#22 🎯 How to influence people

I was asked recently, "how do you influence people?" and my answer is pretty simple.

In general, I've observed two main ways to influence people: (1) through fear or (2) through helping them hit their goals.

While (1) is certainly a path I've seen people take, it's simply not sustainable. Nobody wants to follow a leader who influences them with fear (e.g. if you don't do this, something bad will happen).

IMO influencing through (2) is the most sustainable solution. To get people excited, you need to UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY WANT. Get to know them and their goals. Once you know what someone wants, you can frame the ask in a mutually beneficial way.

Understanding people is a pre-req for influencing them. If people feel that you will help them reach their own goals, not only will they feel better about working with you, but the quality of their contribution will be higher as a result.

At Facebook, anyone looking to influence someone else needs to look no further than one's ambitions for the half. If you know what someone needs to accomplish in order to set themselves up for a better rating or promo, and you can help them get there by working together, they'll be extremely open to exploring your idea.

To summarize: effective leadership is about motivating people to follow you because it's the most direct path to hitting their own goals.


Fun Travel Stuff

Carole and I drove down to Southern California with George last weekend for the long Memorial Day holiday and spent a couple days near Solvang and a couple days in Los Angeles. One highlight from Solvang was a visit to an OstrichLand and another from LA was our touristy 6 mile loop hike up to the Hollywood sign.

Learning #1: Ostriches are insanely aggressive, have terrifying dinosaur feet and are way taller than I expected.

Learning #2: George doesn’t like ostriches.

Thinking ahead to this summer, we booked our flights to France and I’m hoping I’ll be able to enter the country without any problems due to COVID restrictions (I’m arriving a week after Carole). We’ll see how it goes!🤞

#21 🛠 Should startup PMs focus on internal tools?

With limited PM capacity in a startup, it's not always clear how to prioritize internal tools relative to customer-facing tools. Here's my take.

Should startup PMs focus on internal tools?

I got a question from a friend who is a cofounder/CPO of a fast growing startup last week and figured this thread might be interesting for people because I don’t see internal tooling get discussed often enough in PM circles.

Note: I considered writing it out as a post but the Q&A format seems to capture the thought process well so let’s just go with it.


Friend:

Would love your opinion. Do you proactively PM internal products/admin panels, etc?

Me:

Depends on how critical it is for the business!

Also, depends how clear the need is: if the necessary functionality is clear and you can trust an engineer to build what's needed, I wouldn't spend time on it.

My first full time PM role was at Breeze (before Ford acquired us and we became Canvas) where I spent the first six months PMing an internal fleet management tool from scratch. The CEO later told me that without this fleet management tool he doesn't think we would have been acquired.

For a business like ours in the car space, having a fleet management tool (even if internal) demonstrated thought leadership around how to manage a very operationally complex business with software.

If you think you can differentiate yourself in the space by investing in better internal tools to solve operational issues, then you probably want to active PM internal tools to make sure they're solving the most important problems with the right long-term vision in mind.

Friend:

That makes a lot of sense - sounds like those decisions are intentional and strategic. I wonder though. Do you proportion development energy between different backlogs or weave other team priorities into a single backlog? For example: if you team advocates for development of finance reporting tools, how do you determine priority between that and product team priorities?

Me:

That’s the crux of prioritization. This is also why companies end up splitting up the product team into two teams so that each one focuses on a different strategic area. At Breeze, my team was not only separate from the rest of the eng team, we even got our own apartment for the seven of us that we used as a separate office. If the internal tooling is of strategic importance you should incentivize an entire team to focus on it without needing to evaluate how it compares to other priorities.

If you don’t see the internal tooling as of strategic importance, then you can strike a goal of having x% of the monthly effort/bandwidth dedicated to internal tooling. Something like 20% sounds reasonable (1 FT engineer out of a team of 5).

Prioritization ultimately comes down to impact. It’s not about the feature/project. It’s about what the feature/project enables.

