Few days ago I've encountered a short quote that had nailed something very important IMHO:

"Walt Disney. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates.

They were all micromanagers. What is it the the most successful leaders micromanaged? They micromanaged product, they didn't micromanage people."

Jim Highsmith, Thoughtworks at ParadigmShift 2014

Simply brilliant.

Musk, Bezos, Jobs & their alikes - obsessed with their vision, people who really know what they want & aren't afraid to strive for that, even if it means going down to the tiniest detail (so nothing is left to chance). Undoubtedly they were/are crucial factors in the successes of their companies - most likely ones of the most successful companies on the planet. OTOH they are were/are micromanagers - meticulous, pedantic, fussy, unfit for any compromise - many would say: up to the point of pure assholery.

But this is what works, what truly works: 100% focus on the freaking PRODUCT (service, application, physical thingie - whatever works for you):

  • making it better, ...
  • ... easier to use, ...
  • ... more fit for a purpose, unique, ...
  • ... reliable, performant, etc.

In many cases they were taking huge risks, balancing on the edge of total collapse, but still - everything was subordinated to the product vision.

And now, since ...

I've got your attention

... think about yourself, your peers, especially your superior(s). Seriously, just freakin' do it. And ask yourself these questions - only honest answers count:

  1. What really matters (is being spoken about) for your superior in everyday / regular discussions you have with him/her:
  • keeping deadline?
  • approval test sign-off?
  • whether you're adhere to the naming convention he has invented & announced last month?
  • bug statistics in SIR tracker? ;P
  • ... or maybe the product & how awesome is it going to be? (what will make it awesome, for whom, etc.)
  1. How do your superior(s) (& you) measure the outcome of your work?
  • educated guess ...?
  • EVM (Earned Value Management) based on percentage of tasks completed (that you're kindly asked to update at least twice a day ...)?
  • automated test coverage?
  • bug statistics in SIR tracker? ;P
  • ... or maybe there's a living set of actual product-related metrics (measured on production) that correspond to the value added (preferably in a countable money ...)?
  1. What's your superiors role in scope definition & work scheduling (incl. prioritisation)? Do they:
  • question the validity of work being planned OVER blindly accept even the dumbest requirements?
  • push for production-testing the assumptions with MVPs & subsequent frequent releasing OVER smoothly moving to new topics without even slightest interest in the effect of implemented changes?
  • advocate validated learning the simple experiments OVER planning long-term up-front designed projects / programs?

OK, what you've got? I've thought so.

Sadly, my own conclusions aren't cheerful either. And how are we supposed to truly succeed, get meaningful outcomes of our everyday's work if we don't give a fuck about the product, because we're not taught so?! Quite the contrary, everyone emphasizes that this business is about smooth getting rid of tasks someone puts in our queue ...

Micromanage product

Solution seems quite clear - start micromanaging today. Micromanaging PRODUCT.

  1. Steer the conversations towards product-focus & outcome-focus. Don't be afraid to notoriously overuse "5 Whys rule"
  2. Start measuring (value) - you can't manage something you can't measure. Plus: nothing is a better motivation for people than realization that their actions have caused specific, measurable improvement for whole company
  3. Technology, process: these are just tools - means to get the product done. They are still important & valid concerns, but not the goals themselves and any changes in them should be dictated by the issues with the product.
  4. Be perceptive, even inquisitive about the product, its current state & its future:
  • learn the value streams it belongs to
  • find out how does it look when compare with comparable products on market
  • look for industry (& not only) leaders for inspiration
  • make sure you're getting the feedback you need - from the users, sponsors, partners, etc.
  • don't be afraid to question something that doesn't make sense or at least is incorrectly prioritized - even if it's not on your task list

It won't be easy (especially in the beginning) - people will react nervously, some will try to deter you - no surprise, you're trying to undermine their safe & lazy way of doing things. Regardless of how hard you try, some won't accommodate, but this should not stop you if you really want to be successful, truly make a difference -> here or there, for this product or that, today or tomorrow.

Without actual CARING for the product, while continuously lowering your standards, you'll never achieve anything memorable.

Share this post