This week on Product Love, we’re revisiting our chat with Teresa Torres, product discovery coach and writer of Product Talk. This episode was a blast. Read the full transcript below or listen here. Enjoy.
Eric Boduch: Welcome, lovers of product. Today I have with me Teresa Torres. Teresa, why don’t you start by giving us a little overview of your background?
Teresa Torres: Sure. Today, I work as a product discovery coach. That’s not a typical role. What that means is that I work with product teams, usually a trio, a product manager, a designer, and a tech lead. We work on how to adopt continuous discovery habits, how do you engage with customers week over week, and use those touchpoints as ways to learn more about their context, learn about your product ideas, what’s going to work, what’s not going to work.
Teresa Torres: I got into that in a really roundabout way. I started my career back in the late 90s as a front-end developer and interaction designer long before anybody was hiring interaction designers. Over a series of sort of roles at the early-stage startups, moved into product management. I’ve moved into operational roles at startups, have been both a startup CEO, then went on to the next company where I ran a product and design team. Really, I just saw the same challenges everywhere, in that product teams weren’t engaging with customers nearly enough, so I decided I wanted to focus on solving that particular problem.
Eric Boduch: You mentioned a lot of really diverse background, from UX experience, startup management, organizational change, even some work in cognitive science if I remember correctly, right?
Teresa Torres: That’s right.
Eric Boduch: How have those different experiences shaped your approach and perspective to product?
Teresa Torres: As an undergraduate, I did a cognitive science program at Stanford called symbolic systems. It’s a little bit different from traditional cognitive science. It looks at both. A traditional cognitive science program is how the human brain works. Symbolic systems is both how the human brain works but also how machines process information. That was my first introduction to human-centered design. It was really great having that foundation as a 22-year-old coming into the industry. In fact, I naively thought that was just how the business worked and had to spend the next ten years reconciling why it didn’t work that way. That gave me a huge leg up, just in terms of my perspective as a designer and as a product manager.
Teresa Torres: Later, as a startup CEO, I was blown away by how startup employees, people that you would think would be comfortable with change and high risk, really struggled when our startup started to struggle. That really led me to understand why is it that people have a hard time with change and I went back and got a master’s in learning and organizational change at Northwestern. That actually has had a really big impact on my coaching work because I’ve learned a lot about how just learning and development works in the workplace and how we can really help people invest in themselves in a professional context.
Eric Boduch: You transitioned from this to product discovery coach, right?
Teresa Torres: Yep, that’s right.
Eric Boduch: Talk to me about that transition, why you made that move, what drove you to become a product discovery coach, and why you’re passionate about that.
Teresa Torres: Over the series of about five years in a single company, I went from, I came in as their senior director of product management, and I resigned as their CEO five years later, which was a wild ride in and of itself. What I learned in those five years was that I wasn’t terribly excited about running a company. I think it was something, in most of my career that was something that I aspired to and, frankly, it wasn’t very fun and I really missed product and design. Then I went into another startup as the head of product and design, and I really realized that what I loved about my role as a head of product was developing my team. I didn’t love all the work that’s required to align with an executive team and really some of that more traditional business stuff that startups, especially venture-backed startups, have to be on this timeline and whatnot.
Teresa Torres: I really started to think about how can I create a role that allows me to do all the things that I love and didn’t include the things I didn’t love, and that’s really what led to becoming a coach. I started out by just coaching product managers and then, over time, started to really hone in on what was it that I thought product managers and product teams in particular needed to get really good at, and that’s what led me to discovery.
Eric Boduch: That’s interesting. I’m impressed, too, that a lot of us just suffer through the stuff we don’t like, but you actually consciously thought about it and said, “You know, there are these areas I don’t like so let’s find the job or the opportunity or the career or the life that’s best for me.”
Teresa Torres: Yeah, so I think it’s a strength and a weakness that I don’t have a lot of capacity for doing things that I don’t like. The strength part of it is exactly what you highlight, the negative part of it was always a challenge as an employee because I’m not very good at — you know, I’m not going to eat my peas because there’s plenty of vegetables I like and I don’t like peas.
Eric Boduch: Got it. I’ve got to respect that. I’m impressed. One thing I know, having read some of this stuff you’ve written and listened to you speak before, you talk about this thing or, I should say, you warned product managers not to fall in love with their product or ideas, right? Talk to me about why that’s important.