Friend:

100% makes sense. We do a percent on internal needs managed via separate backlogs but I ultimately wave them into a single backlog to make priority decisions between them. But yeah curious other ways to do it. Sounds like you dedicate a percentage or make priorities compete. I feel like in general, you can make more optimal decisions doing so rather than always targeting a %. But others on my team disagree. There is strategic importance with some but not all items.

Also, teams right now manage the priority of their backlogs. Team leaders are not PMs. Any thoughts on that?

Me:

If team leaders who manage the priority of their backlogs are not PMs,

1) what are they?

2) do you trust their ability to make the right prioritization decisions?

Friend:

Head of ops manages ops priorities, for example, operations includes account management, support, etc. and we colab in it and are generally aligned, but still, priorities of that backlog are ultimately made by them and the PM (me) help out.

We target some percentage of ops work since we leverage ops and internal tools to reach service levels for contracts, but I general am starting to think I need to much more rigorously PM that backlog because I think we can get a higher bang/buck. Basically thinking I should proactively do “user research” on the internal members to understand their problems and where I can better empower them/save time rather then waiting till they realize theirs issues. Thoughts?

And to your second question - I generally trust prioritization decisions, yes, but I still don’t think they are as optimal as possible because there isn’t PMing with quite the same level of rigor that a PM might bring.

Me:

Yeah, doing internal research to identify the biggest problem you might be able to solve with software is exactly how we went about figuring out what a fleet management tool should be at Breeze. So that approach has certainly worked for me!

Friend:

^^ That's awesome. Been bouncing these ideas around and I think I have a much better understanding of it now, and it definitely seems like as internal needs become of strategic importance, it certainly makes sense to proactively solve and prioritize those problems as you did at Breeze. Thanks for the help here.

#20: Turning 31 🎂

I turned 31 this week after what will probably go down as the strangest year in modern history. When Carole threw me a surprise Zoom party last year for my 30th birthday it was a couple weeks into the lockdown when everyone was still making sense of the early phase of the pandemic. We had no idea what was ahead in the coming months.

I’m glad to say that Carole and I got closer over the last year by spending way more time together than we ever did before. We ate almost all of our meals together and shared the ups and downs in real time with one another.

We also managed to travel a bit in the last year, including a week in Tulum, a few days in Sedona, a week in Bend, and most recently a few days in Death Valley National Park.

This week Carole even surprised me by throwing me a real-life birthday party here in SF with friends in our extended quarantine bubble.

On the way to dinner, I noticed Carole texting a lot. I said, “you know, a woman who is stressfully texting while walking to her husband’s birthday dinner looks like a woman planning a surprise birthday party… are you planning a surprise birthday party?”

She gave me her classic dismissive look and said no.

We got to the restaurant and Carole tried walking past the host but I stopped to check in. The host asked for the name on the reservation, to which Carole replied “Carole”.

The host said, “great, I see Carole - party of 15 right?”

Carole gave the host her classic death stare while I smiled. We went outside and celebrated with friends with lots of drinks and food.

Way better than a Zoom party.

With the light at the end of the COVID tunnel starting to shine, I’m reflecting on another key difference in my life today vs last year: the career side of things.

One year ago I was unemployed (after being recently laid off from Abstract) and facing a very uncertain job market. I was interviewing and not having any luck. It’s fair to say I wasn’t in a very good place mentally. I was doubting myself and going into dark places in my head.

Despite the challenges, I pushed forward, continuing to line up as many interviews as I could manage. Each “no” led to a new “maybe” as I kept my pipeline full at all times. I spent weeks preparing for interviews, journaling about past projects, reflecting on challenging team dynamics and learnings so that I could convey my experiences in a way that was factually honest and emotionally mature. Memory can make this tricky.

I was wrestling with my strengths and weaknesses. I came to the conclusion that my strengths, when unchecked, were my weaknesses too.

I include teammates as equal partners in decision-making (strength) but if I push it too far my teammates can get frustrated by my perceived lack of decisiveness (weakness).

Beyond coming to grips with my past experience, I was also realizing that some things I took as obvious assumptions were potentially rationalizations run amuck.

