May 17, 2023

Adam Thomas: Operationalizing product strategy

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Adam Thomas is a coach that helps product teams operationalize strategy so they spend more time focused on building the right products and less time fighting fires.

In this conversation, we discuss Adam's decision making framework, Survival Metrics, which helps product teams make better decisions and avoid both sunk costs and loss aversion. We talk about:

* how to earn the trust of our counterparts and be better internal collaborators

* how to make our strategy a living, breathing thing

* key product leadership responsibilities that extend past product work

Links & resources mentioned:

* Send episode feedback on Twitter @askotzko , or via email

* Adam Thomas: website, LinkedIn, Twitter

* Adam’s Maven workshop: Survival Metrics

Related episodes:

* Melissa Perri: Product strategy and the missing middle

Books and media:

* Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

* The Crux

Other resources:

* Warhammer 40K


[00:01:48] War gaming shaped product strategy

[00:03:22] Warhammer 40K

[00:07:11] Michael Jordan's Winning Shot

[00:11:22] The whole person equation

[00:14:15] Emotions in the workplace

[00:17:54] Survival metrics

[00:23:08] Implementing survival metrics

[00:27:26] Trust issues in product development

[00:30:05] Internal value exchange

[00:34:33] Being "Product Led" is Misleading

[00:36:26] Using survival metrics consistently

[00:39:23] Focusing on important outcomes

[00:45:12] Complying with regulations in finance

[00:46:19] Data privacy officer importance

[00:50:13] Questions to ask yourself

This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit


00:45 Andrew Adam, welcome to the show. Great to be with you today. I am super happy to be here, Andrew. Thank you for having me. Oh, it's a pleasure. It's a pleasure. I'm so glad we're getting this time together. So we were just chatting before we hit record and we were talking about all things product strategy, and I'm sure that's something we're going to spend a lot of time on in this conversation. But I thought it would be really fun to start off by helping the audience get to know you a little bit better. So tell me a little bit about like, how did you find your way to this? You know, you mentioned a little bit to me about some of the some of the gaming that you were into growing up and how that shaped it for you. But yeah, talk to me about that a little bit.

01:48 Adam So surprise for anybody listening to this and may have known me before or is interested in something different about me. I used to war game when I was since the age of four, really. And so what war gaming is, is when a group of people get around and they get a set of rules, they get some dice and they get figurines and they replay battles. And so what you'll see are these expansive tables full of little people going around, being moved in search of an objective and a play in a way to win. And so for me, this has been really impactful in how I see the world and how I ultimately think about product strategy, because I've been doing strategy for a long time, even if I didn't know what strategy was.

02:37 Andrew For sure. Wait, hold on. I've never done this kind of war gaming before. I've played a lot of like RPG games and real time strategy games. But when you say like a battle, do you mean like a real world battle, like you're going to go back and replay a particular battle in history that happened in a real war?

02:53 Adam Is that the idea? Sometimes, right? You can do Berlu, right? Isn't something that people would know a lot about. Sure. Sure. One of the most famous battles of all time. Maybe the Battle of the Bulge and some sort of campaign for World War II. But also people can do things from a futuristic past or a futuristic future. Right. One of the most popular types of war gaming is something called warhead. Warhammer 40K. And that is all about a futuristic. What a title. Yes. It matches exactly what it is. Warhammer 40K. It's a bunch of orcs and people and guns and hammers and spaceships. It's all of it.

03:36 Andrew Warhammer. I love it. Yes. Is this like an online thing you can do or is this like you have to do this in person with people around a table?

03:42 Adam Because if it's online, I think I might need to end this interview right now and go start playing. They do have online versions of the game that are very similar to real time strategy. So very similar to your StarCrafts. If you're if you're interested in those real time strategy things. And so, yes, they have versions online or video game versions. But they you know, there's also the tabletop version, which is a bit slower. Right. There's a computer not generating all the things for you. You got to put things on the table. But you also are guaranteed to have human interaction and humans make human and do human things.

04:20 Andrew Yeah, especially coming out of COVID. That sounds actually like a better, slower option. So I will somehow restrain myself from going to the online one. But guess what? My next meeting just got canceled. So I love this. And I'm really curious. Like, it's so common, especially in the world of strategy, maybe most of all in the world of strategy. You know, you hear loads of analogies and God knows how many books of war analogies and sports analogies. And these are probably the two most common sources. But I always find myself wondering and how I'm curious to get your take here. How well do you think those things actually translate to the real world of business where, you know, hopefully we're not literally fighting for lives?

