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  • Writer's pictureAditya Sudhakar

Being an effective PM

Updated: Apr 8

To be effective you have to continuously improve. I call it being a "5 to 9 PM". Here are 3 areas that I've seen effective PMs continuously improving on.


Flexibility

  • Without it what could go wrong: A PM on the heels of prior success is too inflexible to abandon a prior strategy because the prior anecdotes outclass the present data. Eg: Quibi.

  • Why it happens:

    • The illusion of control leads to premature optimization leads to sacred cows leads to stasis.

      • Illusion of control: A tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events.

      • Knuth’s Law: Premature optimization is the root of all evil.

      • "Sacred Cows" or the Sunk cost fallacy: A tendency for people to be reluctant to touch a Sacred Cow or abandon a strategy because they have invested heavily in it.

  • Tactics to control for this:

    • Allow for truth telling: Speak last, especially if you're the HiPPO so you don't miss an important perspective.

    • Ship incrementally: Build prototypes (see The Sprint Book) before building in production. Test assumptions before building prototypes (see How to talk to users).

    • Practice being a "5 to 9 PM" with best-in-class products.

      • Avoid crummy products: Study how the best products were built and taken to market. Overlap various data sources: founder interviews for growth tidbits, LinkedIn Insights for employee growth, Archive.org for product and product marketing growth, ProductHunt for product launches. Put together a composite view like this one on Hopin.

      • Learn from others: PMs, Devs


Velocity



  • Without it what could go wrong: Stasis from high speed & low velocity (Eg: Google messaging), or, from low speed & low velocity (Eg: Detroit auto).

  • Why it happens: PMs not incentivized for high quality decision making or quick resolution frameworks.

  • Tactics to control for it:

    • Disagree and commit: Popularized at Amazon, but maybe first used at Netscape to move quickly. The AirBnB cofounders had a rule that no disagreement was worth breaking their commitment to one another.


    • Make work visible: Map processes, track time to ship.



    • Take the village with you: Tie your tasks to team strategy. Don't lose the forest for the trees. Everything happens in a continuum. Where in that continuum are we.



Reliability

  • Without it what could go wrong: You (founder/ PM) call on a few successful and busy CEO friends at large companies who give you 10 minutes of their time. You ask them what keeps them up at night. They tell you what's probably the first thing on their minds and you take that back to the team. They of course take 10x the time trying to build to this expansive requirement. In the meantime, your busy friends are... well.. busy. Not only have you eroded team trust, you've lost runway.

  • Why it happens:

    • Poor discovery from low quality questions.

      • Hofstader’s law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law

      • Availability bias: to think that examples of things that come readily to mind are more representative than is actually the case

      • Survivorship bias: to view the performance of the survivors as a comprehensive sample without regarding those that went bust

      • Curse of brilliance: the tendency for someone to attribute incorrect cause to an effect because the real cause was something they brilliantly navigated

      • Halo effect: when one trait of a person is used to make an overall judgment. The HiPPO effect (Highest Paid Person's Opinion) is a specific example.

  • Tactics to control for it:


  • Write and sketch: It helps with attention to detail and high fidelity conveyance of your idea to others.

Original Compaq sketch drawn at House of Pies
Original Compaq sketch drawn at House of Pies
  • Get the team aligned: Collaboration is hard because language is vague. Story tell with charts, sketches and feedback.

  • Set up guardrails: Only as much process as necessary, as little as possible. Keep good friction, eliminate the bad so the right things are easier to do while the wrong things are harder.

  • Incentivizing for harder goal setting: Because as Paul Graham said, good intentions rarely work as well as good incentives. If there's the tiniest difference between expected behavior and incentives, you won't get expected behavior.

  • Model it out: There's a close link between product, pricing, customer buying habits, and the team one needs as a result to get it into user's hands.


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