One of these assumptions was that startup life would be better for me than big tech company life. For years, I bought into a narrative that you can either work at a big tech company and just be a meaningless cog in a big machine or you can work at a small startup and make a huge impact. I’d be making less money in a startup but it would be better for me in the long-run.

I realized that my belief that working at a big tech company would be boring or soul-crushing was the result of my attempts to rationalize my choices to spend years in early stage startups. I was deeply involved in many hiring processes in early stage startups and got very good at pitching the scrappy-yet-functional, messy-yet-sensical startup culture. Truthfully, I enjoyed the hell out of startup life. But it was time to reconsider my assumptions.

After seven years in early stage startups, with Carole pushing me to seriously consider working in a big tech company because it might actually be really good for me, I did.

I joined Facebook last June and I’ve been pleasantly surprised in all kinds of ways. I’m growing, learning and exercising muscles that I haven’t used in a long time. The strategic part of me is waking back up after laying dormant during the years of constant execution in the weeds. I’m rediscovering my storytelling voice and using my leadership skills in a way that wasn’t valued in earlier stage startups. I’m planning to publish a separate post that goes into more detail about life at FB so we can keep that queued up for the future.

All in all, I’m feeling super grateful with everything I have on my 31st birthday and am excited for the world to be almost entirely back to its normal self by the time I turn 32.

Quick Note on Death Valley National Park

A couple weeks ago Carole & I took Thursday and Friday off to go enjoy the desert. We flew into Vegas on Wednesday evening and drove out to Death Valley NP first thing Thursday. It was my first time to that national park, and it was beautiful. Fun fact: Death Valley NP is the largest national park in the lower 48 states. It's massive.

The whole national park is inside a seemingly endless valley that you can drive through for days. Because it’s so large, there’s all kinds of landscapes: salt flats, sand dunes, mosaic canyons, volcano craters, and dried lake beds. I highly recommend going.

OTHER FUN THINGS
  • I watched The Sound of Metal recently and found it incredibly moving. I can see why it's nominated for Best Picture.

  • Carole and I binged Your Honor on Showtime. It was intense and super good.

#19 🤝 How I built trust with my team as a new PM

I joined Facebook as a product manager last June. This is the 5-step recipe I followed to build trust with my team early on.

I've come to see product management as the art and science of pinpointing the most meaningful problems and converting them into impactful products by having the right people solve them with the minimum possible effort. And making the right tradeoffs along the way.

To pull this off well, a PM requires multiple dimensions of trust from their team:

  • trust in ability to pinpoint meaningful problems

  • trust in commitment to solving these problems by leveraging the team's strengths

  • trust in ability to be the judge of the right scope (not too small, not too big)

  • trust in making the right tradeoffs

While building trust doesn't guarantee success, mistrust from the team almost guarantees failure.

To be successful as a PM at Facebook (I joined last June), I needed to build trust with my team early on. This note describes how I established myself as a trusted leader on the team.

#1 Identify Characters + Prioritize and Schedule

The first step is putting together a list of all the people you need to meet. I spent time with my manager (who was the PM for my team before I joined) compiling a "cast of characters" to get a sense for who does what and how I might prioritize meeting them.

Naturally, the top of my list included the people on my core team (EM, 8 engineers, 2 UXRs, DS, EM, DE, PD, 3 PMMs). Then were the other PMs in my team's parent org. Then parent org leads. Then our key business partners. My initial list included about 40 people.

Setting up the calls came next. I reached out to each person on the list to say hi and asked if they’d be interested in spending 30 minutes to meet so I can learn more about their experience with our team. 100% of them said yes.

I decided to prioritize the core team meetings for the first 2-3 weeks and worked my way to the rest of the people in the following few weeks.

#2 State Your Intention + Shamelessly Take Notes

Each call started with introductions: I’d ask how long they’ve been at FB, what they’re most excited about currently, how’s the transition to remote work during COVID had been for them, etc.

After the other person told me about themselves, they’d usually ask about my background and I’d give them an overview of my career journey to FB, personal life, and why I chose to join the team.