05:03 Adam Well, yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, it's a difference for most people. I mean, I think it's a lot of people who are just going to be in the game and they're just going to be fighting for a bonus or, you know, for a job. Right. But I think I actually think these things have a lot of application. But I think what the difference is between military folks and sports folks and business folks boils down to preparation and practice. Hmm. And I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Which, I mean, sounds very common. A lot of people are. But lately, I've been really interested in how teams are made or how players show up on the day. And what you see is no matter who the player is, it could be LeBron James or Bob X for using basketball as an example. They spend a lot of time off the court practicing, focusing, thinking about the game, watching tape. Right. These things are you don't see these things on the floor unless you know they're happening and then you can see them on the floor. This is what coaches this is what coaches do. This is what GMs do. If you've seen the movie Air that stars Matt Damon, it's directed by Ben Affleck. It's about how Nike signed Michael Jordan for his first shoe deal and his whole story behind it. But one thing you notice, Matt Damon's character is the star of the film, and he is one of those basketball people. And all he does is he sits in a room and watches the tape and he watches the tape way different than you or I would watch the tape. He's watching to see tendencies. He's watching to see who's focused. He's watching to see who's been doing the work, the practicing, the engagement. And one thing he notices about Michael Jordan is when a ball during the championship game, the ball comes to him. It's the final shot. He's a freshman on the North Carolina team. For those who don't know, Michael Jordan won the national championship as a freshman and he hit the game winning shot. He played for Dean Smith. Dean Smith was famous for his North Carolina program and how developed it was. Freshmen didn't really get an opportunity to be on the floor. And yet he got the ball to Michael Jordan's hands and Michael Jordan takes the shot and he's comfortable with it. And that's the insight that the coach has to not the coach, the insight that the the person at Nike has to put all of their chips. On Michael Jordan and I mean all of them. Wow. That is the work of practice. That is the work of watching tape. That is the work of preparation. And so when I look at businesses and I and they talk about sports metaphors and same thing with the military, the same stories are in the military. What I notice is they don't have the other things. They just they're just constantly talking about the game. It's not a lot of practice. Yep. Not a lot of tape talk. And as a result, while people may try to put some of the things that happen in sports in the military into business context, without the other things that surround it, they miss out.

08:29 Andrew Totally. Totally. Yeah, no, I so love everything you just said. I've actually had a similar observation over the years. I used to be an athlete and grew up in a military family and always was fascinated by what is it that leads to outstanding performance. In whatever domain that is, whether that's the military or sports or business or whatever. And I had kind of the same conclusion. And I think I've been thinking about for a while. How do you I have some thoughts that we could riff around, but I'm really curious how you think about dealing with that, because I think your diagnosis is spot on, right? That in business, it's just it's just game day every day, basically, or 98 percent of the time. So how do we shift that? How do we convince people to shift that?

09:15 Adam Well, the way that we shift it is focus. Right. There's one outcome as an athlete that you're going for, or generally in the military, you're going for. When you go into a business context, there's a million outcomes that are on the table and all the time. And I think a mistake that leaders make is leaving that as the default state of the company that they're in. Hey, is that a good idea? Let's bring it in. Hey, is that a good idea? Let's bring it in. Hey, is that a good idea? Let's bring it in. And so soon you have teams that have OKRs with priority levels.

09:51 Andrew Sort of antithetical to the whole idea.

09:53 Adam Exactly. And so the first thing to understand, I think, with goal setting and objectives and priority, not priorities, but priority, is the idea that we have to get comfortable with saying no. And if we do that, there's an opportunity to to find room for practice. There's an opportunity to find room for reflection. Practice for me in the business context looks a lot like retrospectives. Looks a lot like pre-mortems. It looks a lot like taking a look at the data that's coming in from the products that you ship and spending time digesting it, thinking about it from different contexts. If you're constantly chasing after other things, then you become an assembly line. And great, you're shipping. But to what end? What decisions are you making? There's no practice. You're just constantly on the floor. And sometimes you may you may score 20 points. But my bet is a lot of times you're you're winded. You're you're you're unsure about what's next.

10:59 Andrew You and you're just reacting to whatever the defense is throwing at you. Totally, totally. You know, the other element that resonates with me when I think about this question is in the military and in the in sports context, right, it is also normal that the whole person is part of the equation. Right. Like you don't just get a player or a soldier and you don't just get their skill. You have the whole human and the whole package of that with their emotions, their fears, their insecurities, their history, you know, the whole nine yards, which business by and large tends to be a little bit squeamish about. And we try to, you know, most business cultures sort of want to pretend that's not a thing. They won't talk about it, things like this. And so I have always observed in the folks that I've worked with and, you know, folks that I've coached in many, you know, conversations and one on ones that there seems to be a ceiling. There's almost a good glass in my perspective. There's a sort of a glass ceiling on performance for anybody if we're only willing to talk about like the game itself and we're not willing to talk about like the mental game or the inner game, which is part of this for everybody. So I'm curious how that matches or differs from what you've seen.

