TBM 2/52: Leaps of Product Faith
Before jumping in…potentially interesting tidbits:
A talk for startups about instrumentation and metrics for HeavyBit. So cool they made this public.
If you are in the US, join me for some free coffee and listen to a chat about being data-informed, data-driven, or data-led. I’m so excited to be doing this with Rachel Herrera, who is just an awesome person to work with.
On to the post.
I was chatting with a CPO recently from a company that sells a digital product.
B2B, ~600 in product development.
He said something like:
There’s a general sense at [xxxxx] that investing in a great product is worthwhile. We do our best to measure what we can, but also accept that some things can’t really be quantified and modeled. I wouldn’t call it blind faith, but more like informed faith.
We use something like the North Star Framework, but the connection to longer term impact isn’t 100% certain. We do run controlled experiments when we can, and reflect on outcomes. But, really, there’s a leap of faith involved.
It got me thinking about core beliefs, and why they matter.
How can a CPO be so confident (without being a megalomaniac)? Well, things are working. The company is growing at a steady clip. They have a track-record of successful new product launches (and misses, to balance them out, and make the wins more credible). The rest of the c-suite was bought in (and the product was helping them achieve their goals). And they take reasonable approach, with a special focus on making inputs/outputs (and the relationships between them) explicit.
Would this continue when/if growth slowed? After a flop or two? If a new CFO joined the company? A new board member? If there was a mass exodus of early employees
I’m not sure.
I meet many teams paralyzed by looking for “perfectly defensible” metrics. Endless debates on what the “perfect metrics” should look like. Fear that picking the “wrong metrics” will risk the future of the team (or a bonus, or performance review). I joke with them that they can always find defensible metrics connected to short-term outcomes. But things that reach off into the future will need a bit of a leap.
What are they missing?
Only a small % of product managers and product leaders have the confidence to pitch and get support for a strategy with some “leaps of faith” connected to longer term results. Factor in the willingness for other leaders to go along with that, and you have a recipe for a rare situation.
It takes experience, confidence, and credibility. And sustaining that credibility! Plenty of leaders pitch “big, bold projects” and get the benefit of the doubt. Only a small number preside over making regular progress—moving those inputs, and contributing to undeniable success over the mid/long term.
A lot of it boils down to the past experiences of the leadership team. What have they seen work? Not work? Most teams want the certainty fix.
This is why I tell product leaders that they are in the narrative business AND the make-regular-progress business.
Part of your role is creating a coherent narrative—both qualitatively and by structuring (and periodically updating) a quantitative model—that tells the story of how efforts today will contribute to success in the future. And then selling it. You may be able to get some help from an analyst to “back up” your point, but if you’re going to lay the groundwork for the future, some leap of faith is required.
Here’s a final thought…
So many companies are trying to operate without this core narrative (for various reasons). Maybe nothing works. Everything works. No one has seen anything work. There’s low trust things can work. No has tried to offer a feasible framework! The team hasn’t been able to take the leap of faith. Where do you start?
First, remember to take care of yourself. If you can find a safe opening, see if you can carve out a “mini-model” where you frame your work as moving a set of leading indicators, and forward a hypothesis about why this will contribute to long-term sustainable, differentiate growth and positive outcomes for company, customers, and community. See if you can kickstart the leap of faith.