Don’t Join the Cult by Paul Adams

BY ARNE KITTLER ON JULY 5, 2018

The final keynote of this year’s MTP Engage came from Paul Adams, VP of product at Intercom. In the preparations leading up to the conference, Paul had warned me that he would challenge some common beliefs in the audience. We were excited, because we wanted to end the conference by giving our audience something to think about.

Paul makes us aware that all the things we build are temporary – including the code for the Intercom messenger V3 which was deleted five days after Paul’s presentation in order to replace it with a new messenger product, V4. Not only are the things we build temporary, but so are the tools and terminologies we use to build them: Eventually the methodologies we cherish so much will seem as outdated to us as man-hours now sounds today.

And not only are these things temporary, but Lean, Scrum, and the like only exist in our collective imagination. Or, as Paul puts it: “We made this shit up.” Understanding that all the things that we take so seriously in our working life are just made up can be quite liberating, because it also means that we can change them once we understand our real place in the universe.

We easily fall for the notion that we as product managers are the hub in the big wheel and all other disciplines such as sales and support are just the spokes which we gladly connect and glue together from our supposedly central position.

But much like the geocentric world view of 500 years ago led people to draw wrong conclusions and drove their actions and priorities in strange ways, our own PM-centricity is misleading and unhelpful. We are not the centre of the world (and we are also not the CEO of the product).

Instead Paul makes the point that it’s much more healthy to imagine product management as being one of many spokes of the big wheel (held together by leadership at the core). In comparison to the PM-centric world view, it should make us less likely to be preoccupied, prejudiced, and naive.

With this new holistic world view in mind and the sense that we can change all the stuff that we only made up anyway, Paul introduces us to a timeless 12-point plan for how to build great products – in a joint effort with the rest of our organisation.

In the video you will see all the details of the plan – the bottom line is that it takes everybody to build a great product. This is why Paul encourages us to go wide in order to have real impact instead of only celebrating our product management cult.

About ARNE KITTLER

Director Mobile Product at XING, the leading professional network in the German speaking markets. Co-Organizer of ProductTank Hamburg and Curator of MTP Engage Hamburg.

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