Product Management | Eric Sink | BoS USA 2008

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At 7:30, six of us were faced with a problem: where to eat? By 7:45 we still had no answer. It was a well-defined, tractable problem with clear goals (eat) and fixed parameters (somewhere close). We were six bright, motivated and increasingly hungry people. But that’s the problem with self-directed teams. In theory, they should self-organise, efficiently allocate resources and reach consensus, driving together to a common goal. In practice, they just stand around looking lost.

Leaderful teams are as bad as leaderless ones. If we’d had different, strong opinions about where to eat, with nobody prepared to back down, we’d never have eaten, but we’d be angry about it too. An autocrat would just have bludgeoned everybody into following him to a place only he wanted to go to. Inspirational leaders are even worse – Ernest Shackleton would have inspired us on a doomed, ill-prepared and badly timed death march to Manchester, and then have claimed credit for getting us back alive, but still hungry.

What makes a good team? Or a bad team? What have the best and worst teams you’ve worked on looked like? Post your comments to this post.

I think it’s a complex problem, but not everybody agrees. Watch the video of Eric Sink’s BoS 2008 presentation, where he summarises all you need to know about people management on one slide, and compares product management to bringing up a child.


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One response to “Product Management | Eric Sink | BoS USA 2008”

  1. The best teams I’ve worked with — whether in sports or business — have a firmly stated, well-understood goal, but the flexibility to reach it in individualized ways. It’s understood that if the collective achieves the goal everyone will prosper. Sounds a bit socialist, huh? Don’t know how that applies to your dinner situation, except it would have been easier if everyone would have decided upfront on Thai. The charismatic leader model only goes so far — how long can the leader’s arm be and how inspiring can he or she be over time? Also, once individuals in a team sense that power is in play, the team will surely disintegrate into competing factions. Summary: clear goals and objectives; strong morals; team play, but with individual approaches encouraged; ability to share and help others when needed; little or no ego.

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