36 / Shaping the Product Manager’s Prime Directive


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.

About Michael

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.

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35 / Building the Solutions the World Needs


In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Christopher O’Donnell, Chief Product Officer at HubSpot. Their conversation kicks off with a discussion of Trust, closes with Christopher’s definition of Innovation, and checks nearly every box in the product manager playbook along the way.

In a lively give-and-take that combines big ideas and “boots on the ground” pragmatism, Christopher explains how a product mindset, with clearly articulated goals and guardrails, brings a level of team autonomy that delivers product solutions and “delightful surprises.” Autonomous teams, he says, find better ways to solve problems than if leadership had simply given them their marching orders.

“Creativity comes from the constraints,” Christopher adds. When we give people products to build and problems to solve – along with those goals and guardrails – we not only get better solutions; we get empowered, autonomous teams.

“Let’s be clear. Autonomy is not chaos,” Christopher adds. “Autonomy is not doing whatever you want and optimizing for yourself or your team above the customer. Autonomy is the ability to make high-quality decisions without consulting a lot of people. But you don’t get that without the guardrails.”

Above it all, Christopher reminds us of the human story attached to our work. “I don’t care what you build; every day and every interaction involve users of our software. They’re real people, with real people problems.”

The ultimate goal of every product manager, he says, is to build the solution the world needs.

Listen in to hear Christopher’s thoughts on these topics:

[02:34] The Impact of Trust.  When you have organizational trust, you can attract really great people. You can retain really great people, and they will accomplish bigger, better things than what you could have told them to do.

[03:40] Product ≠ Project. We don’t give people projects. We give people products, with clearly defined goals and guardrails. And they own the successes and failures along the way.

[04:30] The Shift into Problems. Even better than giving people products is giving them problems.

[05:29] Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation. Hire their hearts and their minds.

[07:23] Titles do not matter. If it were totally up to me and I could start from scratch, everybody on our team would just have the title “Product.”

[07:38] As a resource, there’s no limit to intrinsic motivation.    

[11:07] Creativity comes from the constraints. In the same way that necessity is the mother of invention, creativity is borne from constraints.

[12:52] Mainsail. Invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

[15:26] A playbook, but not a process. It’s the mindset that things are not fixed in time, that we’re always here to adapt and learn.

[16:16] Autonomy. What it is; what it is not. The autonomy is real. Teams are actually making decisions for themselves.

[18:55] Size (of your release) matters. From a quality perspective, the larger your releases are, the harder they are to do in a really quality way. Smaller releases bring higher quality.

[21:02] Demo in production, or it didn’t happen.

[22:49] The problems Scrum solves. One is not being able to get to production and getting in front of customers. The second is getting hassled by everybody else at your company. Scrum is going to help you there.

[29:09] Scrum is a valuable set of guardrails.

[30:04] Building real empathy for your customers. Just how important is it?

[31:40] Relax; all the front-line product managers are faking it. Product management is a game of incomplete information.

[32:53] There’s always a human story. Users of software are people. And they have people problems. I don’t care what you build, there is a human story.

[34:37] What skill set(s) product managers need to be successful.  Curiosity and truth-seeking, absolutely.

[37:29] If the engineers lose faith, there is nothing I can do for you. If none of the teams is excited to work with you, you’re done.

[38:36] It all boils down to interpersonal effectiveness. The growth mindset. Intrinsic motivation. Double down on that, and you can’t go wrong, whatever you work on.

[38:51] Innovation. I think it’s one of two things. It’s either solving a problem that hasn’t been solved. Or solving a problem in a very different way.

Christopher’s Recommended Reading

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, by Clayton M. Christensen

Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

About Christopher

Christopher O’Donnell is the Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, where he drives product management, design, and user experience for HubSpot’s suite of products.

Prior to this role, Christopher led the product team building the HubSpot CRM and HubSpot Sales Pro. Upon joining HubSpot, Christopher led the re-write of the HubSpot Marketing product, culminating in HubSpot Contacts and the release of HubSpot3 in 2012. Previously, Christopher was Director of Product at Performable before it was acquired by HubSpot in 2011. He has also been a startup founder, advisor, and product/UX leader.

In his free time, Christopher pursues his decades-long passions for building technology products, producing music, and playing guitar. Christopher graduated from Brown University with a BA in Computers and Music.




