As a tool maker, Ken Norton’s latest post “The Tools Don’t Matter” stung at first. After a bit more reflection, I realized what he was saying.
In his post, Ken made the point that you won’t play like Serena Williams just because you use the same tennis racket. That’s true. But, that doesn’t mean Serena is going to show up to Wimbledon with any racket and win the whole thing. Similarly, a super talented product manager isn’t going to perform their best with just any tool. It’s more like the way Marc put it, Serena needed to be skilled to even know what the best racket was for her. Not the same as tools don’t matter, but Ken’s main point is still valid: If you want to be a great product manager, tools alone aren’t going to make you one.
In that spirit, we thought we’d take an opportunity to point out all of the ways our tools won’t help you be a great product manager. To put it another way, these are the skills you need to bring for the tool to be useful. Or, perhaps more importantly, these are the skills you need in order to know if our tool is right for you.
1. Upfocus won’t help you set goals
In Upfocus, you can assign a company goal to an idea you’re thinking about building. It’s helpful for your teammates to see that an idea aligns to a goal. But, just because you aligned an idea to a goal, doesn’t mean you’ll make a great product. There are at least two things that could go wrong outside of our tool:
- The goal might not be good
- Your idea may not achieve the goal
Melissa Perri offers some good insights about creating an effective product strategy. Based on the Unified Field Theory from Toyota Kata, she explains that a good strategy should align the team around desirable outcomes for the customer and business. The elements of a good product strategy are:
- Vision: Where the company or business line is going long term.
- Challenge: The first Business goal you have to achieve on the way to your longer term vision.
- Target Condition: A smaller problem you need to tackle on your path to accomplishing the challenge. These are set in terms of achievable, measurable metrics.
- Current State: This is what the current reality is compared to the Target Condition. It should be measured and quantified before the work starts to achieve the first target condition.
Some additional advice Melissa shared with me when thinking about how to apply this strategy:
- For product leaders:
- Challenges = Strategic intents
- Target conditions = Product initiatives
- For product teams:
- Challenges = Product initiatives
- Target conditions = Options
Even with tools to create the elements of a good product strategy, you’ll still need the kind of skill that comes with experience. So, if you’re not an expert at this, you should seek out someone who is, like Melissa. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time to watch her talk about The Build Trap.
2. Upfocus won’t help you form new habits
Upfocus allows you to turn feedback from customers and coworkers into dev ideas that can be prioritized. We give you a workflow to make it fast to group feedback into themes. We give you prompts to help with things like effective problem statements and estimates. We make it easy to connect releases all the way back to the original feedback that inspired it. But, if you’re not gathering and summarizing feedback today, starting is a behavior change. And, forming new habits is hard.
We offer concierge onboarding to help you get started. We can send you notifications to take action. However, some companies are going to need more help than that. It might not be because you have a lack of discipline. It might be because you need other team members to get on board. This is why there are coaches for frameworks like Scrum, EOS, etc. If you need help with implementation, let us know and we’ll share some referrals.
3. Upfocus won’t help you come up with good solutions
Upfocus allows you to capture your dev ideas in a well structured way. We can help you spot feedback trends. We can guide you toward writing effective problem statements. The solution description, however, is just a blank text area. It’s totally your canvas to fill. Coming up with good solutions takes talent, skill, and practice. We don’t help with that part at all.
We may be able to point you in a helpful direction. Have you read Shape Up? It’s from the team at behind Basecamp. It’s a quick read and free online. They have some insightful ideas for how to iterate on solutions using:
- Breadboarding – A mash up of an outline and a flow diagram, which includes:
- Places: These are things you can navigate to, like screens, dialogs, or menus that pop up.
- Affordances: The things users can interact with such as text, buttons, and fields.
- Connection lines: These show how the affordances take the user from place to place.
- Fat marker sketches – A low fidelity mockup. Sometimes these are embedded in an actual screenshot.
Even when you use Shape Up, it still won’t make you creative. It also won’t address your knowledge of what is technically possible/feasible. If you need help with that, consider taking online courses.
4. Upfocus will still let you make bad decisions
If feedback is scattered across help desk software, stuck in inboxes, and not summarized, you’re much more likely to satisfice, which is to choose or adopt the first satisfactory option that one comes across. People have all kinds of cognitive biases, such as recency bias, which over emphasizes the value of something we heard recently.
When we talk about the value of Upfocus, we say it helps you see your universe of options. And, since ideas are more systematically formed, it’s easier to compare them. The goal is that you’ll make better decisions compared to when the options aren’t clearly visible or comparable. You don’t even need to be perfect. You just need to increase your rate of good decision making. But, Upfocus is not an AI with decision making authority. So, making good decisions is still up to you.
Is Upfocus the right tool for you?
If are already experienced with:
- Creating product strategies
- Collecting customer feedback
- Coming up with good solutions
- Making good decisions when all options are in front of you