12:14 Adam No, I think it's very true. Right. I used to play football and if you don't run, when you get on the field, you will be tired. And that's your glass ceiling. No matter how talented you are, catching or blocking, you may have a natural talent for these things, but if you don't have the endurance, it doesn't matter. The other thing that's spoke to me about that point is although businesses shy away from that, the emotional side, the personal side, the things that all these things drive our decision making anyway. Yep. And so these biases will come in, they'll creep into how folks are thinking. And next thing you know, you know, why are we doing this? Because I said so. Right. And because I said so, it comes in a million different forms, but it's really because I said so. Yep. And whenever you try to create strategic context in places like that, a part of that, now some of that is just going to be the nature of business. Right. There's this is what it is. But what you have to unspool some of it. You have to create space because because I say so is really leading you or you're already at the assembly line. So that's where you are. Yes. You unspool a bit of it and create space for to break that glass ceiling.

13:27 Andrew Yeah, no, for sure. And it's one of the things that I've been really keen on and exploring a lot in my own thinking lately, as well as podcast and writing and working with clients and so forth is like I've seen this pattern across domains, right? Whether it's business, different industries or athletes or fill in the blank. The folks that I that from my seat are the best and are really where or they're not they don't have the results yet. But you're like, yeah, keep an eye on that person. They're all willing to explore the inner game and how it shows up in the outer game. And because, as you just said, you look, we're humans, we're already biased, we're already full of emotions. And those things are already part of the picture. We just choose to pretend otherwise. And I don't think that actually is doing us any favors. Now, this isn't saying like somebody needs to be bringing every single aspect of their emotional life into the workplace. That's not the point. But we are emotional creatures. We are physical creatures as well. So anyways, I'm getting a little bit long in the tooth here, but I appreciate you exploring this with me. And I'd love to I'd love to push in more about, you know, focus and getting better at it, like in terms of practice cycles and learning cycles, specifically in the domain of strategy and and and the hard calls that come up in strategy. I know you're you're exploring this concept around survival metrics. And so maybe this is a good jumping off point for that. So let me just let's just set a baseline here for folks just conceptually. So, first of all, strategy and product strategy specifically. Everybody loves to talk about it. I'm not sure there's much agreement on what it is. So why don't we just start by laying a foundation there of like when you say product strategy, what do you mean?

15:09 Adam When I say product strategy, what I mean is what are these? What is the problem that we're ultimately trying to go after? Let's be very clear about that. What are the bets that we're willing to take to solve that problem? And within those bets, what are the values going to be in how we how we show up as we deal with those problems? That should create some outcomes for us to judge our work on. And so what I think about when I think about product strategy, I think about an anchoring document that helps teams make decisions around the problems that they're trying to solve.

15:48 Andrew Hmm. OK, great. Thank you. And I judging based on what you said a few minutes ago, I'm assuming you would say focusing on the problem is the hardest part of that, given given the fact that business tends to be quite scatterbrained for lack of a better term.

16:07 Adam Yes, yes. It's CYA, CYA being cover your ass, right? It's CYA isms all the way down because if I it's funny because this is a problem I have with movies lately. Movies, when it comes to themes, they dip their toe in, but you can't quite catch them. Right. Oh, we're going to try brother against brother, but not really. You know, we're going to try. We're going to go for B movie horror, but not really. We're going to go back. Right. You can't really catch it. They're constantly trying to be everything for everyone. Yeah. Which I attribute to the fact that I think movie studios just assume you're looking at your phone while you're watching it versus I watched once upon a time in America the other day. And that is a four hour movie and you need to watch all of it to understand it. There's no, you know, there's no hiding. And we're just going to keep focusing on the Which quick aside, which I think actually Affleck does pretty well when he directs, but but he kind of hammers it a bit too obsessively, but he does it. At least he's committing. And so when it comes to businesses, it's very easy to do that, right. It's very easy to be very scatterbrained and pull things very hard to say no, because saying no means we're making decisions. And even though that's what product strategy is for,

17:37 Andrew a lot of teams shy away from the actual decision making of product strategy in order to see why. Totally. So that makes sense. So when we you know, you introduce this concept of survival metrics to me a few months back. And I know you're actively teaching this in your Maven workshop. So it's it has a core and it continues to grow and evolve as it's applied in the world. So I'm curious, how would you explain it to somebody today?

18:02 Adam So survival metrics is a tool that helps teams avoid sunk cost bias and loss of version by creating language around change. This language includes words like stop, pivot and invest because they are designed to be simple and drive action. We wrap this around strategy, what I call data and form this, which is a level of data literacy and storytelling and political safety, which is all about how the organization works.

18:36 Andrew We talk about this on a regular basis to generate these metrics that help us make decisions. Hmm. I love that conceptual framing. Could you walk us through an example?

