Better Product Managers, and Product Management

Go Ahead, Be a Flake

…It’s better than being a time waster.

I’m going to pull a number completely out of you-know-where and estimate that a full 20% of time in software companies is wasted on completing tasks to avoid the appearance of flakiness.

Product managers are pretty guilty of this, but they’re by no means the only offenders (and when product managers do this, it’s often because of a corporate culture that encourages it, such as bonuses being dependent on the % of your features that are completed and released.)

Here’s what happens:

  • a need is identified – a new feature, a bug report, an inefficiency
  • requirements are written and agreed upon
  • work begins

– but then something happens.

Maybe further customer interviews reveal that the new feature isn’t really that valuable after all.  Maybe watching your usage metrics shows that the bug – as much as it may irk you – is not affecting your customers’ use of the product.  Maybe that improved database query really isn’t needed at current usage levels.

Whatever the reason, the conclusion should be clear: we should stop working on this.

But we don’t.

“We should just finish it – It’s bad for engineers’ morale to have a half-finished feature sitting around.”  No — it’s worse for morale to have a fully-finished feature released but still just sitting around (and probably cluttering up the UI and generating more customer support costs.)

“We may as well do it now even though we don’t need it yet.” No — when you DO need it, it’s almost certain that your needs will have changed and this thing you built months ago will need more hacking to shape it into a still barely workable solution.

“We shouldn’t interrupt development ‘flow’ to start on something totally different.”  No — ‘flow’ is not valuable by itself!  There’s no sense in building the wrong thing fast.

These all boil down to: I thought this was important -> If I admit that it isn’t, I will lose credibility and look like a flake.

And don’t do the weaselly version, either, where you silently lower the priority on tasks and hope people will forget about them.

Make an announcement: “We are no longer working on X.  Here’s why: we thought it was going to solve Problem Y, but [it actually won't/problem Y isn't actually much of a problem/it will, but problem Z came out of nowhere and we've got to tackle that.]  I’m sorry that we already invested time in this, but I’d rather change course than have us waste more time on something that is not needed.”

I say, flake proudly.  Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Popularity: 4% [?]
  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    Yah, let the sunk cost stay sunk and don't make the hole deeper.

    Yesterday I was writing about a different but similar feeling, where you know a portion of your product sucks, but you have to leave it be no matter how strong the urge to “make it right” might be.

  • Ccrandell

    Great blog post. Cindy, you hit the nail on the head. Part of the problem is a lack of traceability. If you don't know where the requirement came from (customer, partner, internal or general public) and its priority, then all requirements are equal. A lack of traceability results in a lack of alignment between execution and company and product strategy. Traceabiliy and transparency are key to not wasting time. Agile helps by developing in sprints that can be more aligned to what is important and generates value. I agree – no more weaselly version. Point back to the requirement source, if it hasn't be validated to move the customer satisfaction or revenue needle – don't do it for the sake of doing it. Product managers and developers don't have that kind of time. http://www.accept360.com/blog/?p=465

  • Ccrandell

    Great blog post. Cindy, you hit the nail on the head. Part of the problem is a lack of traceability. If you don't know where the requirement came from (customer, partner, internal or general public) and its priority, then all requirements are equal. A lack of traceability results in a lack of alignment between execution and company and product strategy. Traceabiliy and transparency are key to not wasting time. Agile helps by developing in sprints that can be more aligned to what is important and generates value. I agree – no more weaselly version. Point back to the requirement source, if it hasn't be validated to move the customer satisfaction or revenue needle – don't do it for the sake of doing it. Product managers and developers don't have that kind of time. http://www.accept360.com/blog/?p=465

  • http://www.cindyalvarez.com cindyalvarez

    Yes – there's probably another blog post waiting to be written about how to distinguish between types of “things that suck” and which ones you actually need to fix.

  • http://shoutinggorilla.com/pop-und-politik/?p=12518 Leaders: Being Flaky Is Better Than Wasting Everyone’s Time | SHOUTing GORIlla

    [...] Alvarez is the product manager for KISSmetrics. This post was originally published on her blog, and it is re-published here with [...]

  • http://international-news.org/2010/06/leaders-being-flaky-is-better-than-wasting-everyones-time/ Leaders: Being Flaky Is Better Than Wasting Everyone’s Time | International News – Stay up to date with the latest World News, Finance & Business, Green News, Technology and Sports

    [...] Alvarez is the product manager for KISSmetrics. This post was originally published on her blog, and it is re-published here with [...]

  • http://gundy.org Gabriel Gunderson

    I got a long history of flakiness backing me up.

  • http://www.webkitchen.co.uk petenixey

    You bring up good points, Cindy. I think it helps to treat product as a tactic rather than the end itself and not to confuse long-range planning with long range specs.

    Working in very small batches helps tremendously it's far harder to “switch course” than to never have set long range specific tactics in the first place.

  • http://www.techszone.com/leaders-being-flaky-is-better-than-wasting-everyones-time/ Leaders: Being Flaky Is Better Than Wasting Everyone’s Time | TechsZone

    [...] Alvarez is the product manager for KISSmetrics. This post was originally published on her blog, and it is re-published here with [...]

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  • Nicole

    This has happened to us a few times and I always sit around feeling guilty for not following up on these things. Your philosophy will help lessen that guilt!

