Product Intuition, A Prelude

I’m not interested in all that,
No thank you, I pass

Please skip me for the next person
I do appreciate that.

So kind of you to offer,
But no, really, I’m cool.

I try to stay away from the things,
That everybody else do.

Prodigy, “As If”, Hegelian Dialectic

To win a product strategy has to be non-consensus and right. If you simply execute the same strategy as everyone else, it simply makes it harder for your strategy to breakthrough. Product Intuition is the skill of cultivating luck to find and developing “nonconsensus and right” products and product strategies.

Two emcees can’t exist in the same space at the same time.
It’s against the laws of physics

Lauryn Hill of The Fugees, Zealots, The Score https://song.link/us/i/281701719

I’ve been working and refining my point of view of product intuition throughout my career. It’s one of the reasons I joined Nordstrom from Microsoft was to refine my theory of Product Intuition. At Nordstrom, working on the Product Page offered an opportunity of rapid feedback (whether or not people buy, provides a lot faster feedback than whether or not people use the bah-gillionth feature of Word) as well as an opportunity to gather data points on how the theory holds outside of Big Tech.

I like to believe that my goal in turning this perspective into a book is more than just an exercise in ego. But perhaps it’s not, so here is my thinking.


Why, I feel, the world needs yet another book on Product Management

One—there are too many books on the mechanics of product management and not enough about developing a great feel for products.

The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.

Steve Jobs

The crux of the famous Jobs quote is a cheap shot–but the heart of the matter rang true. In fact, one of the greatest improvements in Satya Nadella’s time as CEO has been the precipitous improvement in Microsoft’s Product Intuition, the filtering mechanism by which organizations choose the products to build, where those product boundaries exist, how to position them in market and finally how to create a product through an organization wide set of micro-decisions that align with the product feel. As a result Microsoft now relies on far more than distribution advantage to succeed in new markets—they develop products with taste.

It’s not discussed often, but there are very real differences of opinion in the product management discipline about the right ways to develop product products and build product teams. Everything from how involved product managers should be in “implementation” to the focus on data driven decision making—which can result in calling the game on a great idea in the 3rd inning.

Up until Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perri, a stong recommend, I didn’t see a book that reflected this tension and chose a path that reflects what I believe makes product teams healthy and successful.

Second, Product Management is an apprentice craft and very few books reflect this. There are great product managers who don’t have the product manager title—Shonda Rhimes (excellent A16Z podcast on her product process, How to Create Stories People Want)—but have learned the craft in the same way great product managers have by shipping their perspective into the real world, reflecting on the outcomes, adjusting and shipping again.

The journey to becoming a great product manager is, unlike many other disciplines, not the same as the journey to the next promotion. In fact—reaching the next promotion with out the breadth of skills in my opinion makes you a liability to society unless of course you’re reflective enough to treat this as an opportunity for continuous learning.

Finally, I believe the atomic unit of a product is a product team, and the act of embuing intuition with a team is exciting, invigorating and horrendously messy.

With Product Intuition, my current thinking is I’ll explore each of these:

  1. How to develop a feel for product intuition, whether or not you’re a product manager
  2. How to grow teams of product managers with this feel
  3. How to grow product teams with this feel

Much of what I hope to contribute is language. By offering a language for teams to discuss tensions my hopes is to contribute to stronger strategic integrity and alignment between company strategy, product strategy and action.

In doing so I’lll be drawing from:

  1. Jobs as progress
  2. Antifragile
  3. Behavioral economics and human factors
  4. Complexity theory
  5. Project management
  6. Innovation management
  7. Ethics of product development

And many more. I’ll focus on products where the end use is the “customer” but I’ll also cover how to develop a mind for thinking of platforms as products. As best as I can I’ll source from non-software product disciplines. I feel the artificiality of software, the ability to A/B test really occludes a perspective on what Product Intuition is.

In kind, software product managers are accountable for a small percentage of the great products we experience. Great movies, great meals, wine, games–are all an expression of great Product Intuition and I’ll seek to summarize the themes in a way that’s interesting and applicable.

Finally taking from the themes above that more great products hail from beyond software than within and keeping true to the title; Product Intuition will be structured into chapters based on heuristics you can use to guide your product feel and carry it through to execution.

Here is an example. For every new product I ship, I measure the team’s pride in the work through a set of informal discussions. When the team begins to signal that they aren’t proud of the work, Team Pride as KPI becomes my early warning signal that something about the Product Feel is off. Similarly, if an experience we’re proud of under-performs in the market place, I’ll take that everyday all day over a product we don’t believe in that performs well.

How does this align with what you’d like to see both in a book from me on product management—and on the topic of Product Intuition.

Reach out to me on Twitter or email with your thoughts: mikalfm[at]outlook.com

about the author

Mikal is a reformed startup CEO and experienced Product Executive based in Austin, TX. After years leading product teams at Microsoft, Nordstrom and most recently VP of Product at RetailMeNot, he now serves as a product coach helping teams in growing tech markets work their way up The Product Team Ladder.

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