Every year I put together one of these lists, of things I read that gave me ideas, crystallised my thinking or changed my mind. This is the longest list I’ve compiled yet. And it’s perhaps the sassiest too. So alongside useful posts on product management and working on digital teams, you’ve got pieces on embracing Earth’s radical long-term and the lie of the United Kingdom.
Anyway, that should be plenty to get stuck in to while waiting in line for a booster vaccine / spending your second Christmas alone (delete as appropriate).
Against entropy — Why product managers really manage conversations
Right, let’s get started with the big guns. What you do as a product manager depends very much on the organisation you work at, its users’ problems, and how your organisation solves those problems. Not all product managers work on consumer tech, which means that classic Venn diagram no longer applies. So Trilly went and wrote this fantastic piece on what’s at the heart of product management.
Good Product Managers, Great Product Managers
I must admit, I feel like I should have come across Shreyas Doshi sooner. He’s been posting fantastic things about product management this year, but I suspect he’s written more. Having worked at Yahoo, Google, Stripe and Twitter, he’s worked at some of the most successful startups, and this post is a timely update on Ben Horowitz’s classic.
Discovery Kanban at Optimizely
There are many different ways to product discovery and product delivery. I’ve found it mostly depends on how many people you’ve got, how multidisciplinary the team is, how big your backlog is and the time horizon on your current objectives. Recently I had a need to Get Shit Done QUICKTIME, where this post came in handy.
Lean UX Documentation for Tracking and Communicating in Agile
It’s really easy forget things or miss details when you’re moving fast. And I’ve certainly been in situations where we’re trying to iterate a product, looking for evidence as to why it was built a certain way, and we’ve not found anything. But writing things down is like building an organisational memory: ‘it prevents teams from running around in circles – repeating mistakes or simply arguing over the same topics again and again’. So write some notes.
The Tools Don’t Matter
At some point in your career as a product manager, you’re going to be asked to work on something that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. The tools you’ve learned and relied on will not suit this new context. And you’re going to feel adrift. Ken Norton has some advice: the tools don’t matter, it’s the fuzzier things that are important.
Read The Tools Don’t Matter.
John Cutler is the utmost expert on the work about the work. You know, the stuff we do all day that isn’t speaking to users or mocking up wireframes or writing code or analysing data. It’s work, but not the work. The messy stuff. This piece helped me out when it seemed like everything was on top of me. Things change, it’ll be OK.
Read The Weeds.
Make Time for Small Talk in Your Virtual Meetings
When I saw this headline in Harvard Business Review, I thought it was a bit obvious. Of course you should make time for small talk when you’re working remotely. But then I read it properly and there’s some good considerations in there for designing your remote culture deliberately.
How to Get a Dysfunctional Team Back on Track
Another one of those posts to read when you think you’re losing it. Either you’ll realise your team is just fine as it is, or you’ll learn some tactics for getting things back on track. The best one: ‘scrap all of your management tricks’.
Why Limiting WIP, Starting Together, Being Less Busy, and Working Together is SO HARD
A companion piece to The Weeds above. Whatever mess you’re in, realise there is no silver bullet.
It’s not complicated; it’s just hard
Up there with ‘Do the hard work to make things simple’, and definitely related to Boring magic, this piece by Russell Davies explains why the art of doing something well ain’t always complex, it’s just hard (using a lovely quote from magicians Penn & Teller).
The most common misconception about organisational culture
This piece opens with ‘Culture is hard to define’. Yup! You know when you’ve got a good one, and you definitely know when it stinks. There’s no playbook for establishing a good culture, I don’t think, it has to be grown with intent. Laurie’s post offers so starting positions, picked from academia.
Sticking with culture for a bit, this piece looks at 1960s intentional communities – commonly known as ‘communes’ – and their similarity with tech startups. It’s a really interesting piece! I guess microdosing will make it over to the European startup ecosystem after all…
Read Utopia Inc.
Neglected positioning hurts more than you think
Positioning is the art of describing a product in a way that appeals to specific market segments. This isn’t a healthy snack, it’s a high calorie Paleo bar. If it sounds like marketing, that’s because it is, and product management has roots in marketing. Getting positioning right early on will help you find and onboard early adopters.
Identifying the Business Value of What We Do
A good thing to pair with meeting user needs is creating business value. You want to solve problems for users in a way that they love but that also creates value for the business. So it’s useful to bring that in to your prioritisation meetings.
Willingness to look stupid
Startups are full of clever people trying to do excellent things and be the absolute best. It can create an environment where people are afraid to make mistakes or look stupid, which can lead to problems down the road. Be willing to look stupid.
Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing reality
Simply put, Mark Zuckerberg wants to monetise a virtual reality and use his company’s size to establish first-mover advantage. It’s so obvious, and it’s a huge bet, yet it will probably work because he wills it. And he can cash in.
The Metaverse is Bad
This one’s similar to the previous post but takes a different slant towards the end, critiquing Zuckerberg as a character.
Read The Metaverse is Bad.
Notes on Web3
One thing that’s clear is that there’s a lot of hype around web3. A few years back when I was looking in to Web 3.0, its previous incarnation, there was nothing about crypto, it was all linked data. I’ve read a few things about web3 recently but this stands out as the star piece.
Read Notes on Web3.
Rethinking class in the age of rent
This piece takes a look at the fundamental value of assets, both physical and knowledge-based, to throw a new light on socioeconomic class and arrive at a different definition.
Independent Tropical Wales
A short story about a piece of graffiti that showed up in Cardiff, but one that points to the colonial oppression of the monarchy and how its empire-building started – and ended – close to home.
The Age of Exhaustion
You Really Need to Quit Twitter
Every now and then I take breaks from Twitter, and I’ve definitely used it less this year. There could be numerous reasons for that: I’ve been busier, outside more, less interested in what my bubble thinks, etc. But this piece did prompt me to take a break, so I’m sharing it.
Emotions on Strike
A piece that encourages you to take back control of your emotions. Like, properly seize them back. Bring your whole self to work? Hmm, I dunno, maybe not.
Read Emotions on Strike.
The Tyranny Of Time
Possibly one of the best pieces I read all year, about clocks and time. If I try and summarise it I won’t do it justice, so just go and read it.
Read The Tyranny Of Time.
Columbia professor: I do heroin regularly for ‘work-life balance’
You can get high and still hold it down.
Moving in Stillness: How Running Benefits the Mind
I got in to running during 2020, the middle stages of the early pandemic, like a lot of people. But this year was when its benefits in mindfulness really hit me, and a feeling of connection to the past. If you like this piece, I recommend looking up John Hillaby, a walker whose writing is seminal.
Intro to Fast-packing
As soon as I read this, I wanted to be able to run long distances. Camping is great but walking takes time, you don’t cover as many miles as running. So being able to run to some remote place, sleep out for a night and head back sounds really, really appealing!
Read Intro to Fast-packing.
Web3 threatens a free, open internet, but I’m wondering if there’s a reading of the technology – away from the hype – that satisfies the optimist/purists.
A quick review of the year 2020.
Don’t read on if you’re having an existential crisis (just come back after it’s over).