18:47 Adam I'd love to hear a story of how this actually looks in reality. Sure. So I'll use an example from my past. I was at a company where they had just gone through massive layoffs. And one of the things that they needed to focus on was bringing down the spend on their infrastructure. Now, they were talking this to us on a leadership level. But I noticed as I started the folks on the ground, the folks on the line didn't quite understand why this was important and how this was important. OK. And so when talking to the director of operations, I found I heard a lot about this idea of saving money and chopping things down because this is going to give us a lot more runway. I know we just cut people, but it's really important for us to be alive, default alive. Maybe some folks call it default alive. And a lot of that is going to come from our infrastructure spend. But I go to the product teams and I'm managing and they have not heard a word of this. Hmm. And so there's a lot of projects that are happening. Right. And on the day to day, those product managers are scared because they don't know what they can stop. We always talk about empowered product managers, but that is a rarity in most places, unless the situation and environment has been shaped to create empowered product managers, then they're going to be glorified project managers at worst. Maybe they do some research, but in general, the idea is to keep the train moving. Yeah. Yep. And so I hadn't had enough time to create an environment for empowered product managers. As I said, I had just started. But there's a place where we can give people the understanding that they can make decisions. And so I talked to the director of operations and I got an understanding of what's the number. I had to go talk to my teams. What's the number? What's the number going to be? What's the number where we have to stop, you know, put the brakes on everything, run away. What's the number where we have to pivot and say, maybe we need to have a conversation and bring you in. They told me 10 percent. I said, great. I went to the other teams and told them this. Right. This is why this is happening. This is why it's important. And we're going to frame this metric if something that we're building in production has an anticipated spin of 10 percent, we're going to stop and have a discussion. I didn't have the term pivot metric in my head yet, but we're going to stop and we're going to have a discussion and we're going to talk about how we can lower that spin and if it's worth it. Because if we don't, we're going to go away from our default alive status that affects how we operate. And so I put that up front. And we talked about it whenever I checked in with those product managers. How are we doing? And so you noticed as if you were an observer, you noticed our spin go down, down, down. Other ideas started to spring up, both things they were working on and products that we could have removed in order to lower that spent. And so these things are coming together. And now there's a level of empowerment with those product managers. They feel comfortable in saying, hey, I noticed something. This is going to cause action. And that's what survival metrics is there to do, to get us away from feeling that problem with some costs, i.e. the feeling that we have to continue things because we've started them, a loss aversion, the CYA phenomenon we talked about earlier, basically meaning like if we lose something, then people are going to blame us.

22:35 Andrew Yeah. OK, so I think I'm with you. How does this work in a context where the team is not yet empowered? So, for example, the all too common context that you and I both hear about all the time of, OK, you know, my teams essentially have pre-filled roadmaps from stakeholders. Right. So at this point, they're kind of living the build trap. And I guess my question is, is this even an option in that case?

23:02 Adam Or is there like another set of agreements or conditions that need to be established first? So this is very similar to, you know, when you're talking about scrum, sometimes folks say you need to do the retro first in order to understand where you're where the problems are. Sure. For survival metrics, if you're in a place where it is a factory and you don't have much of a choice, I think your job there is to understand why the factory exists. Factories don't start from nowhere. They're often driven by different parts of the organization that may have more power and leverage than product management. Oftentimes, this tends to be sales or this tends to be engineering. Every once in a blue moon, it could be design or it could be marketing. But there is a part of the business that the company is led by. Your job, if you want to implement something like survival metrics, is to take what exists. There's some sort of strategy or vision that exists and go to that person or that group that leads that part of the business and then talk to them about it. What do they see? What do they understand? Because you got to start going on a campaign to get their buy in. Yeah. And that's pretty difficult. Right. It can seem pretty daunting. But what I've recognized in working with teams or going through this process myself haven't always been a product leader. Right. What I have learned by going through this process myself or seeing it through others is that, one, oftentimes these folks have no idea how product is made. You would be very surprised at how much they think product can do. They don't think there are any limits, not because they don't want or they're selfish. It's just that they don't know. Sure. There's an opportunity to go over there and say, OK, this is what's happening and this is how it's happening. Why would they want to listen to it? Why wouldn't they want to just keep going? Well, here's the other side of this coin. They've been disappointed by product before, which is probably why they've gone down this route. Why they're disappointed is because product has handed them a roadmap. They've assigned a roadmap and the roadmap is never done on time. Features are never done on time and they don't know what you're doing. And so what looks like an idea for them is like, we gave them a list of things to do. They say they want a list of things to do. They say they're OK with it, but they hardly ever come back on time or on budget. Getting them to go, why is that? Or bringing that question or the conversation to why that is can make a whole lot more space in places where folks don't think they have space. And in that space, you can put something like survival metrics in. You can run a small expert. You can bring in more conversation around the strategy. Right. That's where that comes back into play. This is the strategy. This is what we're looking for. This is what we're trying to go. And then you can start to create a culture where things are more alive within not just the product team, but also in that sales team, because you're going to get information from them, too. You're going to get information from these other folks. And so if they see the information that they're giving you is changing the way they think, if they see that information that they're giving you, it helps them increase their outcomes. Right. It goes to their incentives. It makes them, for example, less you sales, as an example, if they see that increase in win rate coming from the work that you're doing, even when it's less, then they're far more likely to jump on board.

