Going Global! And why your colleagues (probably) aren’t crazy
I love the old story about how the great 8-bit game duo Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond (RIP) came up with the groundbreaking ZX Spectrum game “Batman”.
From the Your Sinclair interview from many years ago:
Jon needed a central character for Batman, so he thrust a joystick connected to a drawing utility into Bernie's hand...
"No, not like that!" Jon was tempted to cry, when Bernie started waggling the joystick furiously, scribbling random pixels onto the screen. Peering at the apparent mess on the monitor, Bernie found a bit that looked like an eye and started chibbling pixels away, adding a few here, removing a few there and soon Batman was born.
Why do I love this? Because it strikes a chord with product thinking; build something small, check it out, improve it, iterate and make something great. Something we should all hopefully do more of in 2023.
No sponsor this week, but an appeal
A few years back, I met Tracy James. Tracy was my leadership coach for a few months and helped me through some trying times. She helped me examine my strengths and weaknesses, and to understand what was internal to me and external to my company. I would not be where I am today without her which I why I was devastated to hear that she’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
There’s an appeal running at the moment to raise funds for her to have some memorable experiences with her family and, obviously, it’d be much appreciated if you could throw in some spare change to help. Thank you!
New podcast episode: Going Global! When and How to Take your Product International
I’ve worked in a few places that have eagerly pursued international expansion and it hasn’t always gone well. That’s why I was really pleased to speak to Chui Chui Tan, an international growth adviser and culturalisation strategist who has worked with companies like Spotify and Marriott. We chatted about a variety of topics related to market expansion and going global, and you can check it out on your podcast app or right here.
You should start thinking about international growth before you're ready for it
You don't need to overengineer from the start, but you do need to make sure you have flexible building blocks in place so that you're not starting from scratch when you do want to expand.
If you’re interested in cultural topics, I can also strongly recommend The Culture Map. It’s a great book about the big and little differences between cultures, and how they manifest themselves at work.
Your colleagues aren’t crazy, and generally not out to get you
Speaking of books, I recently read Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. Chris was an FBI negotiator who nowadays teaches his negotiation skills to business leaders to help them get ahead in the market. There’s a lot to love for product managers in the book, especially given how much we have to lead with influence, not authority and get thrust into complicated situations often. But, one part that stuck with me was the section (based on previous work by Deepak Malhotra & Max H. Bazerman) about “the reasons negotiators mistakenly call their counterparts crazy”. Let’s go through them in the context of product management.
Mistake 1: They are ill-informed
As described in the book: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). How many times have you been in a situation where a senior stakeholder says something that is patently untrue? Maybe your product doesn’t do that, has never done that and no one ever said it did that. Maybe you were never looking at that market. Maybe that technology doesn’t exist! This can particularly come to a head with sales colleagues who may end up saying things in prospect meetings that leave you scratching your head at best, or scrabbling to emergency-release some promised feature at worst.
Mistake 2: They are constrained
The CEO just nixed that big initiative you’re championing? The sales team is getting in the way of you speaking to some of your customers? The engineering team is taking forever to get stuff out, and you feel they’re sandbagging? All of these could indicate hidden constraints that you’re not aware of. They could be budgetary or runway related. Maybe many of your most interesting customers are also the most fragile in account health terms. Maybe your systems architecture is falling apart and it takes five times as long to do anything due to underinvestment and stretched supply lines. All of these will frustrate your efforts to make progress, but they’re also all good reasons.
Mistake 3: They have other interests
In the utopian world of perfectly aligned teams, everyone is pulling in the same direction and aiming for the same target. And, don’t get me wrong, even in dysfunctional companies it’s generally fair to say that (most) people want the company to be at least somewhat successful. The difficulty here comes when people’s motivations are different, and these motivations are often driven directly by compensation as well as the weird mix of historic biases that everyone brings from their accumulated working life. It’s hard to persuade someone being judged on Thing A that Thing B is more important to them personally.
The book itself goes into a lot of detail on all of this stuff and more but, for me, the fundamental solution remains deceptively simple.
Just talk to people!
I speak to a lot of product people that are stuck in silos. I know product managers that barely speak to sales or marketing teams, or even product marketing teams! I know product leaders who speak to the CEO for 5 minutes every month and never seem to have any idea what’s really on their mind. Now, in some cases, we have to call out that our colleagues might be unwilling, or unable, to share certain details but we should keep those lines of communication open, put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand what they really want.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: We need to use the same product discovery skills that we claim to want to use on our customers, and we need to use those on our colleagues too. But, we need to go a step further and do some reverse discovery on them too - let them know what we’re up to and what matters to us!
All this stuff is messy, but it’s worth chipping away at (back to Bernie Drummond!). I’ve personally never regretted putting time into cross-team relationships and doing my best to meet somewhat towards the middle.
Thanks for reading, do please send feedback and let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover. And remember to share the newsletter with your friends!
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