Teresa Torres: There’s this concept called the escalation of commitment, which is, I think it originally — I don’t know if it’s where it originated, but it was popularized by Robert Cialdini, the author of the book, Influence, which is sort of an iconic or landmark book about human behavior and how we influence people. He talks about this study where people went and knocked on doors and asked them if they would put a political sign on their lawn, and most people said no. But then they tried it a different way where they first said, “Would you donate $5 to this political campaign?,” and most people said yes. Then a week or two later, they came back and said, “Will you put this giant ugly sign on your lawn?,” and they saw the conversion rate go way up.
Teresa Torres: What’s happening there is as soon as you make a donation to that charity or that political campaign, you start to identify as somebody who does that.
Eric Boduch: You’re invested.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, you’re invested. Then, when you get asked the second ask, you are more likely to say yes. It seems like a really innocuous thing and, in fact, if you’ve ever donated money to a charity, it always seems weird why they ask you the very next day to donate again. It turns out that it works, you’re more likely to convert, even if you just donated.
Teresa Torres: This idea plays out in the product world. We have an idea. We start to play with it. We start to identify with the idea. We fall in love with it and it becomes harder and harder to consider other ideas. If we couple escalation and commitment with confirmation by us, where we’re more likely to see confirming evidence than disconfirming evidence, it’s this one-two punch where we put blinders on and we’re going to blindly move forward with an idea, even if the whole universe is telling us there’s lots of flaws and problems with it.
Eric Boduch: Interesting. Do you see that both at startups you’ve worked with and larger companies, and is it at the same degree?
Teresa Torres: Yeah, I think it’s universal. I think at startups it’s particularly problematic because founders are rewarded for having strong product visions. It’s how they raise money, it’s how they hire employees, it’s how they make their first sales. In a startup, your first few sales are missionary sales, and so all the feedback you’re getting in the world if your startup is continuing to exist, is that your vision is perfect. The reality is, your vision might be pretty good, but it’s probably not perfect and it’s probably going to need a lot of evolution and work to get to something that’s viable.
Teresa Torres: We need to be really careful about not falling in love with our idea and instead of looking at, here’s a customer base that I’m really passionate about solving their needs for and problems, and I can fall in love with that. What that does is it allows me to be really passionate and to be really human-centered but be able to be open to, this particular idea might not be working and if what I’m passionate about is solving a problem or addressing a need, then I’m much more likely to keep iterating on a faulty solution until it actually addresses that need.
Eric Boduch: So be passionate about problems, not products.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, absolutely.
Eric Boduch: I think that you hear about this startup mentality and a lot of people that feel like they need to push through their vision. It’s kind of like convince people that the product is the right solution, but that shouldn’t be the approach. The approach should be, let’s fix your problem and let’s figure out how to properly fix that as opposed to, through my own will, making reality bend to my product.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, and I think the way that we idolize particular startup founders doesn’t help with this. We talk about Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field, and we talk about —
Eric Boduch: Yes, that comes to mind.
Teresa Torres: We talk about Elon Musk and his ability to just completely disrupt markets. I think, first of all, the way we represent both Steve Jobs and Elon Musk probably doesn’t represent reality. I’m going to guess that Steve Cook and Johnathan I’ve had a huge impact on Apple’s turnaround, which we’re not hearing when we talk about Steve Jobs as the guy that saved Apple. I’m sure there’s dozens, if not hundreds of other people at Apple that contributed. I think the same is true of all of Elon Musk’s companies. I think what’s particularly interesting is this is not just a startup founder challenge. I think at bigger companies it comes in a little bit of a different flavor, but it still exists, and that’s that most executives at big companies, and definitely our middle managers at big companies, their entire careers, they’ve been rewarded for being right.
Teresa Torres: They’re expected to have the right answers and that’s very similar to a startup founder being rewarded for having a strong vision. They raise venture capital because they had a strong vision. In a big company, an executive got promoted because they made decisions that turned out to be right. What we don’t question is how many of their decisions are wrong and what were the consequences of that, and what was their process for making those decisions and is that what’s leading to sort of a higher batting average, if you don’t mind the sports analogy here.