34 / Product Managers ‘Change the World’


Change the world. It’s a pretty tall order, even for today’s modern product leaders. But that’s precisely what product managers do, according to Adrienne Tan, who joins Sean and Paul in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast.

Co-founder and CEO of Brainmates, Adrienne is a pioneer in the world of modern product management. Her impact on the product management community has been felt and appreciated both at home in Australia and around the world.

“Product Managers are the key part of the business – the engine that drives the business forward,” Adrienne says. “They are the people who make the products and the people who change the world. That’s what product managers do.”

Changing the world is a lot like eating an elephant. Trying either in one colossal bite will lead to certain failure – and a fair bit of indigestion.  But do it “one bite at a time,” like product managers do, and you may just have a chance.

For Adrienne, bringing products to market that people love requires an approach that goes way beyond a series of sprints, ceremonies, and releases. Over the years, so many different kinds of tools and templates have emerged in response to trying to do better product management. Adrienne prefers to operate on first principles – foremost among them, putting the customer front and center.

“I think when you start with the customer, that makes for a better product,” she adds. “The things that we put in the market are to serve our customers, so we need to be empathetic to who they are and empathetic to the people who build our products for us. Because if we aren’t and we don’t, it shows up in the product.”

Adrienne’s insightful nuggets cover a broad range of topics, each focused on giving voice to product managers and leaders and guiding us on how to level up our technical and adaptive skills, build great product culture, and hire thinkers not doers.

She brings to the pod the same high level of energy that she and her Brainmates team bring to their product management conference. Going all digital in its 6th year, Leading the Product 2020 is designed for the product people and by the product people, bringing together some of the best minds in the product space.


[02:01] I wish there were a secret sauce. I think we all do. But that’s part of our problem. We’re all searching for some secret sauce.

[02:57] Making sure we’re not ‘the tall poppy.’ Maybe it’s a cultural thing; Australians don’t want to be sliced down by others and that could be part of the way that we operate.

[05:05] Avoiding tools, templates, and flash-in-the-pan gimmicks. I prefer to operate on first principles. But my favorite tool is definitely the customer journey map. It puts the customer front and center.

[07:03] Agile: friend or foe? Agile and lean practices are enormously beneficial tools and methods, but we sometimes get so far down in the weeds that we forget what we’re trying to achieve.

[07:54] The 7 Ps of Product. Problem, Purpose, Position, Performance, Price, Promotion, and Practice.

[09:10] What’s old is new again. I’m looking back at the tools that were designed in the 60s and 70s to really reframe and rethink a modern way of doing product.

[09:43] Technical Skills + Adaptive Skills. The connective tissue that brings together what we do on a day-to-day basis with our vision and strategy – where we want to take our products.

[10:52] The Palm Model. The Brainmates product management framework addresses an over-emphasis on the technical aspects of the product manager role.

[12:32] Hiring for product managers. We want and need their technical skills. But do they know how to show up? Do they bring empathy to their work?

[13:59] Develop thinkers, not doers.

[14:40] Empathy. If we are not empathetic to our customers, or to our people, it shows up in the product.  

[16:48] Be yourself; you cannot succeed as somebody else. You cannot be another company. If you try, well then, you’ve already lost your secret sauce.

[17:33] What’s your competitive advantage. People is our competitive advantage. Culture is our competitive advantage. If you want to adopt somebody else’s culture, what is your competitive advantage?

[18:58] A step-by-step guide to building great product culture.

[21:25] Leading the Product 2020. Going all digital in its 6th year, Australia’s favorite product conference is designed for the product people, by the product people, bringing together some of the best minds in the product space.

[23:40] Helping product managers find their voice. I’ve always believed product managers to be the key part, the engine that drives the business.

[24:10] A purpose in life. It may look like we sell training and consulting and a conference, but if you strip it all back what we sell is belonging. We all want to belong at some level.

[26:03] Innovation. It’s great product management. I don’t see innovation as separate to what we do…

About Adrienne

Adrienne Tan is the co-founder and CEO of Brainmates, based in Sydney, Australia. She is a highly experienced senior product and business leader with more than 20 years’ experience across multiple industries. Adrienne brings broad expertise across various aspects of business, including product strategy and product planning, business stakeholder management, and product design and development. She is experienced in managing, coaching, and nurturing teams of product managers, senior product managers, and tech leads.

