(2022-01-02) Cutler The Messifesto

John Cutler: The Messifesto. One of the defining aspects of my 2021 was being exposed to hundreds of teams from around the world. It was fun, but also very challenging. While increasing my ability to pattern match and offer plausible recommendations, I also realized just how vast this space is, and how little I ultimately know.

I started to realize that, myself included, some of the “voices” in the product world are also reasonably biased to something.

To be of service to others, it is important to 1) realize this, 2) work through it, and 3) do our best to help others work through it.

The Mess

“Product” (meant very broadly) draws on dozens, if not hundreds of traditions (product management)

Very few of these things are New, but none of them are complete or “theories of everything”.

When looking at why things are working (or not working) in organizations, we all have our explanation biases – leadership, organizational design, incentives, management, skills and experience, empowerment, complex adaptive systems, systems thinking, “mindset”, safety and resilience, diffusion of innovations, psychological safety, strategy, and more.

Why does any of this matter? Some stories:

“Missions Don’t Matter”

I remember a situation recently where I explained to a COO that the mission of their company wasn’t resonating with the team. He said, unflinchingly, that “company mission doesn’t really matter” and that “people stay because of their manager and salary”. He then listed a half-dozen examples from his undeniably successful – but homogenous – career to prove his point

“Testing is a Joke”

The debate is still probably going on, but I CCed one of the foremost testing experts in the world into a thread on TDD (test-driven development) on LinkedIn. To my amazement, the TDD advocate completely disregarded the thoughtful comments from this world-renowned expert

Some shorter stories:

“I don’t care much for ‘user research’”

“Most developers don’t want to get involved in product stuff!”

“We live in a complex world, you can’t rely on ANY forecasts”

None. Always. Never. All. Any. Only. Everything. Solved Problem. Just. Big sweeping statements.

When you pay attention, you start to notice how we draw so heavily from our experiences. And call that the “real world”.

Back to the Real World

You’re probably thinking I’ve gone off the “no objective reality” deep-end, but that is not where I am going at all.

There are objectively more skilled product leaders (especially when we take a context-specific perspective). There are teams that perform objectively better

Given a situation, there are practices that have a much higher probability of causing disaster. And safer experiments.

What we could use more of is…humility, curiosity, and context. If we’re going to make progress on some of the wicked problems confronting us, we can’t go it alone.

Which brings me to the Messifesto (Meh list)

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