Your Specs are Bad and You Should Feel Bad

You can’t predict the future.

Building a successful product is a process with oh so many variables that it’s just impossible to think that you can write a big specification paper, hand it over, be back in a quarter and have it ready and relevant to all needs.

You have no way to tell what will happen in 3 months, 1 month, or even 3 weeks. You can’t control the market, the people in the org or the way your team handle technical challenges.

This is a problem both because you must know the big picture and go there, and also because you have to supply ongoing impactful solutions. Combining these two needs into one big plan is one of the most challenging issues a product manager faces every day.

The Never Ending Conflict

Let’s say that you have a dreamy product. You want to have it big, you want to have it impactful. But building this super-amazing-shiny mountain will take months and the existing product is filled with broken glasses that needs to be fixed.

What would you do?

Well, you could stop everything and work on your plan in the hope that it will restart the existing product state and make it perfect, but taking that route means spending lots of time planning and building something that may or may not work. May or may not be relevant. (May or may) not be perfect as you imagine.

Or maybe you should fix all of the broken glasses on the floor. But this approach may put you in a stormy situation. You will be all over the place running after less impactful stuff. In a few months you’ll find yourself with many fixed bugs but a product that is more of the same square as before.

So, how can you move forward with your amazing dreamy plan and still move fast and have a solid product?

Running Between 2 Dots

There is this nifty little phenomenon called The Baader-Meinhof which, in short, talks about how our brain seeks patterns and see the things that we’re looking out for. This means that we can hack our brain and have it work for us pretty easily. Here’s how it works:

  1. You stick your flag on a far (metaphoric) mountain and look at it for a few minutes
  2. Now look down at the mess that’s on the floor and pick some nasty broken glass
  3. Fix it and go back to 1

With this, you’re doing a few things: You make sure you always have a perfect world to go to. You’re not just randomly doing stuff. You have a goal, you have a vision that is beyond imagination. And with that, you stay grounded and your everyday actions are dealing with what’s important right now (meaning that your users get a real treat all the time). And as long as you keep looking forward, the connection between these two dots will remain. Your mind will be set to always pick up the broken glasses that lead you forward.

It’s an exciting way to work, and over time it will sharpen your senses to a ninja level.

Trust thyself

Dealing with this process is an everyday challenge.

We products (or should I say humans?) tend to think too much and go after the more complex and interesting solutions. Sometimes we don’t get to pick the broken glasses and the immediate connection between the dots is getting lose and we feel the urge to go back to the more organized and bigger plan.

But you should trust yourself, you should trust the simple fact that you are smart people and things will work out later even if you don’t see it right now. And I’m sorry to do this, but Steve Jobs’ famous quote keeps popping to my head:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Ship, Maintain & Ship Some More

Last, I want to share with you the way my team and I are implementing this way of thinking in our everyday routine. You’ll have to practice this method with every task until it becomes a regular habit:

You wake up with a very simple idea that can fix a clear issue. You pitch it to your team and if they’re on board and excited, think of a technical, hacky and ugly solution that can be implemented within a few days.

Stay close to your team at all times while they create the solution. Answer their questions and make sure they keep it simple and within the planned time frame.

Ship your solution.

Watch closely and try to see if your original issue got fixed.

Didn’t fix? No worries. At least you didn’t waste too much time and you got to work on an exciting idea and saw it go live.

Fixed it? Wonderful! Now let your team look at the hacky solution and sharpen it into a solid code. While they do that, think of the next step that can either make this fix wider, or fix a different issue that is part of your giant perfect world that you’re always dreaming of.

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Product manager @ Viber. Founder of the quiet place project, wdyt? & The Gag

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Amitay Tweeto

Amitay Tweeto

Product manager @ Viber. Founder of the quiet place project, wdyt? & The Gag

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