Adrienne has a comprehensive track record developing a growing and profitable consulting, training, and conference business that boasts a global reach. Over the past 16 years, she has raised the product management profession in Australia through community events and coaching sessions.

When she is not speaking at conferences and numerous product events in Australia and Europe, she is an avid gym lover who also enjoys drinking wine.

Adrienne holds a Bachelor or Arts degree in Industrial Relations and a Master of Economics degree (Social Science) from the University of Sydney.




33 / Learn Fast, Learn Well With Experimentation


Experimentation is not about right or wrong. It’s about learning things that you genuinely didn’t know. The secret is to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and to make room for your own sense of  vulnerability. When you’re able to embrace not knowing something, or have experiments come back that disprove your hypotheses, you’re going to discover amazing insights that benefit you, your team, and your organization.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Holly Hester-Reilly, Founder and CEO of H2R Product Science. In this dynamic and fast-paced conversation, Holly discusses her approach to the product science method, one that focuses on using science and empathy to manage risk while building high-growth products and teams.

“Our job as product people is to manage the risk of product failure,” Holly says. “Part of that risk is to avoid looking bad in front of our teams, peers, and managers. We have to shift the mindset and the conversation away from right or wrong so that we can begin to pride ourselves on learning new things.”

Product leaders have an enormous role to play here, Holly adds. “The only way for us to make that mindset shift is for us to be the example by calling out when the people around us learn something new and saying, ‘that’s what we want to see more of!’”

Listen in to catch more from Holly:

[02:16] The product science method. It’s really about the difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

[02:58] Design experiments around past behaviors, not abstracts and hypotheticals.

[04:51] The role of data and metrics. The cool thing about software is we can actually measure how users behave. The right metrics …that’s the best possible predictor of future behavior.

[07:42] Why smart companies with reams of data still make flawed product launches. They’re too comfortable.

[08:25] The Emperor’s New Clothes. Do we have the willingness to be uncomfortable, to be the person who will stand up and say to the boss, “here are the reasons why your pet project is going to fail.”?

[10:12] Confirmation bias. Channeling Richard Feynman, “you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

[10:45] Rapid research. You have to be super-focused on the most important thing to learn and let go of the idea that you might not learn the other things.

[12:38] Exposure therapy. The more times that you’re exposed to something, the more comfortable you become with it.

[15:05] Optimism bias. Gets in the way of making good business decisions like so, so much.

[16:14] How long does it take to change somebody’s mind about their pet project?

[17:49] The role of experimentation. It’s not about being right. It’s about learning things we don’t already know.

[21:19] Premortem risk assessment. Put yourself in a place where risk is already assumed to be real.

[22:34] Our job as product people is to manage the risk of product failure.

[24:02] The difference between good and fantastic product research.

[25:46] Take a snapshot. Make sure that your team is situating who your customer is within the strategy of the product.

[27:22]  Practicing discovery. As a product leader, you should have a strategy that is a series of product-market fits.

[28:27] Measuring the value of research. Two parts: quantify the value of research and know when you’ve done enough of it.

[32:10] “Faster horses.” At least you know what outcome your users want.

[33:48] Innovation. Innovation drives a significant change. It doesn’t just increase the amount of something you’re selling: the revenue, the number of users. It changes the rate of that.

Holly’s Recommended Reading

Indistractable, by Nir Eyal.

Check out more of Holly’s insights by catching her H2R Product Science articles and podcast.

About Holly

Holly Hester-Reilly is the Founder and CEO of H2R Product Science, a product management coaching and consulting firm that teaches the science of high-growth product development. Holly is a former Columbia University research scientist and has led over a dozen successful digital product initiatives at startups, high-growth companies, and enterprises like MediaMath, Shutterstock, Lean Startup Co., and WeightWatchers. With those experiences, she has developed the Product Science Method, a framework to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high-growth products, teams, and businesses. 

Her team at H2R Product Science partners with startup founders and product leaders to share this framework, helping them to figure out which product growth opportunities they should pursue and build the product management skill to deliver on their goals. 

Holly also teaches public and private workshops and has spoken about building high-growth products for events such as Lean Startup Summit Europe, growth equity firm General Atlantic’s CIO summit, top boutique design and development agency Thoughtbot’s employee summit, ProductTankNYC, Parsons School of Design, and the Product School.

Be sure to tune in as Holly hosts The Product Science Podcast.

