Lessons From the Little Blue Book by Joff Redfern

Joff Redfern is vice president of Australian enterprise software company Atlassian. He previously spent seven years at LinkedIn and he shares his thoughts on the “best and most painful product lessons” of his product leadership career through a journal he calls “the blue book”. He discusses what he’s learned with ProductTank San Francisco.

Joff was inspired by Clare Booth Luce, the first American woman to be appointed to a major ambassadorial post. She maintained that at the end of your working life you will be known by a single sentence. So, if your life, and your life’s work, is going to be a sentence, what should it be? This question inspired Joff to identify four criteria of leading others to make great products, as follows:

  1. Leading and inspiring
  2. Product mastery
  3. Driving outcomes
  4. Being a great communicator (a criterion that all other criteria hinge on)

According to Joff, product managers and product leads are hired against all four criteria, but great communication is the trait of the very top product managers. So, this is Joff’s first lesson:

Lesson 1: Modes of Communication

Joff knows that there are two modes of communication for product managers: storytelling mode versus facts mode. These modes serve different purposes: storytelling inspires people to believe in an idea but facts are better for reviews. Sometimes, people only need facts. When Joff presented to his previous CEO at LinkedIn, he learnt that his storytelling approach was not the most effective way to share business information.

Lesson 2: Use Decision Frameworks in Management

Decisions can be exemplified by the analogy of a tree (with roots, trunk, branches, and leaves). There are different levels of decisions and these levels correspond to different parts of the “decision tree”. The tree is a simple way to articulate roles and responsibilities with people in product teams.

As well as decision trees, the DACI framework is very useful. This takes into account:

Driver. Corrals stakeholders to get necessary information

Approver. The one person who makes the decision.

Contributors. Subject experts. A voice, but no vote.

Informed. Informed of the final decision.

Joff has learned to lay DACI roles out in specific documents for everyone to see: clarity is key.

Lesson 3: Start a Movement

Joff believes in the unity of effort, combined collaborative initiatives, and the power of movements – be it a movement of a team (two or more people) or a movement of a company (hundreds/thousands/millions of people). The inspiration from movements can revolutionise the workplace, so Joff wants to ask us the “one thing” that moves us in product.

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