Eric Boduch: I’m a baseball guy from way back when, so I’m all good, and we’re also recording at industry and postseason baseball is about to kick off, so those are all great, love the baseball analogies. Let’s talk about all the mistakes product management teams make. This is obviously one. What else do you see? What else do they tend to do wrong, what’s a common mistake you see?
Teresa Torres: I think what we’re seeing today is that most teams are becoming familiar with this concept of discovery. They’re including discovery activities in their work, but they’re doing it in a project, from a project mindset. The project mindset, I’m being told to build a feature or deliver an android app or they’re given a project. At the beginning of that project, they start with a little bit of discovery, it’s followed by a lot of delivery, they ship a feature, they ship an app and then they move on to the next project.
Teresa Torres: The challenge with that is that in the digital product world, we’re never really done. We don’t build an app once and then walk away and say, okay, let’s do the next thing. Even if we do, we shouldn’t because with digital products, we have the ability to measure did we have the impact we intended? Very rarely are we going to have the intended impact on iteration one. Rather than taking this project mindset, most product teams really would benefit from taking a product mindset or a continuous discovery mindset where we say, look, we’re responsible for making this product as good as it can be for as long as it takes. Therefore, rather than taking this project mindset to discovery where it’s front-loaded, we need to be continuously engaging with our customers so that week over week, as those little questions that come up that can make or break our product, we’re infusing those decisions with customer input.
Teresa Torres: I often talk about I think a product team should be engaging with customers at least once a week. People think I’m insane for saying that, but I work with teams that talk to customers every other day, and there are even some companies where they can talk to customers every day. If that’s who you’re competing with, you probably want to focus on reducing your cycle time between customer and touchpoints.
Eric Boduch: I know I’ve definitely heard that and I think speaking with customers can probably not be too often. I was talking with Schwartz over at Wix. He’s like talking to three a day. And for a company, Wix, public company, large product organization or product guild as they structure ’em over there, and he’s always talking to costumers as much as possible.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, you know, it’s funny when product teams tell me they don’t have time, ’cause I was a startup CEO of a company that sold recruiting software during the economic downturn. Let me tell you, that was not an easy job. Nobody was hiring, we were running out of money …
Eric Boduch: What company is that?
Teresa Torres: It was called Affinity Circles.
Eric Boduch: Okay.
Teresa Torres: And as a CEO doing seven roles, trying to save a company through an economic downturn, I still talked to a university, a college student, and an employer every single day of the job. And it’s because I knew that if I didn’t do that, we were gonna be making decisions that would take us off track.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, yeah. I completely agree. I think it’s amazing to me, we did a study with product collective to looking at where input comes from for product direction, and one of the things that astounded me was a lot of product managers out there get more input and drive more road map based upon what competitors are doing than actually what their costumers want, where the problems are. So I found that disturbing.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, we assume that our competitors are getting it right, but the reality is most companies are not very good at discovery. So why are we basing our decisions off of somebody else’s really poor discovery, when we really could just do a little bit of discovery ourselves and immediately create this moat between us and our competitors. And I think part of it is people think about interviewing costumers and they think it has to be this hour-long formal exercise with a three-page discussion guide, and really when I was talking to three people a day, they weren’t hour-long conversations; I wasn’t spending three hours a day with my costumers. Sometimes it was a 15-minute conversation, right? It’s just how do I keep this continuous drip of the customer perspective in my daily work, and I think that’s the mindset, of if I’m gonna make decisions every day, how can I make sure as many of those decisions can be infused with customer input as possible.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, and I used to use Pendo … I still use Pendo and I work at Pendo. But one of the cool things that I used it for was to find out who’s using this feature a lot? And then I’ll just contact ’em, and I’ll be like, “Oh, I’d like to talk to you about X, and have a ten-minute conversation about what you did and didn’t like about X, and how you think X could be better.”
Teresa Torres: Yeah, I think the key that you just said just have a conversation. I think we get caught up on, are we doing it right? We think about it as really formal, and actually, if you think about it just as a conversation, you’re gonna have a better conversation and you’re gonna learn more, and your customers are more likely to wanna keep talking to you.
Eric Boduch: So you mentioned something else there in your answer that I wanted to dig into a little bit, and that was making improvements right?