26:51 Andrew Yeah. Yeah. It also seems like I think one of the most important things about this is just the collaboration, right? Just that approach of having these conversations. And I've been having a lot of conversations with teams and really looking at this, the core relationship between teams and leadership and this sort of like the crux of the empowerment or lack thereof more commonly, unfortunately. And it very often comes down to very similar to what you're pointing at, from what I can see, which is that it comes down to essentially a trust problem. For a number of different reasons and product folks don't understand usually the context, the concerns, the backstory of the other stakeholders, whether that's sales or engineering or the CEO or whatever. And those stakeholders don't understand either how the product works and how it's made and everything you just pointed to, but also they have, you know, they have a lot on the line. And I feel like this is something that product folks typically underappreciate or don't even really think about is like how much like how much of how big of an ask it really is to say to say a sales VP of sales or a CTO or a founder like trust us, we're going to work this out. And that person's going like, I have my bonus on the line. I have the value of the company on the line. And I'm not even sure you're going to talk to me and appreciate my concerns. So you want me to give you a blank check?

28:25 Adam What? Like, excuse me. Oh, my goodness. That resonates so much. Right. Like oftentimes when I am coaching, I'll ask if the product people and some definitely on the product leader

28:37 Andrew side of it, do you understand how everyone is compensated in the business? Seriously.

28:42 Adam And so it's very easy for you to get your check every two weeks. Everything's good. You're probably going to get a bonus or you're going to be fired either or. Right. It's very binary. It goes really well that it doesn't. Yes. But, you know, for that salesperson, you're talking about the difference between them taking a trip to Hawaii and having a great time or making no money. I mean, no money. I mean, no money. Like, they got to figure that out. And so for them, it gets emotional because for that person on the line, that's a salesperson. Well, they got to go. They're literally trying to feed their family for a VP of sales. They're judged on how much they sold.

29:28 Andrew Pretty cut and dry. Yeah. I'm talking about outcomes over output. That's the ultimate.

29:32 Adam Yes. Did you bring in money to the business and the line that you projected? Guess or no. And that's it. And so you as a product person are walking in there saying, well, you should listen to me and we're going to make less stuff and we're going to hang out and we're going to talk sometimes and then we're going to go. And you give them nothing. You don't ask for their input. You don't ask what they're seeing in the world. You don't ask them to. You're asking them to do a lot for very little or nothing at all.

30:00 Andrew Yeah. That internal value exchange is like way off.

30:04 Adam Very much. Right. I was talking to a VP of programming for a streaming network, not one of the big ones, but big enough to where everyone has heard of it. Right. And it's probably a lot of people guess three of them. They're right about 20% of the time. But I was talking to her about what her interactions with the product is and everything she gets from product products, a black box to her. Yep. And the story that she has in her head, maybe true, maybe not, is that product plays side games, they're trying to get her out of a job by leveraging AI. They're backdooring with the CTO, and she and her whole organization are fighting for their lives against the product team, who all they see is people that say no to them on a regular basis. That's all they get out of this exchange. And so it's like, how do you think a product goes to that VP of programming and goes, hey, will you trust us? All the behavior I've seen in the last year and a half, two years I've been here and how you treat my staff? No, I'm trying to get you fired. Time for some real talk. Yeah. And just explaining some of the stuff that we've talked about today, all I heard her say was, nope, don't do that. Nope, nope, nope. Haven't heard from them. No, don't know what the strategy is. No, don't know what they're building. It's all no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

31:37 Andrew It's funny. It's almost like we as product folks, we pride ourselves. I think this is a fair statement. We pride ourselves, generally speaking, on our empathy, on our ability to understand people and what they need and what's important to them and their constraints. But it's almost like we reserve this benefit purely for the end users and customers. And very often, like we're kind of shitty to work with. Like we can be we can kind of departmental be like shitty colleagues.

32:05 Adam Very much so. And seeing this from other places, especially being external from the product team last year or so, watching these interactions happen, I got to the point where I mostly stopped defending product management because what I see in real time is all the anti-patterns we're talking about here from multiple companies, from multiple places. Yeah, nobody likes working with product management. Yeah, they see all this propaganda around product management. They see people in the pool hanging out. And then they start going, oh, my God, is that what they're doing? Like all I hear from them is no. And they're in meetings and they're saying what we're going to do. And we have to ignore them because my boss is like, yeah, they don't know what they're talking about. And so, you know, you should do this over here. They're not really helping us. Yeah. And so, yeah.

32:59 Andrew When people see this managers, especially when like, yeah, this is one of those things where especially if all this is going on and the product group isn't even really hitting what I consider to be like the bare minimum of requirement to ask for trust, which is like being able to ship things. Right. If you can't even get stuff built. I'm not even talking about whether it was the right thing and it works. But like, if you literally can't even ship, it's like, what are we talking about here?