  • Abc

    I have a different and perhaps opposite observation. I have seen SEVERAL projects (not products) start without enough clarity and down the lane one of the following happens. Either the progress is hampered due to infeasibility or the project is shown as complete with minimum (but not useful) functionality.  The project remains a vestige and lies around for ages with no cleanup. Subsequent people are scared to touch the project as they are not sure what it can affect and where. It just remains there for ever.

  • http://twitter.com/cindyalvarez cindyalvarez

    Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/lsc_news lsc_news

    RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/rajeshj rajeshj

    RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/alexview alexview

    RT @cindyalvarez Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/business901 business901

    RT @alexview: RT @cindyalvarez Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/michaelrlitt michaelrlitt

    Highly Recommended Follow: RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/ericries ericries

    RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Foundups Foundups

    RT @ericries: RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Jason_Rodriguez Jason_Rodriguez

    RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/openspokes openspokes

    #leanstartup » Go Ahead, Be a Flake The Experience is the Product | Better product management and products http://ow.ly/17MF4N

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/lsc_news lsc_news

    RT @openspokes: #leanstartup » Go Ahead, Be a Flake The Experience is the Product | Better product management and products http://ow.ly/17MF4N

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/philgo20 philgo20

    must read for product peeps :”I say, flake proudly. Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” http://bit.ly/aog6C8 (via @cindyalvarez )

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/MatthewTrifiro MatthewTrifiro

    “I say, flake proudly. Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” – @cindyalvarez http://bit.ly/9Naa3J

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Foundora Foundora

    Go Ahead, Be a Flake – http://ow.ly/20Ub4 by @cindyalvarez

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/venturehacks venturehacks

    The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/pegobry pegobry

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/vlaskovits vlaskovits

    “Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” by @cindyalvarez http://ow.ly/22m76 #SunkCosts

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/_ketan _ketan

    http://bit.ly/aVLP9w very good advice to avoid feature/bug guilt

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/hungrycook hungrycook

    When “flakiness” is vital to success (aka knowing when 2 quit) RT @VentureHacks The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/royrod royrod

    This really is good advice for product managers RT @venturehacks Benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK /by @cindyalvarez

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Devcab_Connor Devcab_Connor

    Challenges of having many projects to manage. RT @venturehacks The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/stevevillaverde stevevillaverde

    «I thought this was important -> If I admit that it isn’t, I will lose credibility and look like a flake» http://bit.ly/cTJWz6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/quartzo quartzo

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/amatix amatix

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/jh jh

    RT @cindyalvarez: Go Ahead, Be a Flake. New blog post: http://bit.ly/aVmpMp #prodmgmt #leanstartup

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/jh jh

    “Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” – @cindyalvarez http://bit.ly/aVmpMp Amen! #prodmgmt #leanstartup #agile

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/lsc_news lsc_news

    RT @jh: “Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” – @cindyalvarez http://bit.ly/aVmpMp Amen! #prodmgmt #leanstartup #agile

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/heykarri heykarri

    Flake loud, flake proud. Don’t keep working on dumb stuff. | http://bit.ly/crN6VE | So, so, painfully true! | via @venturehacks

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/langer langer

    Go Ahead, Be A Flake by @cindyalvarez: http://bit.ly/9j1r3L

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/ajordens ajordens

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/kellyrob99 kellyrob99

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/peterarmstrong peterarmstrong

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/AgileProductMgr AgileProductMgr

    RT @jh: “Don’t keep working on dumb stuff.” – @cindyalvarez http://bit.ly/aVmpMp Amen! #prodmgmt #leanstartup #agile

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/DavidGumpper DavidGumpper

    » Go Ahead, Be a Flake The Experience is the Product | Better product management and products http://ow.ly/22wsv Wow, this is enlightening.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/gumps24 gumps24

    » Go Ahead, Be a Flake The Experience is the Product | Better product management and products http://ow.ly/22wtu Wow, this is enlightening.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/SavvyNBeauty SavvyNBeauty

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHellyer PhilipHellyer

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/TravisPearl TravisPearl

    RT @vacanti: If you learn something new about a feature you’re building that makes it less important, stop working on it: http://bit.ly/bjELoz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Siteroom Siteroom

    RT @venturehacks: The benefits of being flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK. I’ve been thinking about this post by @cindyalvarez for days

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/bobvincent bobvincent

    we should stop working on this http://bit.ly/aog6C8 #prodmgmt

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/vhernandez vhernandez

    Don’t keep on working on dumb stuff: http://bit.ly/aog6C8 (via @bobvincent) #prodmgmt #Agile #Scrum #pm #xng

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/SkillSource SkillSource

    Know when to pull plug. RT @LeaderChat: Go Ahead, Be a Flake…It’s better than being a time waster http://ow.ly/23N0Z via @CindyAlvarez

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/ptsi ptsi

    RT @cindyalvarez Be flaky in a startup http://vh.co/c4zKmK < Last sentence = key! #schoolof #hardknocks /via @venturehacks

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/feddkraft feddkraft

    совет стартапам, бросать делать то, что не очень-то нужно кастомеру прям щас via @venturehacks http://vh.co/c4zKmK

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/nickm197 nickm197

    RT @feddkraft: совет стартапам, бросать делать то, что не очень-то нужно кастомеру прям щас via @venturehacks http://vh.co/c4zKmK

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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