Wolf Alexanyan

51 / Cognitive Bias and Software Development


Without mental shortcuts to help, there’s no way product managers could process the daily waves of information coming at us. We apply these shortcuts, called cognitive biases, to drive efficiency in how we perceive and respond to the world around us. But when we’re unaware of, or not sensitive to, these biases (that exist naturally within us, by the way), well, that’s when we make mistakes. Mistakes that manifest in our lives as product people as well as is our everyday lives as humans bumping along in our own existence.

In this episode of the ITX Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Wolf Alexanyan, Head of Product Management at The Software Development Company. Fresh off 2+ years of research regarding cognitive biases, Wolf recently published two significant works in our space: The Science of User Experience, which explains the importance of using our brain’s errors and biases to develop software product solutions, and UX CORE, a compilation of 105 hands-on examples of cognitive biases used in software development and team management.

“When I was working on UX Core,” Wolf says, “I wanted to show people not just how to use the biases to relate to others and protect yourself from being manipulated, but to show how powerful our brain is.

The moment we understand how to get in touch with our own cognitive biases is the moment we seize the power to make positive changes in our own lives as both human beings and product people. As Wolf explains, the power lies within each of us.

“This is the most important thing: if we focus on ourselves and spend some time just to understand the errors that we have – instead of trying to understand the capabilities of the world and opportunities that arise – we will benefit from that much more, much more.

Tune in to hear Wolf describe the role ego plays in cognitive bias, with specific reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and hear him explain why the “Blind Spot Bias” is the one that new product managers need to learn and understand before all others.

Wolf’s Recommended Reading:

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

About Wolf

Wolf Alexanyan is the Head of Product Management at The Software Development Company, working on lawful cyber intelligence systems. For the first half of his 12-year career, he worked as a technical specialist, after which he shifted to management. Wolf has led the research and design of such products as the eSports gaming ecosystem, air operator’s registry system for the General Department of Civil Aviation of Armenia, the world’s first levitating camera.

His main passion is studying different cognitive science disciplines to understand patterns of human behavior and thinking. He has recently finished 2.5 years of research regarding cognitive biases and published his work in two pieces. The Science of User Experience explains the importance of using our brain’s errors and biases in developing solutions for software products and development teams, and “UX CORE” consists of 105 hands-on examples of cognitive biases used in software development and team management.

He sincerely believes that humanity is on the verge of a cognitive revolution. Although cognitive biases are most used in the development of political and digital products, regular people can reap enormous benefits if they take the time to study their own biases and beliefs.

Visit Wolf’s website with his notes about project and product management: https://keepsimple.io/

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Christian Idiodi

50 / Product Problems Are People Problems


Whether discussing onboarding, the challenges we product managers confront in today’s upside-down world, or the benefits of being a “lazy” product manager, all problems boil down to people problems.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Christian Idiodi, partner at the Silicon Valley Product Group. As a leader in the product world from the beginning, Christian explains that people problems are also leadership problems, because “leaders are responsible for the context, culture, and frameworks we apply” to help solve complex problems.

Christian’s approach may seem unconventional, but his wisdom reflects a set of commonsense best practices that really aren’t all that common! He jokes with his teams, saying, “If your product work is not hard, you’re not doing it right.”

Sometimes, though, the work is hard because over 70% of product managers today are self-taught (“Imagine going to a self-taught dentist.”), having missed out on the innovative “bootcamp-like” onboarding experience he devised for his product managers.

In the modern product world, Christian says, the best way to succeed is to find a great product leader who you can learn from. That’s the best way to know what good product management looks like.

Listen in to catch more of Christian’s unique insights. They’ll help you discover how understanding the people in and around a problem will lead to better solutions. You’ll also learn why being “a lazy product manager” has its advantages.

Christian’s Recommended Reading:

EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products, by Marty Cagan.

What You Do Is Who You Are: How To Create Your Business Culture, by Ben Horowitz.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz.

About Christian

Christian Idiodi has been a product leader for over 15 years, building teams and developing enterprise and consumer products that have shaped companies such as CareerBuilder and Merrill Corporation as well as clients such as PayPal, Etsy, Starbucks, Dell, and Macy’s.

Christian is passionate about helping companies implement the discipline of product management to build world-class products and new technologies. At CareerBuilder, Christian founded and managed CareerBuilder Institute, the industry’s first combined human capital and consumer training platform. As VP of Enterprise Product at Snagajob, Christian conceptualized a new-to-market solution and led the discovery, development, and successful launch of the ReadyHire business line. He designed and led the B2B product strategy for IdentityForce. He then founded Firtsi, a product consulting company that has overseen the product development lifecycle for over 120+ new products.

