PRODUCTHEAD: To err is human

PRODUCTHEAD: To err is human

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

sit down. product up


Customer research and validation is critical, but it can’t always make decisions for you

Remedy mistakes quickly and honestly to earn respect

Use the “rule of 10” to put mistakes in context

People remember most your small defining moments

a favour: please share this with other product people

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


On Friday, Ray Rafiq and I were recording our podcast over video call as we do every week. This time we were interviewing a really lovely person. We had good rapport and energy. They spoke revealingly about how their personal challenges had spurred them to help other people struggling in the same way, and in the process had become a successful content creator and entrepreneur. It was a great interview. We said our thanks and good-byes then signed off.

Then I realised that I hadn’t recorded it.

I had an hour and a half of blank, silent video. I had screwed something up, and the mistake was mine alone.

I thought of all those wonderful and emotional insights we’d explored in that unique interview — gone forever. I’d just wasted our busy interviewee’s time.

The walls started closing in — I was mortified.

As someone who cuts through his procrastination by promising to do things for other people (my fear of letting people down outweighs my desire to put things off), royally screwing up something that affects other people is the worst.

After a few minutes of swearing at myself and my recording gear, some frantic and futile searching for a viable recording, then finally a brief sulk, I confessed to Ray.

He was calm, reassuring, sympathetic and even started apologising to me. He suggested I take a breather, go and do something I enjoy, then we’d reconvene later to figure out what to do and how to avoid it happening again.

Ray often talks about ‘small defining moments’ — the way you choose to react to people in an emotionally-charged situation. People will remember what you did and said, and it will colour their view of you from that moment on. You can get it right or wrong.

We each had our own small defining moment: how I chose to admit my mistake to Ray, and how Ray reacted to it.

In contrast with the modern definition of being stoic (“indifference to pain, pleasure, grief or joy”), the philosophy of Stoicism posits that you can’t control anything except the way you choose to react to what life throws at you — ideally with objectivity and clear judgement.

Product managers can benefit from being Stoic (but not stoic). Whether it’s you or someone on your team making a mistake or poor decision, how you choose to react will be your small defining moment. Choose wisely.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

A Bad Product Decision

I find that so little is shared by product managers about their failures, which sucks for newbies because it perpetuates the illusion that all these other PMs execute flawlessly, when in fact most are making mistakes all the time.

This is a story about a really bad product decision I made early on in my career as PM at FreshBooks.

I often wonder if I should have been fired for it


What to Do When You’ve Made a Bad Decision

It can be painful to admit when we’ve made a bad decision. Maybe you hired the wrong person, or took a job that wasn’t a good fit, or launched a new product line that no one seems to want.

But it can feel overwhelming to admit the mistake in front of your colleagues and professional network. Here’s what to do when you’re starting to realize you’ve made a bad decision.

No-one has a 100% success rate


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.

“Jock has been instrumental in my personal growth as a product leader but also as a person.”

Ludovic Lacay

Ludovic Lacay
Co-founder & Chief Product Officer, Napo

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.

Coping with a Bad Decision

This conversation on Reddit offers some good advice from product managers to each other. In particular, I like the “rule of 10” to help put the mistake into context, and the extra effort needed to communicate when the dev team is remote.

Learn from your mistake and own it


Small Defining Moments

Ray and I discuss the small moments that define how people see us, and talk about autonomy, mastery and purpose.

How a leader should behave


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’ve 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.

“Day 2 saw an impressive presentation by Jock Busuttil on user testing. He asked the attendees to lend each other a smartphone and take a picture. What a turmoil that caused ;-) ”

Walter Schärer

Walter Schärer
Marketing & Business Development Director, BlueGlass Interactive

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!

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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 recording equipment that’s been reprogrammed with a sharp axe.

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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