Managing Product Theory - The Noise Before Defeat (Based on a talk by Andy Woo)

During an interview for a product position in a startup, I got asked the classic "prioritization question". I went into a detailed explanation of my methodology and concluded with the words "And this is a framework used at Google". This last sentence instantly generated nods of validation from my interviewers. I ended up getting offered the position but I remembered that moment vividly. It echoed with other instances in my career in which theories, frameworks and methodologies were given legitimacy (simply) because they had been adopted by notable tech institutions. As product managers, our mission is to solve problems and better people's lives. As such, we have to instrument theory and thought processes effectively to find solutions to the unique problems we are facing. 

Andy Woo's talk on "How to Manage Product Theory" is an invitation to rethink the way you are reading your favorite product blog.

  In 2019, Product Managers spent only 27% of their time doing strategic work.

Contrary to common belief, the vast majority of Product Managers do not allot much time to finding the next innovation. Instead, they will spend on average two full weeks a month attending meetings and managing emails. The reason for this general (mis)allocation of time, Andy suggests, could be that Product Managers are not critical enough about their work practices and blindly follow Product or company dogma leading them to attend unecessary meetings or write superfluous documentation.

Going Back to the First Principles

Before going any further, it is important to note that Product theory is not bad and that the idea of "best practices" can be applicable to innovation. However, keep in mind that "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat".Your choice of frameworks to use or ideologies to follow should be preceded by an assessment of your team's and customer's needs. In this endeavor, Andy advises to go back to first principles that will be familiar to most Product people.

Separate Problems and Solutions & Root Cause Analysis

This is something that every Product person learns to do. Developing a strong understanding of the problem before solutioning. This thinking process is not only applicable to product design, but to every aspect of the life of a Product professional. What job is my product going to fulfill for my customer? What value is this weekly meeting going to bring to my team? Finding convincing answers to these questions will help in making sure that your team's efforts are used efficiently.

Staying Iterative

Experimentation is key when developing new products. It is the practice that optimizes existing solutions and gives birth to new opportunities and markets to capture. Likewise, the choice of a product framework should never be set in stone. As circumstances change and companies grow, new processes are needed to keep teams adaptive and productive.

Ultimately, Andy's talk on Product Theory is a reminder that critical thinking is at the foundation of organizational efficiency. Every customer group and team has unique features and is special. Having the ability to understand those particularities and working with them using the appropriate frameworks is what creates value in the long run.  

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