Before joining Silicon Valley Product Group, Christian was the Global Head of Product for Merrill Corporation where he built the company’s product organization and led them through a transformational, large-scale industry launch of the first SaaS app for due diligence in the finance industry.

Christian teaches product management and innovation at Virginia Commonwealth University. He also gives back to his local product community each year by supporting and advising two student-led startups from conceptualization to product delivery. Christian graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Psychology and Community Building and earned a dual MBA and MPM from Keller Graduate School of Management.

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49 / The Many Paths To Product Management


There’s no clear career path to product management. And while that sounds like just another obstacle keeping you from your dream job, it should actually come as a comfort to all you PM hopefuls. Here’s why.

It’s about equifinality, which simply means that the same end result can be achieved by many potential means and from many points of entry along the journey. It’s one of those grad school textbook terms you never expect to encounter again – until, perhaps, you’re talking about the path to product management.

The term resurfaced recently, thanks to Lena Sesardic, who joined Sean and Paul on this latest episode of ITX’s Product Momentum Podcast. Lena’s own journey is a story of equifinality; she is Croatian, but lived portions of her life in Europe, the Pacific Rim, and North America. Her professional life is equally diverse. Once an innovation lab product manager and entrepreneur, Lena is now a product management consultant and author. Her recent book, The Making of Product Managers, offers an up-close look at 20 real-life humans whose varied paths to product management should inspire us all.

So hang in there, you product designers and technologists. Take heed, marketers and web developers, and you mathematicians and high school educators. If product management is the field to which you aspire, it’s very likely someone has come before you to show the way.

But don’t take it from me. Tune in to hear it in Lena’s own words. Here’s a bit of what you’ll learn!

[03:24] As a product manager, I found that writing a book is a lot like building a product. Iteration was a really big part of it, and adding important features too.

[04:46] It doesn’t matter what you did before. There’s likely to be a parallel that you can draw on, and there’s no limit to who can break into product.

[06:39] PMs require such a huge, diverse skill set. Decision-making, analytical, communication skills.

[06:58] There’s also less tangible, equally important, PM skills.

[08:32] Experience isn’t just the number of years, but it’s actually what have you done. Get a taste of everything.

[10:32] Diversity of experience is key in terms of prioritization. You really need to get the full picture, to be able to look at the problem from every perspective and think about the holes in your ideas.

[12:40] PMs get to own their role because the job of a product manager is actually carving out what their job description is.

[14:22] Predict the organization’s needs. Insiders are privy to how the organization is operating, growing, and changing. So as an insider, you might be able to predict when things are going to be needed – and step in to fill that void.

[15:49] The product manager is the glue that holds the team together.

[18:09] If you can crack the code to become a product manager, you can be a good product manager – and you deserve to be one.

[20:27] Innovation through Transplanting. Taking something that’s working in one industry, spinning it a certain way, transplanting it into another industry. Just like that, you have a new service and it’s actually Innovation.

Lena’s Recommended Reading

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.

Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan.

The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn if Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You, by Rob Fitzpatrick.

About Lena

Lena Sesardic is originally Croatian but grew up in Asia for most of her life before moving to Vancouver, B.C. in 2009 to study Economics at the University of British Columbia.

She first started working in Product Management in early 2017 while being part of a startup-like team within a large financial technology organization. She then led an innovation team at a customer experience management company.

Presently she works as a Consultant in Product Management at the financial technology organization where she previously worked, while pursuing personal projects on the side. Her latest personal project is her newly launched book, The Making of Product Managers.

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48 / At the Intersection of Art and Technology


Defining the product manager role is a moving target. It’s tough to put our finger on the skill set we need to land the gig. And then we’re not always confident about what to do once we arrive.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Josh Anon. Now a product manager at Roblox, Josh has worked at the intersection of art and technology throughout his career. A quick review of his resume (in addition to sparking bits of envy) and you’ll understand why Josh’s approach to product management – blending the right amounts of creative expression and systematic analysis, with bias toward neither – provides the balance we need for our products to succeed.

Before Roblox, Josh’s career includes stops at Pixar, Lytro, and Magic Leap where he performed roles as a software developer, cinematographer, and product manager. Josh is also author of The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager, a best-seller written precisely for new product managers.

An amazing storyteller, Josh’s unique journey has led to the key learnings and important insights he shares with us today. Listen closely to find a nugget that will nudge your career forward.

[02:13] No matter the industry, product is about being the voice of the customer.

[03:08] Keep in mind that the right solution depends on the situation.

[04:22] Expect to be disrupted. Better still, think about how to disrupt yourself.

[05:52] The scientific approach to goal setting. It’s reasonable, when you’re working on different goals, to start off with a hypothesis to test.