Teresa Torres: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric Boduch: So you’re geared to an outcome and the outcome might be, make something faster, or make this easier to do for a customer, like make the steps where they can get their job done 10 times better. And now we talked about continuous improvements, so are you a proponent of, as long as people are making business impacts, keep the team on that and keep moving on that?
Teresa Torres: Yeah, so we’re seeing, I think in the industry, that there’s this concept of durable teams. So it’s a team that’s staying on the same product with hopefully a similar outcome over time. And I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. So one allows them to build deep knowledge about that product, it allows them to build deep knowledge about that customer, and then the reason why I think it’s important to think about durable metrics as well, is it takes time to learn what’s gonna move that metric. Now oftentimes we hit a point where we just can’t squeeze more juice from the lemon, and we need to switch to a new metric, and that’s fine, but generally what I see happen too often is, they focus on engagement one quarter, and then they switch to retention the next quarter, and then they switch to acquisition the next quarter, and they’re never really getting the depth of learning that it takes to really move the needle on a metric. And so I think what we’re seeing, definitely among the best companies, is they’re really prioritizing durable teams with time to explore what it will take to drive a particular outcome.
Eric Boduch: And then as long as the benefit keeps going, like as long as you keep getting benefit out of that team and on that outcome, just let ’em keep iterating on it?
Teresa Torres: Yeah, why not?
Eric Boduch: I would say definitely. I see a lot of time where people just switch, it’s like, “Oh, we’ve done that, and we’ve done this first project and we made this improvement so let’s do something else,” and then I’m like, “Well, can’t you keep going?”
Teresa Torres: Yeah, I think there’s a big firefighting mentality within business, where we’re looking at yesterday’s urgent problem rather than looking towards what’s important in the future. I think some of this is because leaders are also learning how to move to an outcome mindset. So we like to think about it as, what are the skills and mindsets that a product team needs to deliver on outcomes. But there are also skills and mindsets that leaders need to adopt to be able to set good outcomes and know how to manage bad outcomes. So I think what’s really important is for leadership to look across their business and really define that set of metrics, that if all the metrics were improving, would really create value for the business. Hopefully in a way that creates value for the customer.
Teresa Torres: And I don’t think that set of metrics is gonna change very often, and a lot of businesses, you could probably identify exactly what those are. If I’m Netflix, I probably have to care about customer acquisition, I probably have to care about how much content they’re consuming, I probably have to care about how much content I have on the platform. There’s a fixed number of things that are really gonna impact that business, and there’s no reason why I can’t have teams dedicated full time to those metrics, because it’s not like Netflix is gonna wake up one day and say, “Well, you know what, we’re done with customer acquisition,” right? I mean Facebook might, ’cause the whole world’s on Facebook, but even so, instead of saying they’re done, they’re just building internet infrastructure in India so they can get all the remaining people.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, yeah. Yeah I mean if you take the cost of acquisition, even if you have half of the world, getting the other half at a cheaper rate than you got the first half is always better.
Teresa Torres: Yup.
Eric Boduch: Assuming the cost of your group that’s working on that is significantly less. Keep going, right?
Teresa Torres: Yeah, and here’s the reality, if you’re a venture-backed company or if you’re a public company, your measure of success is not just people using your product, it’s growth, and that’s the world that we live in. It’s not just profitability, it’s profitability and growth. And if that’s what you’re being judged by, you need to find ways to continuously do that. And I think those ways are not, in a digital product world for a single product, I think the way you define that doesn’t change very much over time. Now when you’re looking at a product portfolio as you add new products, that’s gonna introduce new metrics. But hopefully, you’re adding new teams. I think too often what happens is a company says, “Let’s add a product,” and they just barrow from their existing product teams and they start spreading everybody too thin, and I think that’s rarely a winning strategy.
Eric Boduch: I would agree, I would agree. So let’s talk about experiments, one thing you touched on, what advice would you give PM’s to run more effective experiments.
Teresa Torres: Yeah I’m gonna talk about this today at Industry.
Eric Boduch: Awesome.
