PRODUCTHEAD: A little (self-)respect

PRODUCTHEAD: A little (self-)respect

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product flowers #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Product people are tired of being held up to unrealistic standards

It important to remember what’s in your control and what isn’t

Now is the time to be extra rigorous with finding product-market fit


Some guy called Marty Cagan has released a new book, Transformed. Apparently he’s a big deal in product management*. His views in the book and recent interviews have riled some product people up because, in summary:

they know that their organisation is a dysfunctional mess;

they’re doing the best job they can with what they have in the midst of senior leadership panicking about a cash crunch and AI;

they’re tired of being held up to Instagram-perfect standards of product management; and

it’s no fun having their professional insecurities rubbed in their faces.

After the chaos of the last few years, I’m not surprised these feelings were already bubbling under the surface for many people. I do however think it coincidental that Cagan’s new book has been the trigger for everyone to let off steam. I also think Cagan is thick-skinned enough to weather the outrage and hot takes until everyone actually bothers to read his book and realise he makes some good points also.

Go easy on yourself #

Many of the product people I’ve been speaking recently have been feeling under-appreciated in their roles and blaming themselves for their under-performing products.

If this is you, go a bit easier on yourself.

There are only so many things that are in your direct control. Some you can influence, and the rest are out of your hands.

You’re not the cause of the massive hikes in interest rates that mean the money tap is no longer gushing freely. Everyone’s being more discerning about what they choose to spend on.

Likewise, there’s not a great deal you can do if your senior leadership team has panicked and taken over all decision-making, meaning you’re no longer empowered to guide your product in the right direction.

History repeating #

However, you still have some degree of control over your product. History has lessons for us if we choose to heed them.

When the dotcom bubble burst around 2000, every company had been rushing to capitalise on the web. Prior to the bubble bursting, investment dollars were abundant and it was difficult to distinguish solid ideas from gimmicks.

After the bubble burst, the gimmicks fell by the wayside. The companies that remained were the ones who had figured out that the web offered a new, lower-cost channel to market, and that ‘being online’ by itself wasn’t enough. Hence the rise of companies such as eBay and Amazon: they made traditional models of business available to broader markets at scale and with lower costs because they were using the web as an enabler.

If nothing else, this shows us that these financial circumstances will accentuate the difference between products meeting an actual user need (and doing it well) and those that weren’t as close to product-market fit, but got away with it when the money was flowing more freely.

The lesson here is to be even more rigorous with finding product-market fit before attempting to scale up. A technology bubble will mask that your product is a discretionary ‘want’ rather than a must-have need. If your product has been under-performing recently, go and find out why people didn’t purchase it. You may be further away from product-market fit than you realised.

Are we in an AI bubble? #

I believe that we’re in the middle of an AI bubble. Even with all the investor cash available, the energy cost per transaction of the popular AI models is unsustainably high for most companies to continue offering access for free or $20 per month. Couple that with the thrashing around by many companies trying to figure out how to crowbar generative AI into their product. Are they addressing an unmet user need, or are they creating a superficial gimmick?

At the moment, the companies that seem to be figuring it out are using genAI as a way to interrogate bodies of unstructured information more conversationally. To reduce confabulation and copyright infringment claims, some large content providers are training their own models solely on their intellectual property, while gating access to third parties. The Financial Times and Getty Images are two such examples. No wonder Google is feeling existential dread.

Just as the web did, genAI will open up ways of working that were previously technologically or financially impractical. Give it a few years and genAI will no longer be the headline any more than having a web presence was. It’ll just be another enabler for solving problems more effectively and in new ways.

For you this week #

If there’s a theme to the articles I’m sharing with you this week, it’s “things product people probably need to hear more often”.

Speak to you soon,


* I’m sorry, it looks like your browser doesn’t render <sarcasm> tags

I’ve included an Amazon affiliate link this week, meaning I would earn a small commission on any purchases you made.

what to think about this week

Transforming with Marty Cagan! Plus … stepping on a succession of rakes

The company has gone through product leaders at a fast pace, each one coming in with high hopes and, ultimately, failing to make a substantial difference to the company’s fortunes. The product remains uninspiring and no one’s really that happy.

My friend looked at me conspiratorially and said “You know what? I think the leadership team are starting to realise it’s not the product leadership that’s the problem”.

Product leaders are set up to fail all the time

[Jason Knight / One Knight In Product]

Revenue goals are not company strategies

We’re in the Silly Season: companies of all sizes are doing annual planning — intending to lock down 12 months of iron-clad commitments, non-negotiable delivery dates, major organizational changes, and accurate predictions of revenue. In my experience, this is mostly ineffective if it’s done only once a year — especially if focused on how much money we need to make, rather than how we’re going to make it.

Scenarios in which product can influence corporate strategy

[Rich Mironov / Mironov Consulting]

Early product managers don’t leave startups, they leave founders

The 1st PM often ends up being a sacrificial lamb. Here are practical ways to nail the PM-Founders fit. The main reason first PMs leave startups is bad fit. Not with the rest of the organisation … with founders!

Bring order from chaos

[Enzo Avigo / LinkedIn]

recent posts

I want to update my pricing strategy. Where do I start?

“My product currently has one tier of per-seat pricing for all customers. I want to change my pricing strategy to cater differently for SMEs and enterprise customers. Where do I start?”

A few pricing concepts to consider + further reading

[I Manage Products]

How do I make my product roadmap a better communication tool?

“My product roadmap is not getting the right information across to other people in my company. In particular, my customer success and marketing teams are struggling to plan their work for upcoming product releases. I’m also not sure how I can show my roadmap’s relationship to the half-yearly OKRs we set. How can I improve it?”

Your product roadmap is a communication tool

[I Manage Products]

How can I keep track of all these product metrics?

“Do you have any advice on productivity tools for tracking product metrics? I’m seeking guidance on streamlining feedback and metrics management. Juggling continuous discovery insights, team feedback, and metric tracking has become increasingly overwhelming.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from an air purifier like a jet engine.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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