PRODUCTHEAD: Pimp my system

PRODUCTHEAD: Pimp my system

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

pulk/pull revolving products


6 core concepts of systems thinking will help you start solving complex problems

Systems thinking complements the more familiar analytical (reductionist) thinking

It is a way of creating a shared understanding of how something works

It provides useful tools for surfacing and breaking reinforcing cycles of blame

a favour: please share this with other product people

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Pimp My Ride was a gloriously silly TV show that ran in the 2000s. Some sad-faced individual with a terrible car would be pounced upon by rapper Xzibit*. He would then assign a team of lunatic mechanics to replace every shonky part of the vehicle, add a sound system that could disrupt air traffic, and put a widescreen TV and XBox in the trunk — just because.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I reckon the team of mechanics understood the principles of systems thinking.

It would have been strange for them to make the brakes really effective, but neglect to upgrade the wheels to take advantage of the enhanced stopping power. Similarly, there would have been little point in adding massive speakers if the crappy original in-car stereo was too weak to drive them. And then all that extra kit would place additional load on the electrical system, which itself would have to be beefed up to cope.

The mechanics couldn’t change one bit of the car in isolation without breaking the overall system — they had to look at the car as a collection of interdependent components, and plan their interventions accordingly.

When we look at our products, our organisations or the markets they operate in, it should be clear that none exists in isolation — they’re each part of a wider system.

A product is used by customers in concert with others in their organisation;

a company is made up of many different departments that collectively allow it to transact business;

a market is made up of countless consumers, suppliers and influencing forces.

The problem is that we (generally) don’t have the formal skills to look at a system and understand its interconnectedness to a sufficient extent that we can identify and resolve problems within it. We usually look at aspects of a system in isolation and try to improve them individually, then wonder why a fix in one place resulted in new problems springing up elsewhere.

So if you’re as new to systems thinking as I am, then you’ll hopefully appreciate the articles I’ve gathered for you this week to help you understand more about the topic.

Speak to you soon,


*I’m ignoring the existence of the far inferior UK version of the show

what to think about this week

Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 6 Fundamental Concepts of Systems Thinking

Words have power, and in systems thinking, we use some very specific words that intentionally define a different set of actions to mainstream thinking. Words like ‘synthesis,’ ‘emergence,’ ‘interconnectedness,’ and ‘feedback loops’ can be overwhelming for some people. Since they have very specific meanings in relation to systems, allow me to start off with the exploration of six key themes.

Understand the building blocks


Good Thinking, Good Products

I became fascinated with Systems Thinking — a school of thought that helps me make sense of complex situations, and whose tools found a place inside my product management toolbox. I am not at the end of my learning journey but decided to do a pit stop to reflect and share.

Make sense of the complex messes we face every day


Product Management Coaching

Whether you’re new to product management or have been a product manager for years, a coaching session can help you to step up your career.

We’ve coached people wanting to get into product management, product people with nobody in their organisation to manage them, and experienced product managers preparing to apply for a promotion.

We can help you prepare for your product manager interview, including mock interviews.

A proportion of the fees from every coaching session is donated to charity. Just reply to this email if you’re interested in finding out more.

Using Systems Thinking to Design Better Services

Most services are not designed end-to-end, top-to-bottom like a service designer might. In reality, away from the whirlwind of Post-Its and Sharpies, the sketching workshops and blueprints, most services have come to be with little more than can be described as ‘front line coping’.

Services evolve over many years with bits bolted on here and there, very often with little thought for how the end-to-end experience looks and feels to customers. In particular, there’s often little consideration of the unintended consequences.

Understand WTF’s really going on inside our organisations


Moving from Blame to Accountability

When something goes wrong in an organization, the first question that is often posed is, “Whose fault is it?” When there’s data missing in accounting, it’s the bookkeeper’s fault. If we lose a key customer, it’s the sales group’s problem – “They promised more than we could deliver!”.

When errors such as these surface, blaming seems to be a natural reflex in many organizations. There’s a problem with this common scenario, however: Where there is blame, there is no learning.

Blame is like sugar – it produces a brief boost and then a let-down


recent posts

Mission to Mars

Imagine you’ve just been told that you’ll be a member of the team responsible for the first manned mission to Mars.

Now imagine someone asks you how much the mission’s going to cost. The whole thing. There and back. By close of business on Thursday.

Aaaaaarrrrrrgggh. It depends


The neverending quest for product-market fit

Often the biggest barrier to your product’s widespread adoption is going to be whether it reaches product-market fit early on. Even if you do, you’re wrong if you think you never need to worry about product-market fit again.

It’s not a one-off exercise


I’m overwhelmed — can you help?

Hi Jock,

I’m 4 weeks into a new job, having moved states for it, and I’ve recently become a parent for the first time. Currently, I am feeling overwhelmed.



upcoming talks and events

One of the few silver linings of the recent year is that it’s much easier (and cheaper) to get a product expert to speak at your organisation by video call.

I’m an experienced public speaker, who has spoken at various product management and technology conferences around the world. I share ideas primarily on the topic of product management, and this tends to overlap with agile and ethical product development, digital transformation, and fostering healthy product cultures and communities.

If you’d like to book me to speak at your event, please get in touch.

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!

Product People Limited logo

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

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a beat-up Ford Escort.

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 product management and leadership coach, product leader 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, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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