Incomplete by design… finishing documents is making it harder for your team.
Matt LeMay‘s closing keynote at MTP Engage Hamburg was a beautiful reminder of the power of collectively designing as a team unit to solve problems. Watch the video below in full or read on for a recap of some of the key takeaways.
The talk reminded me that we are guilty of chasing perfection all too often – waiting to get that document right before sharing – which hurts our team – wow!
Most product managers will confess that they are always busy, and in recent times, Matt has found that many feel like they are burning out. But are we (product managers and leaders) doing it all wrong? Are we unintentionally killing innovation by trying to be too perfect? Are we trying to help our teams too much?
Matt shares a book recommendation – The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts – and introduces the audience to the law of reversed effort – the harder we try, the worse things get… After a day of learning and one step away from drinks piqued my interest – am I working too hard?
Matt shares a real scenario, which I am guilty of – as product managers, we finish a document, present it to our teams, and the team give feedback, and so begins an endless loop of sharing and giving feedback. Matt explains clearly that when product managers create and finish a document with the intention of ‘helping’, all the team can do is give feedback. Suddenly your work isn’t completed anymore, thus introducing the law of reversed effort for product managers.
One of Matt’s critical messages for product managers is sharing that when we set out to try and finish things for our team, our team’s involvement moves us backwards. The more effort we put into finishing stuff for our team, the harder we are making it for our teams actually to finish things.
Wow. Are we really working too hard and hurting our teams simultaneously?
Matt reminds the audience that teams exist to help each other through getting unstuck, and it is the team that allows us to move forward. He introduces us to the concept of “incomplete by design” and offers a paper written by Raghu Garud, Sanjay Jain, and Philipp Tuertscher.
Raghu Garud, Sanjay Jain, Philipp Tuertscher
Incomplete by Design means that we make our documents unfinished on purpose, and we work with our team to finish them together, collaborating on the problem and coming up with options to solve it. Matt shares that the research found that incompleteness acts as a trigger for action and that when trying to complete something together, it generates new ideas, problems and possibilities.
Why is this so hard to achieve?
Matt offers up some valuable tips and resistance he has found through his coaching when designing for incompleteness.
- What starts as helping turns into a finished document – we cannot resist ourselves just adding a little more
- Fear of getting negative feedback, especially from senior leadership or managing upwards
- Uncomfortable to share messy drafts; it’s not the norm, and feels very uncomfortable for some.
So how do we fix it?
Matt’s final part of the talk offers a solution he uses regularly and has made a pledge. The concept is one page, one hour.
Matt passionately shares his commitment to his business partners that he would only spend one hour on one page and asked them to yell at him if he spent more time than that. So much so that he has written a pledge and some helpful documents for you to start.
He warns us that it is emotionally hard to present unfinished, unpolished, and incomplete work and ask your team to help move you forward. Being openly vulnerable to people at work can be uncomfortable. Still, like many other complex skills, it is essential as a product person to put aside personal emotions for the team’s good.
You can check out more on his website, which offers some valuable templates. You can also sign up for his pledge and see everyone who has taken it.
I am prepared to forego the sense of individual accomplishment that comes from presenting finished, polished deliverables to my colleagues.
I believe that co-creation drives stronger decisions, shared accountability, and better outcomes.
Therefore, I pledge that I will spend no more than one page and one hour working on any deliverable before sharing it with my colleagues.
I invite my colleagues to hold me accountable for this commitment and to join me in taking the One Page / One Hour pledge at onepageonehour.com.
Matt’s final remarks bring home the togetherness of working as one team to solve problems. He reminds us that when we share unfinished things together, collaboration moves us forward, not backwards. When we leave it to our team to get over the finish line, we get over the finish line together. So we are not only building better team collaboration, we are doing better work faster.
As I walked out of the beautiful auditorium full of conversations from the day, I personally committed to three takeaways from Matt’s talk.
- As product people, the team is there to solve problems together – by working alone; we are making it harder for the team to move forward.
- Sharing early and reducing the time spent on documents helps us all.
- Sharing unfinished and sometimes messy documents requires vulnerability – this, like many other complex skills, can be learned and needs practice.
There’s more where that came from! Access more great content on Mind the Product:
- Perfection is the Enemy of Progress – Matt LeMay on The Product Experience
- Being user minded — MTP Engage Hamburg 2022
- Using principles to make better decisions faster by Martin Eriksson