Weekly Product Insights: Opinions, Early Results and Planning
A new series with insights and ideas about building products.
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Here’s what has been on my mind this week:
1. I keep forgetting not to pre-announce A/B test results.
I did it again. I was so excited about this aggressive test that we were running that was going to make a huge impact on the user experience. I knew better, I knew that it takes time to get A/B test results and that peeking at a test early is sacrosanct. I knew all of that okay? But I still did it, I told the team that the results are awesome, literally three days into the test.
DON’T DO IT. Don’t make the mistake I keep making. Because the inevitable always happens. Numbers regress to the mean, or worse they take a dip. Users don’t care about your dreams, and statistics don’t care about your career trajectory. Just keep it to yourself until you're safely at significance.
2. Strong opinions, loosely held.
As a product person, it’s your job in a lot of ways to bring the passion. Bring the belief to the team that you can do anything you set out to do. Sometimes, that means having strong opinions about how things should work.
If you do your homework, those opinions are rooted in solid facts and research. Sometimes, they turn out to be right. Other times, they turn out to be wrong.
I had an instance recently where I had a strong opinion about a UX that we were working on. I believed in my heart that if we could improve the current design and make better defaults, we could beat what we had out there. Our users proved me wrong, and our team was right when I wasn’t.
This happens. And when it does happen, good leaders take their lumps, admit they were wrong, see where they missed the mark, and adjust their views of the world.
The key is not to be right all the time. The key is to continually seek out being right. And when you’re wrong, admit that you’re wrong, learn from it, and keep trying to be right as much as you can. It’s a journey, not one exam.
Strong opinions, loosely held.
3. Planning isn’t stupid. Just make sure it’s useful.
Ah, planning. The flurry of charts, long meetings, and spreadsheets. It can all be a bit demoralizing. Your team (or, gasp, you) might throw a fit and tell your leadership “dang it, why can’t I just do stuff, make money and y’all will be happy?!”
Well, yeah, you could do that. But it would probably go a lot smoother if you had a plan for how to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
For me, the reason why planning is helpful is that it helps me organize my thoughts. I have a lot of ideas about how to accomplish something. Heck, I might even know already how I want to do those projects and even prioritize them in my mind.
But often, I can’t see how all of the different priorities fit together, what the schedule for doing them is going to look like, and how wildly off my assumptions about those projects are going to be. It’s when I put them in those spreadsheets, talk about them in those long meetings, and put them in a timeline chart that I see that my hair-brained ideas are, or are not, achievable within the year. Or the next five years for that matter.
So, don’t hate on planning. It’s useful! But also don’t try to get it all exactly right to the letter. It’s still true that planning is valuable, but plans are only great until you get punched in the face. (Read: COVID-19. We had so many wonderful plans! Then, fist met face.)
4. Presentations are just as much for you as they are for the audience.
This is actually related to the previous point. I had an old CPO that I worked for tell me this. We were working through a deck for a planning discussion that would ultimately feed a board presentation.
One of us complained that it was a lot of work to put this together, for nothing! So righteous! But our fearless leader pointed out that these types of presentations, where you present your strategy to leadership, are just as beneficial to you as they are to the audience, in this case, the board.
Having to present our plan to the board forced us to really think about how what we wanted to accomplish fit together. It made us have those difficult conversations we needed to resolve before staking our claims in front of very important people. It forced us to PLAN (LIKE ABOVE WOW AMAZING!)
We probably could have done all of that on our own, but that added pressure made us make sure it was buttoned up and thought through. So, don’t let a good board or C-level presentation go to waste.
5: Hold high goals for yourself. You might actually achieve them. (But it may take a while)
I’m going to tell you a quick story about a company named Mapbox. And then I’m going to tell you a story about myself. Hopefully, it’s worth it.
Ever heard of them? Some years ago they had a cute idea to make a competing map product to Google Maps based on open-source map data. The first version of the product they put out had some nice features, but compared to Google Maps, it was terrible. As we all had learned from Apple Maps, creating maps from scratch is really hard to do. Mapbox was trying, but Google Maps just had such a huge lead, it was a tough climb. So when I first saw Mapbox, I dismissed it. The gap was too great, and I just didn’t think they would get there. But they kept at it.
Flash forward a few years…we started looking at it recently for our product. So I hopped into Mapbox, expecting to see a product that had improved but was still inferior to Google Maps. I was pleasantly surprised to find a great product! One that had a good balance of features that Google Maps couldn’t do, along with ones they already did but Mapbox replicated, and in some cases improved, with open-source data. They had a huge goal to beat Google Maps, and they are well on their way to accomplishing it.
When I started at then HomeAway 8 years ago, I wrote in Outlook notes that I wanted our iOS and Android mobile apps to be in the top 10 travel apps in the app store. That was my dream, and I thought it would take one year to accomplish. It took seven years, and lots of left turns, but we got there. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life.
The point of all of this is, have high goals for yourself. You might surprise yourself…and some other folks along the way.
Until next time! If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe or forward this article to someone that might find it useful and I’ll do my best to keep cranking these out!