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The Power of The Reboot — From Ghostbusters to Product Management

Who you're gonna call?

So what’s the deal with reboots? We all love the classics and that’s not supposed to be a bad thing. We love things that are familiar, after all humans learn by recognizing patterns and applying previously successful methods to those familiar patterns. But what about when we want to improve? How do we take the best of what we already have and bring something new to make it better than what we had before? This is the perfect moment for a reboot.

I was so excited when I heard about the Ghostbusters reboot and I was thrilled with what a great job they did. Reboots build on top of what came before, take the best of what is familiar and, at their best, add something disruptive to improve the original. In software development we might think of this as something like a new major version — lots of new features, but built on the foundation of something familiar and proven.

I want to share with you a reboot I’m working on. But first, I have a shocking confession. In spite of being in dangerous peril of having to face the stake and being burned like a witch by my fellow agilists, I am willing to make a shocking revelation.

*drumrolls*

I am a certified PMP — Project Management Professional.

Traditional project management

How many processes again?

For those who have no idea what a PMP is, we are talking about a project management certification on 47 processes (up to the 5th edition, before introducing Agile practices). This is the playing-it-safe of project management, much like Erin Gilbert, our "please don't ruin my solid career" physicist in Ghostbusters. However, as I have stated in some of my previous articles, the idea of safety in traditional project management is questionable, because it tends to give assurance by focusing on planning instead of your goals. This creates a false sense of security which I will discuss again at some point, in a new article.

We study the past to understand the present and guide the future

I have a feeling this is not going well

The reason I believe having studied traditional project management is important is because we are on the verge of a very deep and structural change in how we act towards businesses and projects. Historically, we have come thus far by applying Taylor, Ford and subsequent guidelines, along with all that derives from those economic models. The way we motivate people, the way we plan and build products, companies, hierarchy and ultimately our lives both in professional and personal aspects is deeply ingrained by those economic theories, and understanding these paradigms is important in dealing with the disbelief in any new methods.

However, the "new methods" are not really new. They are pure empirism, based on being humble and admitting there is a lot you don't know. Kind of like scientists (should) do.

Presumptuous and preposterous

Dr. Martin, the fraud debunker, filled with self-assurance

So far, the common process of product creation, the one we grew to believe is what works, is the following: you have an idea of something you can build. You build it. You find a way to market it. You (hopefully) become rich. Marketing has taken the economy by storm based on the concept of adapting products to tap needs of belonging, of identity and lifestyle, virtually crafting a necessity for a commodity that wasn’t there before. And that’s a direct consequence of believing the market is already saturated with commodities people really need. That’s the belief I want to question.

The traditional project management mindset is a direct result of the idea that you can build the product you have in your mind up to when it’s complete, and then find a way to make it work financially, by crafting needs. Marketers and businessmen have had a lot of time to build that belief, and being the lazy species we are, it will take a lot of failure to turn that boat around. Whenever I am in a room with more than 3 POs, there is a question I avoid at all costs: “What’s your definition of MVP?”. The reason I am allergic to this question is because whenever it rises, a civil war ensues, in which I am once again sure the vice of Taylorism and Marketing as a crafter of needs is something to be fought against. As soon as I hear “an MVP is what I can sell” or “an MVP is something that makes my customer happy” I want to jump up and say “Uh-huh, and by MVP you mean My View Prevails, right?”

Find the need, then build the product, not the other way around

The slime wouldn't be such a problem if we had uniforms, right?

The reason this makes me roll my eyes so hard I might sprain a muscle is because it’s preposterous to think if you are failing, it’s because you don’t have an MVP yet. This idea puts POs in diagonal opposition to what they should be doing, which is to fail fast to fail less. This prevents us from seeing failure as a learning opportunity, while we justify our mistaken assumptions with “it wasn’t ready yet”. We shouldn't start by deciding what we can build, but learning about what people need. Then we should check if there is anything we can build to address that need and only then start building. This way we wouldn't be stuck with a bunch of products built only on someone's single opinion while marketers have to find magical hocus-pocus ways of convincing customers of buying that load of crap.

No matter the MVP, you apologize!

I'm sorry I brought you guys into this…

An MVP is, ladies, gentlemen, raccoons and cacti of the audience, something I can place in front of my user so I can get feedback. If I don’t feel like I should be apologizing for giving my user something so rudimentary to collect feedback upon, then I should be apologizing to my team for making them waste their time, and my sponsors for making them spend their money on something based solely on my opinion it would work.

Economic Exorcism

Taylorism, be gone!

By our nature, we search for the comfort of what we know, and we follow the path of least resistance. However, global economy is fickle, cultural paradigms are changing, and technological plateaus are being pushed away everyday, creating a market for new, innovative needs, true needs, as opposed to the saturated scenario our old-timers saw.

We must perform an economic exorcism in ourselves, in order to vanquish any paradigms preventing us from tackling that new scenario head-on. We must disrobe from the vanity of tweaking metrics to corroborate our ideas, we must get out of the building, out of our own minds, and talk to people. Empathize. Find out what they want and need in this world where shaping desires is no longer in your control.

Strength lies in numbers

Together we are stronger

I believe building bridges to help others experiment and leave their comfort zones is key to building a new view in economy. We need their talents, their view and their ideas to enrich the environment we live in. It seems to me behavioral economics is bound to lead us to better understand the needs of others so we can build better products.

And maybe, just maybe, we will realize that foregoing the power of choosing what to build for truly meeting the needs of our customers is a much more satisfying endeavor.

A special thanks to Dinah Davis and Sean Yo and their awesome insights to better this article. Thank you so much.

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