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32 / Take An Objective Approach to Prioritization


A lot of times product managers take a overly narrow view of prioritization without giving full consideration to the impact of decisions we make. Whether to add another new feature to our backlog – and which one? Is there a new market segment we should explore? Do we need a new vision for our product? For the organization?

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul catch up with Jeff Lash – Vice President of Product Management Research at Forrester. Too often, Jeff says, stakeholders see the viability of an opportunity but not its feasibility (and vice versa). We take an overly subjective approach to prioritization and lose sight of the vision we set for the product and organization.

Listen in as Jeff describes his approach to prioritization. By applying a more objective standard – in fact, Jeff recommends establishing a prioritization framework – product teams act with confidence guided by a vision and strategy that are both clearly articulated and widely communicated across the organization.

Product managers, he believes, need to be general managers of their “commercially minded enterprise, so we need to act like the business owner, running our products like a business.”

Here’s more:

[02:51]  Why the product manager role is so misunderstood. Has anyone ever taken the time to explain, “this is what we expect of you.”?

[03:39]  Vision and strategy. Do product managers understand that this is part of their role?

[05:11]  Balancing the tactical and strategic. It’s about mindset, understanding all the responsibilities.

[07:03]  Product management in a remote environment. The more distant you are from your team, the more you need to document and communicate.

[08:40]  What’s your horizon? If your vision and strategy hold true for the long term, avoid dramatic shifts.

[10:21]  3 levels of prioritization. Sprint, Release, Organization.

[11:36]  Is there such a thing as the perfect formula?

[13:12]  Decision making in the absence of strategy and vision. Good luck.

[15:07]  Frameworks. Help the process along by making it as objective as possible.

[18:53] The definition of product management.

[20:32] Which personas need your attention most? Understand (and balance) the broad range of user personas as well as buyer personas.

[21:41] Incremental revenue vs. Retention effect. One addresses why people buy, the other why people stay.

[26:30]  Guiding principles. Does this feature help one of our guiding principles? If yes, add it to the backlog. If not,.…

[28:44] Fly your banner. Discipline in the face of initial challenges.

[29:29] Decision making is not about yes and no. It’s about understanding the impact of both.

[31:32] Hidden treasures. If you want to find those hidden treasures, the unmet needs, you have to apply different techniques.

[33:10] Citing Margaret Mead. “What people say, what people do, and what people say they will do are entirely different things.”

[35:15] Innovation. How do you take an idea and make it a reality? How do you take an idea and turn it into something that is actually in the market?

Jeff’s Recommended Reading

Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Rene Mauborgne.

Want more Jeff? Check out his blog, How To Be A Good Product Manager.

About Jeff

Jeff Lash is a recognized thought leader in product management, with 15+ years experience in the development of Web-based products and SaaS. His product management career includes both new product introductions and major turnarounds of existing product lines, as well as introduction of the product management role into organizations.

In his current role as VP, Group Director, Product Management Research at Forrester, Jeff and his team help product management leaders create world-class organizations and elevate the abilities and expertise of their teams to drive measurable and repeatable product success and business growth.

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31 / How To Get The Positioning Right


In tech, as in life, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. That might be one of the coolest aspects about building super-exciting software products. There’s any number of ways to get the job done. As product people, we lend our education, our experience, and our intuition to improving people’s lives. Our varied life circumstances inform both our efforts and the many potential means by which we pursue success.

For April Dunford, who joins Sean and Paul in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, getting your Positioning right is the straw that stirs the drink. “Positioning is foundational to everything that follows,” April confidently points out. “It essentially defines how your product is uniquely qualified to be a leader at something that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about.”

April isn’t shy in proclaiming the mission-critical role that Positioning plays in product success. Nor is she bashful in calling out product-market fit as “a myth” (and making an interesting case in the process).

Listen in to catch April’s thoughts on those topics, as well as the following:

[02:20]  Product managers & product marketers. We’re sort of becoming hip. We’re cool now.

[04:27]  Positioning is foundational. In fact, it’s so foundational that we either think it’s already been done…or that we can’t do anything about it anyway.

[06:32]  Positioning. What it is; what it isn’t.

[09:16]  Good-fit customers. You want a pipeline of those.

[09:38]  Bad-fit customers. Cull the herd.

[13:13] Good fit means “good for the customer and good for the business.”

[13:50]  Segmentation. So much more than demographics and firmographics.