Teresa Torres: So I think, sadly, most product teams don’t have a very good experimental mindset. So we all know that we need to experiment, The Lean Startup did a great job of advocating for that, and I think most of us know this should be a part of our repertoire. But the analogy I’m gonna use in my talk today, is I feel like we’re the equivalent of 18th-century scientists that were over-relying on bloodletting. So, bloodletting is a medical practice that’s useful in a very teeny tiny sliver of medical cases, but in the 18th century, physicians were using it in the vast majority of cases. If they didn’t know what to do, they fell back to bloodletting. It took a practice that maybe had been useful, and it turned it into something that we just over-relied on. And I think today, A/B testing is our equivalent of bloodletting.
Teresa Torres: So I think the instance in which it works extremely well is it helps us measure the impact of what we built, and that’s important. I think measurement is a critical part of something that a successful product team needs to do. But we’re using A/B testing as our primary discovery tool, and that’s insanity to me. In order for us to A/B test a feature, we have to build it. So we’re not learning if we built the right thing until after we’ve built it. And so from an experiment standpoint, I think product teams need to add to the repertoire. We need to be looking at way more prototyping, way more Smoke Screen tests, way more Concierge tests, Wizard of Oz tests, experiments that allow us to learn before we build.
Teresa Torres: So I like to challenge teams to run experiments that don’t require writing code. Because that’s what we’re trying to do; we’re trying to save costly engineering time in our discovery, and make sure that we’re really building the right thing.
Eric Boduch: I like it. Talk to me about this.
Teresa Torres: Yeah so, let’s say we expand our repertoire of experiments and still feel like there’s a lot of other things we’re doing wrong. A big thing is we think of the unit that we’re working with as an idea. So I have this really great solution in mind, or I have this really great feature in mind, so when I think about experimenting, I wanna prototype the whole thing. Where I want to build the whole thing and A/B test it. And I think this unit of analysis is wrong. When we prototype a whole idea, one, it takes a lot of design work. Two, when we get feedback from our customers, we’re taking them through lots of screens and whole workflow, and we’re overwhelming them with what we’re asking of them. We tend to only consider one design because we’re designing 8 or 10 or 12 screens, so we do one version of each. And then, finally, we tend to do that testing too late in the process to actually integrate any of that feedback.
Teresa Torres: So I think a way better way to think about this, and this isn’t a new idea, I think Eric Ries advocates for this in The Lean Startup, it just gets overlooked, is to break our idea down into its underlying assumptions and say, “What needs to be true for this idea to work?” And then for each of those assumptions, looking at how can I design a prototype or an experiment that tests this specific assumption. First of all, you’re gonna move a lot faster. Ideas share assumptions. So you’re gonna learn a lot more from each iteration. When an experiment fails when we’re testing at the idea level, all we learn is a go or no- go decision. We don’t learn what made it fail, we just learn that it failed. Whereas when we’re testing assumptions, we learn exactly which assumption is gonna cause problems in our ideas, and we can either design around that faulty assumption, or we can take the collection of assumptions that we do know to be true from our experimenting and start to craft new solutions. And I think the reason why teams don’t do this, is it’s really hard to see our underlying assumptions, and so we’re still building that skill.
Eric Boduch: Hm, yeah I was just thinking about that, as you were talking about that I was thinking about an idea I had and I was like, “I should break that up into the assumptions,” and I started thinking through what those would be. I think a methodology like that is powerful.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, absolutely.
Eric Boduch: So talk to me a little bit about working with big companies and startups, scaling teams has to be different, but I imagine that they differ a little both in product discovery and how they do product management.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, although everybody likes to think their context is unique, and really I see the same thing everywhere. So first things that are common: Every product team that I’ve ever worked with, everybody’s really smart, everybody’s really engaged, they’re really passionate about their product, they’re really passionate about their customers. That’s true at startups, that’s true at big companies. As they start to learn discovery, they’re really passionate about trying to do the right thing for their customer. And I think what we run in to is, there are challenges at the individual or team level, where people are bumping up against their old ideas of product management. So maybe a product manager is having a hard time letting go of the fact that they shouldn’t make all the decisions. Or maybe a designer is struggling with the fact that other people in the team get to have design ideas. Or maybe an Engineer doesn’t understand why they need to be in a customer interview at all, right? So there’s sort of that level of individuals need to learn how to adjust to this type of product, to this type of process.