33:25 Adam Like, really? But yeah, I thought that I was talking to John Cutler about this and we were laughing like some people would pray to be feature factories because at least they are doing something like at least they like their stuff being

33:41 Andrew created before people are seeing some progress, you know. I want to circle back to this idea. So, you know, this this concept, one way you could say what we're talking about here is like collaboration, but that word is overused so much that I feel like it's potentially bordering on meaningless. But I think perhaps the the other word that you brought up earlier is evangelism, right? Like you need to evangelize product internally. And I feel like product folks very often, we kind of get like a chip on our shoulders about this. We feel like we shouldn't have to or something. But the reality is like these are other equally important parts of the business and equally competent, caring, smart human beings. It's like, why shouldn't we have to? Like this is this is actually just to go on a tirade for 10 seconds. This is my gripe with the whole term product led. I actually think it's wildly misleading. First of all, it is not only taking a go to market strategy and trying to apply it to an entire like company organization, which is misleading in the first place. Like one is a tactic or a marketing strategy. And one is like how a company works. Secondly, that's not even how the company should work. Like we don't want to be product led. We want to have product beyond seeing eye to eye with these other groups and working together as peers. So OK, end of rant.

35:01 Adam But I just thought I would tee that up. No, I mean, it's perfect. Just to follow up on that rant, every other team,

35:09 Andrew when you talk about something being sales led or engineering led, there's a discrete output that you can point to that points to them being led by that. What's the output for being product led? That's a great question. I actually I don't know the answer. I don't know that anybody has that answer.

35:26 Adam Yeah, it's very similar. It's very similar to product sense.

35:30 Andrew Right. Everybody knows product sense exists, but no one can define it. Yeah. Yeah, we do. We do tend to get a little hand wavy about some pretty important things. So I want to zoom back in really quick on the title of this. I'm really enjoying learning more about this framework you've created around survival metrics. Right. And I can see how, especially in fast moving spaces, which most of them are at this point, that are dynamic and there's new entrance to the market. And then stuff is changing. And you get, you know, it's it's to use the word we said before he started recording, it's it's very VUCA as the military would say, right. Volatile. What is volatile and certain complex and do you remember the A? Ambiguous. Ambiguous. Thank you. Very VUCA. Love that one. And so this is such a great framework for that. But I guess my question is just about the title of it. You call it survival metrics. Is this something that I need only when the company's survival is at question?

36:31 Adam Or is this something I should be using all the time? All the time. OK, because we when it comes to product, even in these larger companies, we have so much waste and that waste drives away the trust in the product or in general, because, yeah, we promise folks these wonderful products that people use, these wonderful things that people can sell, these wonderful things that will retain customers when they don't, they're not talking. They're not going to engineering to blame them. They're coming to you. And that's your job. They should come to you. You're the one that's responsible. The reason why you don't have discrete output is so that you have space to think about these things. Your text is not the road map. Your text is not in general. Your text is not something or a presentation. And when I say text, I mean the thing that the output, the thing that people care about. So your job as a product manager is to help teams make better decisions consistently. And so whether it's a fledgling startup just trying to get off the ground or a larger startup that's solid or a large company that is ready to go or been there for years. Right. Either way, your job as a product person is to get us to make better products consistently by making better decisions consistently. And so where survival metrics fits into that is you want to get away from bad decisions as soon as you can. The earlier you change direction, the cheaper it'll be, not just in physical cost, but psychological cost. It's a difference between a really cheap paper and pen prototype and a full Figma thing that somebody spent three, four weeks working on. Which one are you going to tear apart? You can tear this one apart, the paper and pen, because it's paper and pen. We can make another one. No problem. But that four week one, oh boy. Yeah. The nice feeling is going to be hurt. I don't know. We got to promise we they've been gone for four weeks, so nobody knows what they've

38:45 Andrew been doing. So we got to show them something. Mm hmm. For somebody who wants to kind of just get started with this right now today on their own, what could they do?