[15:51]  Actionable Customer Segmentation. Catch how April’s discovery process leads to actionable customer segmentation.

[19:45]  Product-market fit. “I do have a bit of hate on for product-market fit.”

[26:10]  Product-market fit part deux. “It’s baloney. It’s not a thing.”

[27:32]  Magic marketing moment. When everything feels easy. Like you’re running down hill.

[30:01]  (product + category) x Trend. Trends are accelerants to positioning. They make your stuff seem sexier.

[31:04]  Trends part deux. The trend answers the question, “Why now?”.

[32:49]  In competition with the status quo. Doing nothing is always an option for customers.

[34:00]  Positioning: investors vs. customers. Why the pitch is so different. (hint: it’s about value)

[36:39]  Innovation. There’s lots of ways to be innovative outside of the technology.

[38:23]  Acquisition features and retention features. One to set the hook, the other to make sure it stays there.

[43:23]  Positioning as a superpower. It can change the way both your team and the world think about the problems you solve, your technology, or even your entire market.


April’s Recommended Reading

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It, by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.

Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So That Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It, by April Dunford.

About April

April Dunford is a consultant, author, speaker, and globally recognized expert in Positioning. She helps technology companies make complicated products easy for customers to understand and love. Previously, April has run marketing, product, and sales teams at a series of successful technology startups and has launched 16 products into market. She is also a board member, investor, and advisor to dozens of high-growth businesses and is the author of the best-selling book Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get it, Buy it, Love it.


30 / Essential Components of Product Culture


Before we jump headlong into implementing Lean or Agile. Before we decide that OKRs offer the best chance to set goals and measure results. And before we determine that a particular design methodology will lead us to successful product development, product leaders need to understand the “underlying cultural things about teams and about companies that need to be addressed first.

“You’ve got to get straight the ‘why are we here?’ questions,” says Bruce McCarthy, who joined Sean and Paul in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast. According to Bruce, the founder of Product Culture and author of the book, Product Roadmaps Relaunched, we cannot meet our lofty goals – let alone the aspirational ones – without first embracing the cultural aspects that explain our place in the world.

What problems are we solving? Why, and for whom? How will we work together to achieve our objectives? What is our mission – our purpose in the world?

When we focus on these questions, we begin to understand the intersection of product culture and product management. In many ways the two overlap, Bruce explains.

Product management is “a role, a discipline, and a set of tools and responsibilities.” Product culture, on the other hand, is less tangible. It gives valuable insight about how product managers prioritize resource allocation, formulate decisions, and deliver value for their customers.

In many ways, good product culture is a “we know it when we see it” sort of thing. What’s most enlightening is the way Bruce brings to life an organization’s culture through the eyes of the customer.

Product culture has a Vision that empowers the customer, a Plan that delivers value in incremental steps along the path to vision fulfillment, and an outcome-based effort by a diverse Team aligned around that common vision.

Tune in to hear more from Bruce, including:

[02:01] Product Culture talks about those cultural aspects of why we’re here, how we work together, how we think about the purpose of going to work every day that’s mostly on my mind.

[03:49] Product management and product culture. Considerable overlap, but significant differences.

[03:49] Three elements of product culture: vision, plan, team.

[06:45] “Things are impossible until they’re not.” It’s the history of Innovation.

[07:52] Innovation is not about changing technology. It’s about our perception of what’s possible.

[10:33] Have you heard the story of General Magic?

[13:29] Product as vehicle. Radhika Dutt: “A product is a vehicle for making change in the world.”

[14:01] What killed Blackberry? They forgot, or never realized, that they were a status symbol.

[15:15] Product success and the Venn diagram. When feasible and viable come into overlap.

[15:59] The product manager’s role in roadmapping. Speak vision into the roadmap.

[17:30] The right feature? It depends on what problem you’re trying to solve.

[21:20] Outcome teams. The 4th level of product teams.

[24:49] The nature of software development. Building one-offs for the first time, every time.

[28:04] Prioritization. Why it’s the fundamental skill of the product manager.

[32:34] Tactics for up-and-coming PMs. Agree, prioritize, align, repeat.

[37:40] Imagination. The ability to envision something that does not yet exist.

[40:31] Innovation. Feasible, viable, badass.

Bruce’s Recommended Reading:

Team Objectives – Overview, by Marty Cagan. Silicon Valley Product Group. February 24, 2020.