These personal intros usually took the first 5-10 minutes of the call, after which I would intentionally segue into the next part of the conversation.

[Philosophical note: I dislike when new people join and start changing things before they understand how things evolved to where they are. I've seen new people join and change things in their first month. My personal view is that leaders shouldn’t make changes until they’ve understood the backstory for how and why things ended up in their current configuration. It demonstrates respect for the team and its journey to the present moment.]

With intros out of the way, I shared my intention for the conversation:

I see the joining of a product manager as a pivotal moment in a team’s story; PMs at a company like Facebook hold a lot of responsibility and I take that responsibility seriously.

I'm not here to pass judgement or criticize anything that was done in the past; I know everyone has made the best decisions with the information they had at the time and I have a deep respect for the history of the team. Those past decisions are what led to the team's success which is why I'm here - to help us grow to the next level!

In order to best serve the team moving forward, I need to understand it first. I'll be digging into a lot of areas and asking a lot of questions with the goal of understanding the rationale behind everything from our team strategy & mission down to the roadmap and the specific projects we're working on.

The joining of a new PM is a true window of opportunity to change things for the better; I'm looking to understand the team’s superpowers and areas for improvement. This way, when I inevitably start making changes, I'll be able to separate the baby from the bathwater.

With that said, I have two questions for you:

1) What are the team's superpowers? What are we really good at? What is working so well that I could really only mess it up?

2) What's holding us back? What would you like to see change or evolve in the next few months?

If you see me typing, I promise I'm fully paying attention. I just want to make sure my memory doesn't fail me later so I need to write things down.

Then I sat quietly and listened while taking notes, only chiming in to clarify anything that wasn't clear to me.

#3 Identify Themes and Present Back

Combing through my notes from dozens of these calls, some clear themes started to emerge.

I wrote these down and a month after joining the team, gave a 30 minute presentation in our biweekly team meeting. I walked the team through my observations, broken down into three sections:

  1. team strengths/superpowers (for us, this was primarily around execution and quality - once we knew what to build, it was done efficiently and done well)

  2. problems and areas for improvements (for us, this was primarily around measuring the impact of our work and involving the XFNs on the team more directly in roadmapping).

  3. potential changes we might want to make based on these*

This exercise helped establish myself as an informed leader who cares. I was the only person who spoke with every single person on the team in this manner so the findings were genuinely interesting/novel to people on the team. I was holding up a mirror, showing the team exactly what they were thinking and feeling.

While each of my teammates obviously knew their own perspective intimately, they didn't know how the rest of the team was feeling. By collecting each person's input, I was able to get everyone on the same page about how we were feeling as a unit.

#4 Invite Follow-Ups

When I was done, I invited the team to chime in with any comments, gaps or inaccuracies to keep me honest in case I got something wrong or overlooked major items. If they were uncomfortable speaking up with a large group, I invited a direct message over chat and/or a follow-up 1:1 call.

This demonstrated an openness to feedback and criticism and I rewarded everyone who reached out by making more time to hear their thoughts. My door would always be open and now they knew it.

#5 Prove Your Commitment

The two biggest areas for improvement from our team were around measuring the impact of our work and making roadmapping more inclusive. In my first half, we made exciting progress on both of these.

On the measurement front we've been able to demonstrate measurable impact with a couple new experiments. On the roadmapping inclusion front, we ran an extremely inclusive and transparent roadmapping process which involved everyone on the team. I sent out a survey in January and 100% of respondents said they felt included just the right amount. I consider that a win.

Conclusion

This exercise in my first month helped my team trust me as a problem-solver who respected the team's journey to this point and was committed to leveraging our team's superpowers while improving the aspects that were holding us back. 

Almost nine months later, I'm proud to say that our team has been performing well, morale is high, and we've been successful in fostering a culture of open communication.


* I was on the fence with #3 because it was getting into the territory of making changes too early. But I decided to take the risk anyway because the upside was that I was demonstrating an ability to think of new ways of doing things and opening the door to feedback if anyone disagreed with me. In hindsight, I don't think any of the ideas I shared materialized but it led to productive follow ups with individual members of the team, which definitely shaped my thinking over the last nine months.


