout the pod, Ash shares insights about how product teams can close the gap between pre-launch conjecture and post-launch reality. By bringing the customer into a Discovery phase conversation where probing and listening are front and center, we’re able to sharpen our focus, test theories through experimentation, and create new experiences based on what we’ve learned.

Product leaders come to understand their customers in a deeper context. When we engage them beyond the functional nature of their challenge, we’re more likely to understand the problem they’re trying to solve at a truly emotional level. With that depth of appreciation, we can create impactful product design.

Be sure to catch the entire podcast conversation to hear Ash share the following:

[01:44] A big movement putting product at the center. In some ways, it’s always been there, there’s just a new awareness of it.

[03:40] The first order of business. Are we building something that gets used? Are customers engaging with this? That’s where I like to start; everything else layers on top.

[04:04] Qualitative metrics. Qualitative can give you a very strong signal one way or the other that you may be onto something. It’s very effective in finding problems.

[05:39] Validation and verification. An interesting distinction in light of the role qualitative and quantitative research plays.

[07:44] Jobs to be Done (and other frameworks). At first, I’m fascinated. But the thing that always troubles me is that it feels a bit like a magic trick. I see the result, but I don’t know how they got to it.

[08:19] Hiring and firing products. Even as I look across disruptive products, for every product that you build, there’s already a product, an existing alternative, that you are replacing.

[09:00] The bigger context. With every product, there’s the functional job, and there’s the emotional job.

[09:00] The drill bit example. Why are you drilling the hole in the first place?

[11:39] Understanding irrationality. How behavioral economics helps the marketer, innovator, and entrepreneur.

[12:59] Quantitative metrics. The quantitative is where the data proves the thing working at scale.

[12:59] Insight generation. That’s where all the interviewing and the qualitative learning comes into play.

[14:15] New products are fundamentally about some kind of behavior change.

[16:32] Habit loops and reward loops. As product folks, we sometimes have to add some kind of feedback loop that this product is working.

[17:35] “Using a lean canvas does not a lean startup make.” The difference between a team following process because they were forced to – not using the tool for its intended purpose.

[23:27] MVP and MVA. Build something smaller and then iterate and refine. The challenge is that today customers have no patience. Rightly so, because they have so many choices.

[25:50] The strategy of preeminence. If you can articulate user problems better than they can, they transfer expertise to you and that starts a conversation.

[27:40] The innovator’s bias. I want to build something cool and different and I don’t want to solve the obvious problems.

[27:40] The secret about new problems. They come from old solutions.

[29:38] The speed of learning. The only true, unfair advantage that you have.

[32:42] Innovation. I contrast innovation and invention. I look at invention as a new way of doing things, and I look at innovation as taking that new way, technology, method to market.

Ash’s Recommended Reading

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer, 2nd ed., by Jeffrey K. Liker.

To learn more about the tools and content discussed on the podcast, check out LEANSTACK.

About Ash

Ash Maurya is the author of two best-selling books – Running Lean and Scaling Lean. He is also the creator of the highly popular one-page business modeling tool, Lean Canvas.

Ash is praised for offering some of the best and most practical advice for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs all over the world. Driven by the search for better and faster ways of building successful products, Ash has developed a systematic methodology for raising the odds of success built upon Lean Startup, Customer Development, and Bootstrapping techniques.

Ash is also a leading business blogger; his posts and advice have been featured in Inc. magazine, Forbes, and Fortune. He regularly hosts sold-out workshops around the world and serves as a mentor to several accelerators, including TechStars, MaRS, and Capital Factory. He guest lectures at several universities, including MIT, Harvard, and the University of Texas at Austin.

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