Teresa Torres: Then at the team level, there’s a lot that we need to learn about how to collaborate. We give lip service to collaboration, but here’s the reality. I’ve never met a well functioning, completely aligned executive team. Ever. It takes work. Right? Executives are constantly putting in the work to try to align and get along and agree on a strategy. If our most senior leaders struggle with this, we can’t just assume our front line teams do it well. So that’s also a skill and a mindset that we have to develop. There’s a lot of work that has to happen there.
Teresa Torres: Then I think all the way up the organization and our middle managers need to know how to manage teams by outcomes instead of managing teams by outputs. Our senior leaders need to know how to set outcomes instead of outputs. There’s this two-way feedback. We can’t just say, “Leaders, trust us. We’ve got it. We’re going to build the right thing.” Right? The product team needs to learn how to communicate up. What they’re doing, what they’re learning, how to justify their decisions and how to invite their leaders into those decisions.
Teresa Torres: So this is a whole new way of working. I think we’re creating while doing it. It’s a little bit … I think Reed Hoffman once said, “Building a startup is like falling off a cliff while building an airplane.” I may have butchered that. I don’t know if it came from Reed Hoffman, but it’s that same idea, right? We’re re-inventing the way that we build products while building products. And up and down the organization, both in startups and in big companies we need to do that.
Eric Boduch: So talk to me about trends for product managers. What do you think is going to affect the craft of product management and leadership over the next few years?
Teresa Torres: I think we’re getting to the point where it’s no longer acceptable to sit in a room and decide what to build. I think that’s no longer a controversial statement. Even at our most … even at our oldest, least technical sort of stodgy companies that are tiptoeing into software.
Eric Boduch: It definitely shouldn’t be acceptable. I actually have a slide for a brief presentation I have tomorrow with a person betting on their $50 million on their gut instinct.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, you know what? I’m going to go back to baseball. Curt Schilling put $60 million into a video game company and lost it all.
Eric Boduch: Yeah.
Teresa Torres: Right?
Eric Boduch: 38 Studios, right? Isn’t that what it was called?
Teresa Torres: I can’t remember what they were called. It was a video game company.
Eric Boduch: Yeah.
Teresa Torres: I think I just read … I think Steve Blank posted an article about a company that’s making a billion-dollar bet on something else. I wish I knew … I could remember the details. So we’re not completely away from this. We haven’t made that transition entirely. But I think we’re on the path. But I think we’re really maybe at the very beginning of the path is the hard work of how our work has to change to support that.
Teresa Torres: So I think we’re seeing a lot more around skills, right? We’re seeing a lot more teams start interviewing and realizing that interviewing is a skill. We see a lot more teams get into rapid prototyping and realizing that’s a skill. We definitely are seeing a lot more teams get into experimentation and realizing that’s a skill. We’re seeing a lot more companies invest in data analysts and realizing that product analytics are a skill.
Teresa Torres: But I think that one of the things that I’m going to talk about later today is that in addition to those skills, we also have mindsets that we have to adopt. Right? We need to be more collaborative. We need to take a continuous mindset rather than that project mindset I talked about at the beginning. We need to develop our experimental mindset and not act like 18th-century scientists. Some of that is skill, but some of it is mindset. Right?
Teresa Torres: So we have the skill and experiment design. There’s mindset and being okay with being wrong. So I think the reason why we got off the track with our experiments is because we’re designing experiments to support our case instead of refuting our case. So it’s a mindset shift. I think all of this … I think the industry … the fact that we get such rapid feedback on what we’re doing and whether it works or not, it’s going to pull us along in this evolution.
Teresa Torres: And so whether we want to come along or not, I think it’s happening. And I think that’s what we’re going to see. Because I don’t think we’re going to see some big radical change. I think what we’re going to see is we’re just going to keep moving down that path.
Eric Boduch: It feels like product management … and we all have to remember, it’s kind of the young profession. Sales has been around forever. So has marketing. So, to some extent, has engineering. Even on the software side. But product management kind of feels new. There hasn’t really been … Carnegie Melon now has a Master’s program for product management, which is really cool, but there was never like, “Oh, you go to school and get a degree in product management before.” So that’s kind of new.
Eric Boduch: There were never toolsets for product managers. So that’s new. I do think we have to remember that product management as a craft is new. It seems to be moving more from the art now to the craft/science, would you agree?