This post has been published on www.productschool.com communities.

⚖️ #18 Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

Physical spaces, symbolic boundaries, newsletters I like, books I've been reading, thought provoking podcasts and stock update

Here we are: February. Is 2021 flying by super fast for anyone else?

We have a new president, outdoor dining has re-opened in SF, COVID hospitalizations are now on the decline, the sun is shining and the stock market is up. I’m cautiously optimistic that more good news will keep coming our way this year.

Before jumping in, I want to welcome the new subscribers. Turns out a lot of people found my stock predictions post and chose to follow along. Thanks for joining!

Some thoughts on work/life balance

I was interviewing a candidate this week who recently graduated from college. She asked me about the work/life balance in our team and I responded with the most honest thing I could think of: I’m not sure anyone has a good work/life balance right now, given the work from home situation.

Back in the summer of 2012, me and my class of 70 first-year investment banking analysts attended an open Q&A panel with a handful of our new colleagues who were a few years ahead of us on the job. I asked if any of them figured out a way to have a good work/life balance and the entire panel started laughing.

Over the following several months, I learned that the lack of work/life balance in finance was driven by the need to literally be at the office for 80 hours per week. You couldn’t have a life outside of work because the office was your life.

Almost nine years later, I’m not feeling a lack of work/life balance as much as a complete blending of my work and life settings. My career is being built in one room and my personal life in the other. I’m feeling like that’s really missing is a variety of physical boundaries.

Physical boundaries allow us to fully transition from one symbolic environment to another. The office is a space for work, the home is a space for family, the gym is a place for exercise, the temple is a place for spirituality, etc.

Our homes have become the singular container for all of these activities. For a lot of us, our smartphones bring work-related communication to us even when we’re on the go. If you use Twitter or LinkedIn (or Clubhouse) you also have career/work related topics coming into your head disguised as consumer social media. The boundaries are blurry.

But there’s some good news: the beauty of the current situation is that each of us has the ability to decide where we want the boundaries. The lack of physical boundaries gives us of us the freedom (and responsibility) to set up our own symbolic boundaries.

Closing the laptop can be a symbol for being done with work for the day.

Making my morning coffee can be a symbol for the workday beginning.

Leaving my phone at home when I go for a dog walk can be a symbol for going into thinking time.

I think it’s all about balance, moderation, and doing whatever feels right. Sometimes I get a lot of excitement from working over the weekend. Sometimes I need the whole weekend off to just take a break from work. Sometimes I enjoy working a bit after dinner and sometimes I like to pick things up the next morning.

In an age where our attention is being manipulated constantly, it’s important to remember: we each have a choice. So let’s not be passengers in own own lives.

Newsletters

Books

  • I’m listening to Elon Musk biography (published 2015) which has been inspiring gives me a whole new appreciation for what he has accomplished

  • Rhythm of War (Book 4 of Stormlight Archive) is bringing me back to the fantastic world inside Brandon Sanderson’s head — the guy is a wizard storyteller

  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends (Rob Lowe’s memoir, narrated by Rob Lowe himself) was a surprisingly good listen full of interesting stories and lessons

Podcasts

  • Lex Friedman hosted Matthew Johnson, a psychedelics researcher at Johns Hopkins for a wide-ranging discussion over the course of 3.5 hours. I’m very interested in psychedelics and believe that psychedelic-assisted therapy is the key to solving many of our society’s mental health problems. YouTube or Spotify.

  • Joe Rogan hosted Travis Walton (Spotify), whose personal alien abduction story inspired several documentaries and films. It’s a fascinating episode that continues a string of compelling interviews like this one with Jacques Vallée & James Fox from December, this one with Bob Lazar and this one with Commander David Fravor.

Stock Update

We’re only a month into the year so it’s way too early to determine where my predictions were right and wrong (for reference, at this exact time last year we hadn’t even started talking about COVID as a serious thing that could impact the U.S.). We have the whole year ahead of us for things to unravel.


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