What is the product manager’s prime directive? Most would argue we’re here to make the world a better place through the software products we create. But what do we do when we see product decisions being made that conflict with that directive, that cause us to manipulate users to our benefit instead of inspire them for the benefit of others?
It’s the sort of question that makes you take a “look in the mirror.” And one that Product Momentum Podcast guest Michael Sacca posed in response to a deceptively simple one that Sean and Paul ask every guest: What’s a book that you recommend to others, one that has shaped your career or current thinking?
We could not have anticipated Michael’s response: The Social History of the Machine Gun. The John Ellis book describes how as a society we arrived at the machine gun as a form of deadly warfare. At every step in its evolution, Michael explained, product decisions were made to devise something that was more lethal than before.
As VP of Product at Dribbble, Michael describes the work of product managers as having to make thousands of similar decisions every day of our professional lives. Though the context of our work is vastly different from weapons of warfare, we too define scope, select new features, and satisfy requirements as part of our daily routine. But do we ever consider whether any of it is really necessary. Is our work helping to serve the prime directive – to make the world a better place?
Michael’s assessment of Ellis’ machine gun example serves as a jarring reminder that the choices we make can have significant impact on the world around us. It’s also a reminder of how a product manager’s leadership and influence can shape the experience for our customers and their users.
Michael put his own spin on the Shaping methodology (inspired by Ryan Singer’s book Shape Up) as a way to deliver impactful results for Dribbble. Listen in to hear more about how Shaping can help your team and organization to fulfill their prime directive.
[03:21] Ship more meaningful work, faster. Start to time box the other way. Rather than requiring the team to tell me how long something’s going to take, we just gave them six weeks to figure out how to ship something meaningful.
[04:26] Moving away from Agile, sort of. We’re not doing the usual Agile. We’re not going to stop and do a retro after 2 weeks. We’re not going to do grooming meetings. We’re not going to do any of that usual Agile stuff, because it didn’t give the team context.
[04:48] Shaping the work to build a happier, more productive team.
[06:18] The importance of building context. Our teams had a ticket, but they didn’t really know why we were doing what we were doing. Now all we do is give them a shaping document and they finalize the scope.
[07:16] Before, everyone was scared to cut scope. Now we’ve been able to refine the process to where we’re always building the most important thing and not wasting time on features that probably wouldn’t matter anyway.
[08:46] How to lose 70% of your team’s capability.
[09:41] What goes into the shaping artifact.
[11:43] “Inspiration is for amateurs.” – Chuck Close.
[13:03] The Dribbblization of Design. I think it is a very human and natural concept to collaborate together, and I think what we do is collect that trending information and give it back to the design community.
[14:58] Transforming product management from a cottage industry into a career that people now aspire to.
[15:21] Product manager as the “CEO of the product”? I don’t think we ever really fulfilled that.
[18:17] The constant evolution of product design. As humans, I think we’re always looking for something new. And that’s never going to change.
[20:35] The art and science of working together, separately.
[22:25] Shaping the space with 400 episodes of Rocketship.fm. What we’re trying to do is better understand the world around us as product managers.
[25:49] The most common cause of product failure. Interestingly, when done well, it’s also the most common cause of product success.
[27:41] Be aware of the influence we have as product managers.
[28:42] What is Innovation. Put simply, it’s a milestone in evolutionary progress.
[30:33] The book I always recommend to product people. The Social History of the Machine Gun, by John Ellis. It exemplifies what we have control of as product managers.
Michael’s Recommended Reading
The Social History of the Machine Gun, by John Ellis.
Michael Sacca is the VP of Product at Dribbble. He started his career 15 years ago as a Product Designer, eventually founding a cutting-edge product agency that built applications for Scholastic, GE, Nike, Siemens, and more. He founded the design asset management software, Brandisty, which was acquired in 2014 and is now owned by InVision.
Michael was the President at Crew, the freelance design and development marketplace, and former parent company of Unsplash, the popular stock photo website. At Crew, he secured key partnerships with Squarespace and the BDC before leading the company through its acquisition by Dribbble in 2017.
His writing has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, and his popular product management podcast (rocketship.fm) has been written about in Inc, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur, respectively.
Michael served on the board of AIGA in Las Vegas and taught web design as a Professor at the Art Institute.