Teresa Torres: Yeah. I do. Well, I think product management has its roots in fields that are not new. Right? So brand managers at our consumer packaged goods companies do similar things. Although, some can argue they’re more marketers. But fundamentally business has always had somebody making decisions about what to do. Right? What to build, what products to make. I think what’s fundamentally new and what’s driving all this change in product management is that we have better feedback loops.
Teresa Torres: So if I’m at Proctor and Gamble and I’m responsible for soap, my soonest feedback loop, other than maybe some focus groups, is when I put that soap on the store shelves and I learn whether or not people buy it. Whereas with digital products, it’s almost like we get to go home with the consumer and watch them use the soap and see what happens. Right? Because we’re measuring every step of the way.
Eric Boduch: Except we don’t have video.
Teresa Torres: Right. Exactly. So this is … I think the fact that we can measure every single step, one, it’s getting us into data trouble. That’s a different conversation. But it’s also providing these really sophisticated feedback loops that give us insight into human behavior that I don’t think we had before.
Teresa Torres: So that’s helping us see that we’re actually wrong more often, way more often than we thought. Then that’s what’s driving the evolution of our practices.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, we’ve talked about a lot today. If you had to summarize the things we’ve talked about into the Teresa Words of Wisdom that you could impart to others in product leadership, what would they be?
Teresa Torres: I think, especially when it comes to discovery, is to think about it the same way we thought about the evolution of delivery over the last 15 years. So it used to be really controversial to release code as soon as you wrote it. It’s no longer controversial. Right? We release code and release it immediately. Like, we write code and release it immediately. I think I read an article that Amazon releases code every 11 seconds or every 1.2 seconds. Something absurd. Right? And it’s because our tools have gotten better.
Teresa Torres: We’re seeing the same evolution on the discovery side. We’re getting to the point where there’s no reason why a designer couldn’t design a screen, put it up on something like usertesting.com and immediately get feedback. And so I think, to me, the future of product management is infusing your entire discovery process with customer input as quickly and as frequently as possible.
Teresa Torres: I think we’re going to laugh that thinking about weekly touchpoints with customers was ever controversial.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, let’s turn this to you a little bit. Ask you a couple of questions.
Teresa Torres: Sure.
Eric Boduch: What’s your favorite product? Software, otherwise, and why is it your favorite?
Teresa Torres: I have a really boring answer. It’s One Password and it’s because I used to have a password system.
Eric Boduch: This is not the first time I’ve heard One Password, to be honest. I can understand, having just went through … I signed up for something new and it was like, “By the way, here are our password rules. Must be 12 characters. Must have a letter. Must have a lowercase letter. An uppercase letter. A number. A special character, which only these qualify.” I’m like, “Ah.”
Teresa Torres: Yeah, I only recently started using One Password. I’ve known about it for years. I never thought it was a problem that I had. I had a pretty good system. It was working for me. Then I started working with an assistant, and she accessed all of my accounts. She started setting passwords for me. She doesn’t necessarily set the strongest passwords and so I started using One Password. We can share passwords through it. I didn’t realize how much cognitive energy every single day it took to try to remember my password for any given site.
Teresa Torres: And One Password has completely removed that from my day. In fact, every time I go to a site that I haven’t been to in a really long time, and I get that login screen, I have this worry for a second of like, “Oh what if it’s not in One Password.” And then when it is, it’s like this sort of magical moment of relief.
Eric Boduch: It is great because everyone has different rules. Some of them contradict and you’re like, “Oh. If they would tell me what the rules are, I could probably know what my password was. It made sense when I was trying to log in.” But yeah, I’ve heard One Password a few times. I’m going to have to check it out myself.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, I highly recommend it.
Eric Boduch: So final question today. Three words to describe yourself?
Teresa Torres: The first one that comes to mind is definitely curious. I think maybe a little obsessed. And then I think beyond that I would say … you know, I don’t know how to put it in one word, but I often get told that I’m really good at asking and just confirming questions. But I think that’s something that I’m proud of. Right? I think that’s what I talk about with an experimental mindset. So I don’t know that I can distill that to one word. I think that would be the third one.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, thank you. It was great having you.
Teresa Torres: Yeah, thank you. This has been a lot of fun.