38:54 Adam Like kind of what's the what's the get yourself started DIY version of this? OK, so there are three things, three phases. And survival metrics, I talk about the three pillars of change. Because ultimately, the more you change, the more you're actually able to operationalize strategy. If you're not operationalizing strategy, it's dead, Jack. No one cares about it. So three things, one strategy. The first thing you can do, one thing you can do is to pick an outcome that's really important to you and then share it to other people and say, we're only going to focus on this in three months. What do you think? What you get back is going to tell you a lot of information. People are going to say, but we have to work on these projects. OK, tell me about these projects. Why? Why are they important? And if they are things that we have to work on, why are we just hearing about this now? We have to we have to fix a bunch. That question is going to lead to a bunch of other questions. That statement. I'm sorry. Let's redo that. That statement of we're going to focus on this outcome is going to generate so many questions that are going to help you understand the organization that you're working in and how effective your strategy is, because if no one talks about this outcome that you set up that probably comes from your product strategy, then there's no linkage to it. That strategy is dead. No one's no one's using it anyway. And so you might as well start fresh. From the data side, pick one of the actions I talked about earlier. Pick a metric. There's a KPI somewhere. Pick it and tie an action to it. If we see X happen, we're going to stop. Or if we see Y happen, we're going to pivot. Or if we see Z happen, we're going to invest, which means we're going to stop X or make a really important point about invest. Strategies exist to help us miss the problem points. It helps guide us. It also is there to help us know when do we need to double down. And if you don't double down on strategy, it is also dead because you're not making any points. You're not saying what's important. If I'm hungry and I'm starving and I need to eat and somebody presents a plate of food or tickets to a show I want to go to and say, you can pick one. Well, choice is pretty clear. You go to the show. Obviously, I was like, obviously, you're going to show. Yes. But it's really clear, right? You're going to eat that plate of food because you need to get sustenance. You need to live. Right. Strategy should help you make that decision easier. Your data should help you make that decision easier. And again, if your data is not helping you make any choices, then it's nonsense data that I'm pretty sure, as a matter of fact, I guarantee no one's looking at anyway because it's not helping to make choices. So why are they looking at it? Totally, totally. And so for the third piece, which we already talked about a bit here around what I call political safety, find out who leads your company. And I mean, this should be pretty obvious. If you work at a place, you know who calls the shots. Grab coffee with somebody in that organization. And there's no stress about the coffee. It could be a drink. It could be a beer. It could be liquor. It can be a glass of water. It could be live. It could be digital. But just take 15, 20 minutes with them and just ask them about what's going on in their world. And what you're going to see there is you're going to start to be able to frame how decisions are made from that leading part of the business. And you should be able to start to create a map of how that affects you. And now you have some room to operate. Now you have a place to start running your own type of experiments around how things get done in the organization that

42:49 Andrew you're in. Yeah, I really appreciate that. Last point, especially in the thing that I also want to emphasize about that and just really underscore about that for folks is that it's very easy for us as product folks to complain about some other part of the organization calling the shots. Right. Oh, we want to be product led, but sales always does the thing. Whatever. Right. But going to the things we've spoken about already in terms of incentives and understanding all these things, this is like, I think, the fundamental, some of the fundamental work we need to do on our side of that trust exchange with whatever our collaborators are, the other stakeholders and parts of the business is like we need to put in the legwork and do the homework to understand the business and understand their concerns and things like that. Like a company I'm working with right now, they their product managers are paralyzed because everybody is terrified of making some call that gets this company on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in the wrong way. Right. So it's all about like the brand risk. They're all terrified of this brand risk. And it's like, OK, are you talking to your PR counterparts? Are you talking to marketing? Are you understanding these concerns and like what would do that and what wouldn't? And it's it's it's easy to say that, right. Being, you know, I'm external to the business, but it is pretty consistent that a lot of times what I've seen is that product folks who at the same time they have a complaint about not being sufficiently trusted. Let's just call it that. Aren't doing the work to earn the trust.

44:18 Adam I started my career at a company called DTCC, Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, and if you don't know what that is, don't worry. Most people don't. However, it's incredibly important to how world finance works. Last year, I think they did two point four quadrillion dollars in transactions. Yeah, it's a little bit. Yes, quite a bit. Right. And it's funny, I think the day we met, we had dinner and I talked to you a bit about this company and what I learned there was, look, this is a company that is above board, they have to be. And in some places, some may think that they're the most audited company in the world because they handle that much money. You know what team I talk to a lot? Compliance. When in fact, companies that are in that place where they're going to be in the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and in fact, I heard that exact statement several times, I would hear that almost twice a month at least. If not more. Yes. Yes. And so you well know that that is going to get thrown around, right? And working in finance, especially in critical systems, I don't want to end up on the first page of the Wall Street Journal. That's it. And so what we did is we often talk to our compliance partners and we got to know what is going to make us end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. And when you work at a company where that is a real concern, product person, they have people there that sole job is to make sure that doesn't happen. Have you talked to that person yet? Or even, you know, especially if you're in Europe, there's a C-suite level position dedicated to this. It's data privacy officer that every company has to have. Once you hit a certain point, you have to have a DPO or else you will be fine. Right. Have you talked to that person? And if not, OK, what are you complaining about? Right. You're not going out and talking to the people that actually know more about this. They think about it more than a day than you have in your entire career. Right. They're there. And these people are often so nice to talk to because people don't reach out to them. They're happy to talk about this. And so there's an opportunity there for you to avoid that level of risk. They're brand risk. And in fact, you also brought up PR, right? Communications people. Same thing. I have a beautiful relationship with every communications person that I've worked with because I'll go talk to them and get to understand what's your strategy for this. What are you focused on? How are you how is this next release going to impact what you're doing? Right. And, you know, I did that with my product leader boots on, but you can also do that as a PM. Right. How does that affect that? Because, again, people don't talk to them. They kind of just show up. And when you do talk to them, it's generally you're just handing something off that they need to go work on.

