Eric Sink at Business of Software 2008: Product Management

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Last night, 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 above, where he summarises all you need to know about people management on one slide, and compares product management to bringing up a child.

Over on the BoS social network, Andrew Butel asks a similar question. How do you scale up the productive chaos of start-ups, without turning your company into a soulless factory? Got an opinion? Post here.

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Elian Chrebor asks whether to use resellers as a distribution channel. In my experience, it’s never worked well, but maybe you’ve got a different story to tell. Post here.

Charles Mills summarises the implications of the recent Bilski patent case. Is this the high-tide mark for the sewage-ridden seas of crappy patents? Read Charles’s opinion here.

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One Response to “Eric Sink at Business of Software 2008: Product Management”

  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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