PRODUCT BLOG

the corporate board game and the gold rush

Ok. So you're a Product Manager or Product Owner.

I bet 99.9% of the answers are B. So why is it like that?

In every organisation all employees are part of a huge corporate board game. It's a board game about occupying valuable territories. Imagine a huge board with different territories on it:

 
 

Certain territories in this board game have more valuable raw materials. Players would like to occupy these territories because they're worth more. In case of a product company the most valuable territory is the Product. It is the core of the business. It is the engine. It drives the business. It generates the user value and the business value too. If it wasn't there then you're business wouldn't exist at all.

All ambitious players in the game would like to occupy that area. This is totally normal. Everyone is a player, a gold miner. And you know it's a constant gold rush happening. Each player has it's own bet where the gold is exactly. They just need to go there and tell where to dig. Then they'll have it and they're going to be rich and famous. They would like to have the whole area digged, because they're so sure that there is gold. Well, this is how a feverish gold rush works. No offence. There is tremendously huge energy in a gold rush. And there is the chance that there is gold actually. But it's just hard to manage this energy.

 
 Source: [1]

Source: [1]

 

And you know there are these guys on that territory. They own and manage the territory. Hence they are called Product Managers or Product Owners. Their single most important job is to discover gold. Discover. Gold. They can even do it in a well-orchestrated way. They have these awesome tools they can apply. Like a metal detector (researchers) for example. And a full crew of people who can dig large holes in the ground (engineers). They've already mined several times and also discovered gold many times (experience). They have tools to dig very fast if they want. They can do exploratory drilling (A/B testing). They can ask people bring up gold. And they even work with a lot of goldsmithes to create beautiful jewels (designers). They are just, you know... experts.

So what happens is that all the other people in the business start playing this board game. The biggest problem is that usually they don't pick up a shovel and a spade. They rather point to various spots on the field and tell the product manager that they should really dig there. And you know if it's a gold rush, it's a feverish belief. And it's really hard to influence or convince them that there is another way to do this. They will keep saying that there is the spot they think you need to dig until you give up.

So what can you do as a Product Manager? You have multiple options:

  1. Close the border
  2. @#&! Quit the board game
  3. Create a proper administration system
  4. Teach people how to discover gold and even offer them tools to do this

I have to tell you, I've tried all of these. Here are the pros and cons of each:

Close the border

 
 Source: [2]

Source: [2]

 

Pros: Easy. Doesn't cost too much.

Cons: It creates a lot of frustration. Riots will happen. Some people with a panzer (business executives) will enter anyhow.

@#&! Quit the board game

 
 

Pros: Easiest thing. Doesn't cost anything.

Cons: You don't really face the problem. You will feel it's a failure, you will be frustrated for the rest of your life because you know that this is frikin' Alaska and there is gold. But you couldn't manage to discover it all.

Create a proper administration system

 
 

Pros: It can work. You just need to create a very smooth system and educate people how to use it and what to expect from it.

Cons: It's easy to make this a very bureaucratic system. You can easily die in doing the paper work. Even some assumptions that could have been good could be overlooked. Some people simply don't like systems. They will complain and try to break it anyhow.

Teach people how to discover gold and even offer them tools to do this

 
 

Pros: You gain a lot of new educated workers. They understand the methods and techniques. More gold will be mined eventually. They can even teach others how to do this. The territory becomes a boosting economy.

Cons: It takes hell a lot of time and effort. If you do this then you won't have enough time to focus on the discovery. Some of your students will eventually say:  "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

I'm sorry, but there is no clear answer. You need to assess your organisation first. Based on this I recommend you to find the balance between #3 and #4.

Unfortunately you also need to do some politics too. Sorry. This means that you need to practice #4 and educate people first who own a panzer. If you do this then they will be on your side and support you. If you don't do this, you will eventually fallback to #2, which is no good.

In terms of the administration system I strongly recommend to set up a proper Opportunity Backlog (I will blog about this later) and teach people how to add new opportunities to it properly. It can work very well, but at the point you feel that there is more and more bureaucracy then do more from #4.

And well... this was just people from other fields. Riots can happen on the Product field too. But let's talk about that later :)

Good luck fellas!

 

Clip art sources:

[1] Clip art image by ClipArtHut: http://www.cliparthut.com/gold-nugget-clip-art-clipart-cxvgg2.html

[2] Clip art image by Clipart.co: http://cliparts.co/clipart/2623811