product discovery

Listening is a prerequisite. Hearing is the skill.

Lots of people can sit on a customer call, and they can listen to what people share. But a skilled productician will hear what isn’t being said, what assumptions are being made, what the root problem is, what the current paradigm might not support.

adjacent users

Product teams overvalue hitting home runs vs hitting 100 singles back to back. This leads them to take bigger swings by going after bigger markets of new users. They get bogged down by trying to establish product-market fit for a new set of users and never fulfill the potential of their current product-market fit.

Bangaly Kaba in “The Adjacent User Theory


A good product manager is in the selling business: surfacing enough data and insight to sell themselves on investing in a problem, navigating opportunity cost to sell their team on solving the problem, packaging the strategy to sell the company on the idea, and crafting strong positioning to sell people on using the product.

fragile teams

An important property of teams is that they abstract the complexities of the individuals that compose them. Teams with fewer than four individuals are a sufficiently leaky abstraction that they function indistinguishably from individuals. To reason about a small team’s delivery, you’ll have to know about each on-call shift, vacation, and interruption.

They are also fragile, with one departure easily moving them from innovation back into toiling to maintain technical debt.

Will Larson, from An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management


Build for customers, not for deadlines.


If you want to drive value as quickly as possible, set a timeline at then end of which you want to ship something. Focus relentlessly on cutting scope while still getting to the core use pain point. What you deliver may be a fraction of what you hoped for, but it’s driven by customer value and you released it “on time.” Rinse and repeat. It may take a while to get even your MVP out the door, but you will know that you’re focused on delivering customer value, and you will get a strong sense of your capacity and velocity.


If you want to ship an experience (rather than a feature) with a minimum set of functionality, consider scopeboxing. Determine what needs to be involved and derive clear product delivery milestones – user story mapping and slicing the work on both horizontal (user journey) and vertical (lightweight full-function through the stack) can do wonders to help here. Hold back on offering any ETAs to other stakeholders, internal or external – you’re not focused on time under this practice, you’re focused on scope. Relentlessly evaluate if you’ve gotten the scope of each milestone correct by questioning it and sketching out alternatives. Get each into a prospective user’s hands as they go live to see if it’s usable, used, and worth using.