Product Principles

At startups, product leadership is all about continually finding and executing on new, outsized opportunities to create value for customers.

The Playing to Win framework is my preferred guide to product strategy and execution

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win where we have chosen to play?
  4. What capabilities must be in place to win?
  5. What management systems are required to ensure the capabilities are in place?

Good CEOs design the game

  • Clearly define what “winning” means and who we are up against
  • Decide where the product team will play
  • Actively engage on the “how/what” to build on a regular basis*
  • Give teams space to execute without distractions

Good product leaders set up the playing field

  • Partner with CEO in identifying where we will (and won’t) play
  • Partner with CTO to build/reorg teams as the problem space outgrows capacity
  • Define the problem-space for each team and how success will be measured
  • Facilitate product planning cadence and drive to clear, well-documented decisions
  • Coach PMs by asking questions to help them focus their thinking
  • Help PMs advocate for and get access to the resources they need

Good PMs captain their teams

  • Obsess over the customer’s Job to be Done
  • Engage skillfully with every part of the product stack: visual, functional, technical
  • Have strong intuitions in the absence of data
  • Hold opinions loosely in the presence of new information
  • Reduce complexity through simple, written communication
  • Intuitively negotiate speed vs. quality vs. scope

Good product teams win together

  • Are laser-focused on a single goal at a time
  • Have minimal dependencies on other teams (no excuses)
  • Don’t outsource customer success or QA to separate departments
  • Ship when they say they will

* I’ve found that (very lightweight) 6-week planning cycles often enable a good balance of reasonably- ambitious goals with more-predictable timelines.