(06:23] We can develop intuition, and we can develop good instincts over time. The more experience you get, the better you can put yourself into a customer’s shoes.

[08:43] Product management, in a nutshell, is about who is the customer, what problem you’re solving for them, and can the technology deliver a solution with trade-offs that the customer will accept.

[12:19] Four critical PM skills. Learning, researching, writing, and experimenting.

[14:30] Storytelling and PRDs. Use documentation not as a massive, static thing that’s not going to change. But rather to tell a story about where we want to go and the key things we want to make sure we don’t lose as we execute toward it.

[17:46] What if my hypothesis is wrong? As a PM, one of the things that keeps me up at night is, what if I’m wrong about my hypothesis? Writing or telling a story is a quick way to do a gut check to answer: “is my solution going to fit into the customer’s life in a useful, meaningful way?”

[19:11] Detail matters to good storytelling. The right level of detail can help you realize, what are the features on your product that really are critically important, and what’s the stuff that just doesn’t matter?

[23:17] The technology is in service of something bigger.

[23:50] Saying no. You have to have a strong ability to say no to things. It’s better to do less that’s better than to do every single feature possible and deliver it poorly.

[24:32] The value of technology. Technology doesn’t exist because we’ve managed to figure out how to build a feature; the value in it is focusing on, what is it that a customer is trying to achieve?

[26:04] Innovation. Innovation has become a mix of, how do you have a novel solution to a problem that is way better than what people are doing now to solve it, and you’ve made it available in an accessible way that has minimal tradeoffs for the customer. You know you’ve achieved innovation when you actually see it out there and you see it being adopted. It’s not just that you’ve done the inventive process of that.

Josh’s recommended reading:

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu.

Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success, by Ken Segall.

Anything science fiction. Says Josh: I tell PMs that they should really read science fiction. Because every day, especially if we’re thinking about user narratives, we’re imagining a future that doesn’t exist. Sometimes it’s really far out there if the project’s going to take years, other times it’s just like a month or two. But science fiction is all about, what is a future-state world that extrapolates where technology could go and the implications that that might have?

About Josh

Josh Anon is a Product Manager at Roblox, in charge of 3D creation in Studio. He started his career at Pixar as an intern on Finding Nemo and was a software developer, cinematographer, and more on every show through Monsters University. After Pixar, he switched full-time to tech as a product manager and worked on bringing sci-fi to life with light field cameras at Lytro, AR glasses at Magic Leap, and socially assistive robotics at Embodied. He’s the author of the best-selling book for new PMs, The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager.”

When not social distancing, Josh can be found photographing at the north and south poles, and you can see the photos at joshanon.com.

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47 / Imagine A World Where Social Justice Reigns


In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Andrew Branch, Director of Product Engineering at Measures for Justice (MFJ). MFJ, an ITX client and Rochester, NY neighbor, is a criminal justice research organization whose mission is to make accurate criminal justice data available and accessible to all – and to leverage this same data to spur societal reform.

These data are jarring. As Andrew reports –

  • As many Americans have a college diploma as have a criminal record – a statistic that mostly impacts people of color.
  • One in three black men born in 2001 will likely be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime. For Latinos, the number is 1 in 6. For white males, it’s 1 in 17.
  • The more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. adhere to their own variation of a criminal justice system – a vast, complex system that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and defense counsel, courts and jails, and so on. On top of that, these same jurisdictions craft their own policies and use their own data systems to track it all.

These data demand answers to many questions, not least of which is how are we to make informed decisions about things we can’t isolate, measure, and compare? Thankfully, our friends at Measures for Justice are committed to building solutions that leverage technology to deliver vital societal change.

“At MFJ, we collect countywide criminal case data, from arrest to post-conviction,” Andrew says. “We then clean it up, normalize it, and package it into performance measures that provide a comprehensive picture of how cases are being handled across the entire criminal justice system. We then make it available to the public on our free data portal.”

Interviewing clients is a treat for us. So be sure to tune in. The lessons here are as vital to product people as they are to those of us imagining a world in which social justice reigns.

Andrew’s Recommended Reading:

Ordinary Justice: How America Holds Court, by Amy Bach.

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins.

About Andrew

Andrew Branch joined Measures for Justice in 2015. As Director of Product Engineering, Andrew oversees MFJ’s engineering effort to collect and manage criminal justice data and the product line to bring it to the public. Andrew brings his 30 years’ experience and passion for software development and team building to the position. He has designed and delivered numerous business and consumer-oriented products over that time.

Andrew has a BS in Computer Science from Siena College and an MS in Computer Science from Rochester Institute of Technology.

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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.

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