Off to Be the Wizard, by Scott Meyer.

Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction while Embracing Uncertainty, by C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, and Michael Connors.

About Bruce

Bruce McCarthy helps growing organizations achieve their product visions through workshops, coaching, and speaking at events around the world. Bruce co-wrote Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction while Embracing Uncertainty and opines regularly about Product Culture.

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29 / Empathy Is the Catalyst for Innovation


Design thinking calls on product people to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. To empathize with them. Saleema Vellani agrees, but adds that empathy is borne out of self-awareness and that understanding others requires us first to understand ourselves. 

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Saleema Vellani, author of the soon-to-be-released Innovation Starts with I. Saleema explains how practicing empathy, more specifically compassionate empathy, requires a shift in mindset that helps us truly connect with our product’s users in deeper, more meaningful ways. 

“Compassionate empathy is becoming increasingly important,” Saleema says. “It’s not about just understanding a person, what they’re feeling. It’s actually feeling moved to help them.” To understand that connection, she adds, is to be the catalyst for innovation.

Listen in to catch Saleema’s easy-to-implement practical tips for product managers and their teams. What you’ll hear:

[01:59] The future of our product space. AI, machine learning, and automation is creating a lot of job displacement. But with it is coming exciting new product roles and opportunities.

[02:12] The “Augmented Age.” The human skills (e.g., emotional intelligence, empathy, critical thinking, cultural intelligence, technology, and data science.)

[03:39] 3 types of Empathy. Emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, and compassionate empathy.

[03:46] Innovation Starts with I. Practicing empathy starts with first understanding oneself.

[03:55] Design thinking guides us understand our customers, to put ourselves in their shoes.

[04:00] Associative thinking helps us first understand who we are and then connect seemingly unrelated things.

[04:50] Be a “dot connector.” Applying associative thinking to move from self-awareness to compassionate empathy to innovation.

[05:02] Can empathy be learned?

[06:03] Empathy and innovation. Empathy is the engine behind innovation.

[07:12] The “sweet spot” of innovation lies at the intersection of feasibility, viability, and desirability.

[09:11] Product radical listening. The key to a more holistic understanding of the problem.

[09:50] Groupthink. Creativity’s kryptonite.

[10:44] Product people, heal thyself. Starting with I requires an openness to learning about yourself.

[11:52] Product thinking. A newer concept in which product managers need to become product coaches, and more organizations must become product-led.

[12:15] Product thinking, part deux. It’s not just about the products; it starts from understanding yourself.

[13:50] Inclusion as the catalyst for innovation. Inclusion requires learning as much as possible about different stakeholders using tools like empathy mapping, journey mapping, and user experience mapping.

[15:22] Innovation. The process of taking all the things that are already out there and reassembling them in a new way.

[15:49] A “recovering perfectionist.” Wanting to be perfect is counterproductive.

[16:25] Outcomes > outputs. Perfectionists think about outputs. Problem solvers think about outcomes and how they make us feel.

[17:17] GSD (get stuff done). Better to implement something that’s not perfect than have a bunch of half projects hanging waiting for perfection.

[17:56] Compassionate empathy. The kind of empathy that actually moves us to help. It’s solution focused.

[19:59] Tips for product managers. Create psychological safety; let failure be OK. Practice inclusion. Be outcome focused. So many more!

[20:53] The job of product managers is to give value. Giving value starts with using empathy to understand yourself and your customer.

[21:44] Be an intrapreneur in an organization. Help others by giving them autonomy and flexibility, understanding what will make them happy in their work.

[23:50] The difference between listening and making a person feel heard.

[25:06] Understand the problem before jumping to hypotheses. When we take the time to understand the problem, we often learn that the real problem is very different than we initially thought.

[25:14] Innovation is putting together existing things in new ways that create value.


Saleema’s Recommended Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Innovation Starts with I, by Saleema Vellani.

About Saleema

Saleema Vellani is an award-winning innovation strategist, a serial entrepreneur, and the author of the forthcoming book, Innovation Starts With ‘I’.

Saleema is the co-founder of Innovazing, a strategy consulting firm that helps organizations develop business growth and innovation strategies centered in design thinking and agile processes. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University and an advisor to several startups and mission-driven organizations. 

Saleema holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Development from McGill University and a Master’s degree in International Economics and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

She is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian and has lived in Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Italy, and the U.S. Born and raised in Canada, she is proud of her multi-cultural upbringing as a Toronto native with East African and Indian roots.

