We strongly believe that for the world to have great software products, we need great product managers with a sense of mission towards their craft. We need them to have a strong set of personal beliefs and philosophies guiding their daily product decisions.
What is product philosophy?
A few years ago I created a mission statement for my life being inspired by Steven Covey. It took me many weeks to craft one for myself and I still revisit it occasionally and make little tweaks to it as I continuously evolve as a person in my journey.
According to Steven Covey, Mission Statements define the purpose of our life and provides direction to that purpose. During moments of despair and disillusionment in life, your mission statement in life acts as a guiding light to help you arrive at the right choices. Your mission statement becomes your inner constitution.
However, few years later, there came a point where I drew a parallel to the craft of product management. In early 2016, I bumped across Graham Kennedy’s personal culture deck where he shared his own product philosophy. It was inspiring to see him share his core beliefs and values around building products. Until then, I wasn’t even sure if product people should have a philosophy. I had him on my podcast and we talked briefly about having a product philosophy.
"I believe that we should all have an existential crisis from time to time to help us identify and remind ourselves of our purpose and strengths. As a product leader, my purpose is to ensure that every day my team is motivated to drive maximum impact for our customers. I use my strengths to achieve my purpose. Taken together, my purpose and strengths become my product philosophy."
That was enough shot in the arm for me to begin crafting a product philosophy for myself.
But do we need a product philosophy at all?
I want to answer this by drawing a parallel to philosophy for living. Do we need a philosophy for life?
William Ervine, author of the very popular "A Guide to the Good Life" says,
"The most important reason for adopting a philosophy of life, though, is that if we lack one, there is a danger that we will mislive - that we will spend our lives pursuing goals that aren’t worth attaining or will pursue worthwhile goals in a foolish manner and will therefore fail to attain them. Whatever philosophy of life a person ends up adopting, she will probably have a better life than if she tries to live - as many people do - without a coherent philosophy of life."
Having a philosophy of life whether it is Stoicism or some other philosophy can dramatically simplify everyday living. If you have a philosophy of life, decision making is relatively straightforward. When choosing between the options life offers, you simply choose the one most likely to help you attain the goals set forth by your philosophy of life. In the absence of a philosophy of life, though, even relative simple choices can degenerate into meaning-of-life crises. It is after all hard to know what to choose when you aren’t really sure what you want."
Author and angel investor Tim Ferris calls refers to philosophy as the ideal “personal operating system”.
How can we draw a parallel to our philosophies towards building products?
What core beliefs, and frameworks do you hold dear that defines your craft.
How to craft your product philosophy?
Since your product philosophy is a representation of who you are as a product leader, I would encourage you to bring to use your own stamp of individuality into this.
However, I could offer ways to get started on crafting your own:
1. Find time out in a distraction free environment.
2. Begin answering the following questions with utmost sincerity:
1. What defines you as a product leader?
2. What is about your craft that drives you to work everyday?
3. What are your core beliefs and values that you want to hold on to in your product career?
You may not be able to write it all down at one go. Give yourself a week to let it emerge out of you. Read through some of the philosophies already submitted by other product leaders. One of my favorites is from Karthik Srinivasan, product leader from Amazon. It is well thought through and aspirational.
Also, remember that a philosophy is meant to evolve and shape over the years. So, it is important to keep revisiting your philosophy every year.
How to bring it to use?
Refer you product philosophy regularly to prevent yourself from 'misliving' your product career, especially when you lose the forest for the trees, while in firefighting mode. This will help you find clarity and sanity, not just for your product but for your craft and your career.
Proudly share the link to your product philosophy in your CV and your professional platforms. Let the world know how you passionately you think about your craft and profession.
Also share it with your team. In the past, I have presented a detailed view of my product principles whenever I have join a new team.
How to contribute your product philosophy on this website?
Follow the steps here: https://www.productphilosophy.org/contribute-yours/