47:35 Andrew And then that's the only time to hear from you. Totally. And so a lot of a lot of the things we've been saying here are could equally apply to a PM, a director, a VP, kind of really any any level of altitude here in the organization. But I actually want to add one little bit really for the folks operating more towards the senior end of things and towards the executive end of things, which is in the background of a lot of things that Adam and I have said in this conversation is understanding incentives and how those align or don't. And I think one of the one of the often unacknowledged jobs of a product leader, especially if they're playing on the exact team of the company, is to identify those misalignments, which will kind of rip the company in half if unchecked, right, if if sales is totally incentivized on like total deal volume, including like custom services, like, guess what? You're going to get a lot of specials. Right. Feel it like you're going to feel it. Right. But if that kind of thing isn't being like identified and called out and brought forward, guess what? Everyone's going to think we're all marching the same direction because they're going to be crushing their OKRs, but the company's going to be ripping itself apart, going in four different directions. So it's like focus in terms of not just what we build, but then that higher level alignment, I think is is kind of what I hear in the background of what you're

48:51 Adam saying, Adam. Oh, very much so. Right. In fact, at a product leadership in a product leadership position, this is your job like this is honestly if I wanted to judge a product leader, it's this and how you build your product organization. Those two things tell me everything I need to know about you. Like, of course, there are other pieces you need to be able to inspire the team and grow them and train them. But if you can't hire. Product people into your organization, you can't scale and match the needs of the company when you have a budget. I'm not talking about if there was problems happening.

49:27 Andrew I mean, head counts already there, but you can't fill it. Or the other parts of the organization distrust you to the point where they're advocating around you or acting around you. You have a major problem. And you're not doing your job 100 percent. Well, this has been fantastic. I want to go ahead and close out here with a few rapid fire questions. You know, one of the things I always love asking people is, you know, obviously we think a lot about questions and the way the questions that one asks shape the actions you take and the results that you get. So I'm curious, given all the things we've been talking about in this conversation, everything you've been exploring in recent months, is there a particular question or set of questions that you would have the listeners

50:13 Adam start asking themselves that you think would make a difference for them? How much time are you spending in the dojo and how much time are you spending

50:20 Andrew on performance? Beautiful. I love that. So I'm curious, what is a quote or saying rule of thumb guideline principle, whatever that may be for you, that is really important to you, that shapes how you do what you do, because, I mean, I've seen you with groups of people and teams and you clearly have an ability to drop in with the team fast, understand what's going on, understand the various sonalities and agendas at play, all of that, and figure out kind of what to do with it. And you're you're like really good at that, which we could have an entire other conversation about. But I'm curious, is there something you have in mind that helps you guide through the processes that you lead? It's really not about me. And the sooner we find out what it is about, the better off we'll be. Beautiful, beautiful. And last question, which is before we go ahead and close out, is what is the homework you would give if you were going to give an action item, a takeaway, a to do to the listener of this that you think would really move them forward more than any other thing? What would that be?

51:28 Adam Take out your strategy, the product strategy that somebody wrote four or five months ago, put it on the table with the people that are affected by that strategy and discuss it. What is real? What is not? What is going to help us moving forward? What is useless? What data matters here that we don't have? What data do we have that doesn't really talk to speak to any of this that we're

51:52 Andrew using on a daily basis? Beautiful, beautiful. Adam, well, first of all, thank you so much for being here. It's absolutely a pleasure jamming with you. And I know the audience has benefited so much from what you had to share. Where can folks find you online if they want to get in touch?

52:06 Adam And how can listeners be helpful to you? The Adam Thomas dot com is the website. You can hop on board of the newsletter there. I write something every Sunday and generally we're we're just jamming. We're having a good time. We have a little jokes, a little little fun, little questions, a little that. That's what we do with the newsletter. And other than that, I'm exploring doing more live, active conversations with teams and folks. And so it'll come as a part of the newsletter, joining newsletter, I'll let you know. But take a look at my LinkedIn page. Come by. I'll be hosting lives there that are going to be asking me any things. We'll talk about some of the things that I'm learning. We'll talk about some of the things that you're learning. And you'll be able to ask questions. And it's more of a just a community vibe. And I want to start building that because I want to get product folks closer to not just hearing about me, which is great. Come learn about me. But I think the thing that I've really, really appreciated after doing this for the last few months is seeing other folks talk about what they're learning and other people glom onto that. And so the audience has started to learn from other audience members. And there are interesting questions happening in these Zoom chats and like, who? Who? Right. We're having the term IDSX is happening right in front of us. I love it.

53:31 Andrew Beautiful. Awesome. Awesome. Well, we will link to all of that in the show notes. But thanks again for being here, Adam. Real pleasure.

53:38 Adam Super happy that you invited me, Andrew. Let's do this again sometime.