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28 / Savvy PMs Engage All Their Audiences


It was the best of jobs; it was the worst of jobs. (apologies to Mr. Dickens)

While everyone else has carved out their own place in the organization, the product manager is the person nobody works for. And who, it often seems, works for everybody else. But their role also puts them at the center of the action, wielding influence that drives product success.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Rich Mironov – a 40-year Silicon Valley product veteran, executive coach, writer, and self-proclaimed smoke jumper (more on that later in the pod). The product manager’s sphere of influence isn’t limited to the user, Rich says, or even to the client. PMs dance to the beat of many drummers, working to convince finance, sales, and customer support – not to mention industry analysts and C-suite executives – why their product is worthy of investment.

As the non-hierarchical leader in the organization, product managers have to meet our audiences where they are, Rich adds, “instead of expecting them to love product management so much that they just want to do it my way.”

Whether you’re a junior product manager still practicing the hard skills or a savvy product leader refining the soft ones, the job of the product manager is about understanding all your audiences and how each rewards you for delivering what’s important to them.

What you’ll hear:

[00:51]  Validation & discovery. Convincing the C-suite to invest here is really hard.

[02:09]  Mistakes we make. We believe our users when they tell us how to fix the problems instead of doing the hard work to figure out what problems they actually have.

[04:20]  Timing. The time to figure out what the market wants is 9, 12, even 15 months before we give the product to the sales team and tell them to go bring money in.

[05:29]  Shock me and surprise me. Use open-ended questions when interviewing users to extract everything out of their heads.

[06:52] Don’t lead the witness. Only after drawing unprompted, unaided insights from customers should you show them mock-ups of your design.

[07:12]  Validate ideas way before we code. Most ideas don’t play out. Better to have them fall flat before we spend the next $2 million dollars building it.

[08:20]  The job of salespeople is to bring money in, not to get all fussy about the technology.

[08:30] When PMs aren’t helping salespeople bring money in, they should make sure they’re building the right product and preparing answers to questions users are going to have.

[09:17]  2 huge changes in product management. The availability of data to help make decisions, and the social network to talk them through.

[10:50]  Why product management is like parenting. We’re not really parents until we’ve gotten some poop on our hands – and laughed about it.

[13:12]  Why product management is like smoke jumping. In both roles, we’re bringing order to chaos.

[14:29]  A note to CEOs. When you’re looking for a product leader, hire for the right skill set.

[16:48] KPIs, OKRs, MAUs, and GA. Performance metrics are not one-size-fits all.

[18:14] The mark of success. Be sure you’re measuring your users’ success, not your own.

[20:23] Keep your developers happy. When they love the product as much as PMs do, they’ll do anything to make it right and keep it that way.

[23:16] Guerilla discovery. How eager are you to embarrass the executive team?

[24:56]  Discovery. You can pay for discovery now, or you can pay later. But make no mistake. You are going to pay – whether by design or default.

[26:10]  The evolution of a product leader’s skills. From the hard skills and workflows to the soft skills and communication.

[27:08]  Outputs vs. outcomes. Which should you invest in?

[27:41]  Resilience. A measure of the product leader’s emotional range.

[28:20]  Product Managers are the product person nobody reports to.

[32:09]  Innovation exists at every level of the organization, at every level of scale.

[34:12]  It’s okay to “beat your chest.” We have to not only love our products; we have to make sure our team gets the credit.

[35:01] Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t cost a nickel.

Rich’s Recommended Reading

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams, by Mickey W. Mantle and Ron Lichty.

Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, by Henry Chesbrough.

Outcomes Over Output: Why customer behavior is the key metric for business success, by Joshua Seiden.

Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value, by Melissa Perri.

John Cutler, blogger on Medium.

Teresa Torres, blogger on Product Talk.

About Rich

Rich Mironov is a 40-year veteran of Silicon Valley software companies.  Currently, he coaches product executives, designs product organizations, and parachutes into companies as interim VP Products/CPO. In an earlier incarnation, Rich was the “product guy” at six B2B start-ups including roles as VP of Product Management and CEO.

Rich is a relentless writer, speaker, teacher, and mentor who has been blogging on software product management since 2002. Rich launched the first Product Camp in 2008. You can catch Rich’s work (blogs, talks, and pods) here


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