October 1, 2021

Lesson 9: The CRY Principle

Lesson 9: The CRY Principle

Programmers are smart. Product Managers are dumb….

…it’s a well-established fact within all the serious professional tech circles…

…you know, the ones that revolve around programming memes.

This is because Product Managers don’t think like programmers. Programmers learn basic principles of their profession and typically feel these principles should be extended to every facet of life. Take for example the DRY principle. DRY stands for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” After all, that’s what programming is for, right? Anything that needs to be done more than once should be programmed…

…it’s what makes the world go ’round these days…

…I mean, just try to imagine how annoyingly primitive things were 20 years ago when you were forced to have meaningful conversations with a couple really good friends.

And now.

Think how far we have come to be able to blast out a bunch of nonsensical drivel to a list of bottomless followers and hashtag bot watchers?…

…Only a programming principle like DRY could have thunk up such a glorious world.

So by most measures of programming logic such as DRY, Product Managers are less-evolved forms of life…

…We like to do everything multiple times like an idiot.

Unlike programmers, Product Managers follow the CRY principle, which stands for “Constantly Repeat Yourself”…

…and oh yeah, it’s gonna make you wanna cry…

…it ain’t easy.

Product Managers live between 2 opposite worlds of executives and developers. It’s like that Powerman 5000 song “When Worlds Collide”…

…If you’re not familiar with that song, then you unfortunately did not experience the 90s, a glorious era when people still had hope and optimism…

…and yes, even meaningful face-to-face conversations with actual friends.

So as these worlds collide, you are stuck in the middle, basically a professional translator between two foreign parties who don’t know how to speak the other’s language and don’t even want to try. It’s up to you to facilitate the communication.

If you are unaware of how to effectively translate between the two parties, then, as a Product Manager, you’re going to end up like Jack Skellington, giving out man-eating wreaths and killer jack-in-the-boxes as Christmas toys, thinking you are doing a good job.

“I created this amazing report for you,” a naive product manager says to the VP of Operations. “All you have to do is log into JIRA and click through these 7 layers of navigation. Oh, and I recommend that you read this scholarly article about how story point velocity should measure complexity, not time.”

“How about I recommend that you get fired?” responds the VP, which would be the most appropriate response...

…I know. It ain’t easy.

Out of the purest intentions of his or her heart, this poor product manager just followed in the erroneous footsteps of the aforementioned Jack Skellington and gave the VP of Operations a giant hungry snake as a Christmas gift…

…it’s a little out of touch…

…if not completely terrifying…

…if not deadly.

“Deadly?” you say.

Indeed, my primary complaint against Agile management software is that it is killing us slowly, turning us into robotic task managers devoid of passion and life. Such monotony may be acceptable for the DRY personalities of the software programming community, but product managers should have none of it.

As Marcus from "Terminator: Salvation" put nicely, “What is it that makes us human? It’s not something you can program. You can’t put it into a chip. It’s the strength of the human heart. The difference between us and machines.”

Product Management is the heart of the organization.

Don’t forget that...

...DFT.

Regardless of whatever crappy Agile tool your company has sold its soul to, whether it’s JIRA, Rally, Version One, Azure DevOps, Pivotal Tracker, Gitlab, (I’ve used them all and they all suck), it always backfires when you try to use it for more than the audience it was intended for…

…which is and always should be lifeless software developers.

Experience has taught me that nothing kills the mood of your product quite like pulling up JIRA in an executive meeting. Think of it as if you’re making out with your girlfriend/boyfriend and to spice things up, you decide to play a Miley Cyrus song…

…and not one of the songs after she started twerking and riding naked on wrecking balls — ‘cuz I’m sure there are plenty of people into that — I’m talking about a song from her Hannah Montana days.

“We’re showing off our moves, the breeze so cool,” Miley croons in the background. “Tonight you get to be a superstar”…

…It’s going to be a lonely night for you, my friend.

Now I know you have all sorts of questions about how I became so familiar with the discography of Miley Cyrus, but the point is, let’s just all agree to put JIRA in the small box where it belongs.

“But look at this cool roadmapping feature,” an engineering director will inevitably say. All you have to do is spend 25 hours a week maintaining these 30 JIRA fields and it will display a beautiful visual of all your hopes and dreams.”

Don’t fall for it.

I’m going to give you a warning and I know you are going to ignore it. Despite my pleadings, you are going to get seduced into the deceptive logic only a logical programmer could logically provide. And it will be presented to you under the guise of DRY…

“Why would you want to repeat information in 2 places,” you will undoubtedly hear. “We need to keep all this information in a single source of truth.”

Don’t…

Fall…

For…

It.

It’s going to take you weeks, if not months, of configuring all the unmaintainable settings required to output a garbage representation of your roadmap. And then once you try to force JIRA upon your executive team, not only will they question why they still pay you for such nonsense, they will be left utterly uninspired by such a heartless vision of your product.

Listen.

Your purpose is not to impress the executive team with how much time you wasted organizing JIRA…

…that’s what project managers and scrum masters do.

Your job is to convey some degree of product competency by showing you understand the goals of the business, what the product needs to achieve those goals, that you have a strategy to get there, and that yes, you know how to work with the dev team to get it done….

…and most important, that you are a real human being with a heart and soul.

[Deep Breath]

Now I’m going to perform a magic trick.

Close your eyes.

Picture in your mind what the typical roadmap looks like.

I’m going to read your mind and guess that you pictured one of those roadmaps with the swim lanes for each product line and a horizontal bar representing how long each initiative will take.

Did I just read your mind?

Of course I did.

I know that’s exactly what you pictured. I’m not sure which came first, this lackluster concept of a product vision or the software that created it. (Chicken or the egg.) Regardless, every single Agile tool will vomit out some hard boiled version of it.

Here’s the lesson. Don’t force this bullsh*t on your organization. Use JIRA as a tool to manage your list of things to collaborate with developers. Let the dev teams use JIRA however they need to manage their dry and colorless world of logical 1s and 0s.

For everyone else…

…start to CRY.

I give you license to repeat yourself and adapt your message appropriately for the audience. It’s okay to repeat a more relatable version of your product vision outside of your Agile development tool.

Go for it. Create something meaningful that’s worth sharing. Put your heart into it. Dare to have a personality. Use your vision to get people motivated and excited about the direction of the product.

I’m not going to tell you what format to use. Throughout my career, depending on the executive team’s taste, I’ve used everything from Powerpoint, to videos stories, to fancy excel spreadsheets, to comics, to Google Docs, to a wall mural. In the end, people in the organization want you to do what they had in their mind when hired you, which is lead the product with passion and vision.

So yeah. It’s time to CRY and create your message for 2 audiences…

…a boring backlog in JIRA for developers and something more exciting and motivational for everyone else.

When it comes to communicating your product vision, it’s like Hannah Montana once sang, “No limitations on imagination. Imagine that. Woo. Yeah.”

Feel free to use that lyric in your next executive meeting.