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Product Managers vs. Flame wielding monkeys.
How do you decide what our team should work on next?
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Robot Overlord Joke of the Day
Q: Did you hear about the monkeys who shared an Amazon account?
A: They were Prime mates.
Monkeying around with mental models.
The topic today revolves around the decision-making that goes into building products. There’s a concept that’s been in the wild (pun) for a while, and it’s referred to as the “monkey and the pedestal.” Annie Duke lays out the scenario nicely in this excellent article:
To understand monkeys and pedestals, imagine that you’re trying to teach a monkey to juggle flaming torches while it stands on a pedestal in the town square. Two tasks are competing for your money, time, and attention: training the monkey and building the pedestal.
One is a possibly intractable obstacle. And the other is building the pedestal.
The bottleneck, the hard thing, is getting the monkey to juggle those flaming torches.
Think about your backlog and how you’ve been looking at attacking a problem. We’re experts in the issues our users are experiencing. You’ve done all your research, assembled all your fancy post-it notes, and devised a million different ways to attack the problem.
Although I’m sure they are all brilliant, I love the monkey and pedestal concept because it hits on something many of us have faced when deciding the first steps to attack these problems. Is what you are trying to achieve even feasible and/or scalable?
Let’s talk about a real-life scenario.
Let’s say that your problem can be solved by building out this amazing new feature within the UI of your product that you believe will fix everything. However, to make your solution work, you need to be able to pull data that is created by how the user is navigating through screens. Does that data exist? Do you have access to it? Can you actually use the data?
If you move forward with building out the screen, assuming you’ll be able to figure things out later, you are instantly putting the time and money spent for your team and your company at risk of failure. You’re deciding to invest in the pedestal, and when the time comes, if you can’t get this data and train your monkey effectively, everything could be a waste, and you will have missed out on building other projects. If you don’t go live with a solution, your users will still suffer.
How might we approach things differently?
To take on the monkey here, consider directing your team to ideate and build/test solutions to determine whether you should continue investing time and money into this particular problem-solving method.
I also think it’s vital to time-box the efforts of your team. Since you are taking this approach to reduce the chances you waste money and time, you don’t want to spend the rest of your days trying to solve this problem. I’m not suggesting you just quit when things get complicated; I’m suggesting that if things don’t work out after you collectively give it your best, it’s okay to let your efforts conclude and look to the next problem.
Tackling the hard thing first gets you to “no” faster. And the faster you figure out the monkey is untrainable, the less time and money and effort you have sunk into the project, making it easier to quit when the time is right.
We’ve been conditioned all our lives to avoid quitting. Look back at situations you’ve faced where you wanted to quit but stuck it out. How many of those experiences ended in the best-case scenario, and how many left you still feeling defeated despite sticking around? Realize it’s okay to throw in the towel and live to fight another.
Video of the Day
Tim Ferriss - 3 strategies for prioritization
I was researching this newsletter and found this quick video from Tim Ferriss regarding prioritization I found interesting. The main three bullets are:
Optimize your priorities around skills and relationships - Although this may resonate more personally than professionally, one can make a case for both. If you can learn from what you are going to do and build relationships along the way, it’ll set you up for wins down the road.
If completed, will it make the rest of your list easier or unimportant? - This complements building the monkey a bit. If you can complete one task with a positive impact or mitigates a chunk of your backlog, you should consider this in your prioritization decision.
Does it get you excited? - Let’s be honest with ourselves. Think about the last great idea you had that you were passionate about. You would go to the end of the Earth to make a case for the idea to be a winner. Your passion for fixing a problem can be infectious to others and can build on the snowball effect, which can ultimately positively impact the outcome.
Podcast of the Day
Think Fast, Talk Smart: Communication Techniques
How do I send my message clearly when put on the spot? How do I write emails to get my point across? How can I easily convey complex information? How do I manage my reputation? Whether you’re giving a toast or presenting in a meeting, communication is critical to success in business and in life.
Think Fast, Talk Smart provides the tools, techniques, and best practices to help you communicate more effectively.
I liked this podcast because it gives some practical considerations you can use to evaluate how you communicate regardless of form and highlights some helpful ways you might get your message across to those who are listening/reading.
Have you ever experienced the battle between building the pedestal and training the monkey? Click the button to leave a comment. Let’s go!
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