Product Love Podcast: Steve Johnson, author of Under10 Playbook

Published Aug 7, 2018

This week on the Product Love podcast, I spoke with Steve Johnson, PM guru and CEO of the Under10 Playbook, a guide to simplifying product planning.

Steve was working in sales when he started outselling everyone at his company because of a playbook he created. When his boss noticed his performance, he was asked to train everyone on the team, which ultimately landed him a product manager position.

Years later, he created another playbook, this time for creating products, with the mantra that if you can’t do it in under ten steps, you’re making it too hard. 

Product Managers = Problem Managers

Steve believes that product managers should really be called problem managers. After all, their job is to identify customers’ existing and potential pain points. Once they do, PMs communicate those problem areas to developers, who in turn come up with technical solutions.

Steve believes this process shouldn’t be a one-off. When he works with teams, he tries to figure out how they can solve a problem systematically instead of solving it just once. It’s an opportunity to make product management a methodical and systematic craft.

PMs should understand that product management is all about the customer, not just a single customer. The role should be about finding problems and relying on the brilliance of other teams — such as engineering and marketing — to solve these problems with their own unique solutions.

Product Team Mosaic

We talked about the unrealistic expectation of hiring purple squirrels, Steve’s moniker for people who have a long list of skills that will also miraculously work for nothing. He says that instead of looking for these mythical creatures, hiring managers should look to build a mosaic, a group of people who collectively have a well-rounded skill set.

Other qualities he looks for in product people are inquisitiveness, passion, and the ability to “get shit done.”

The PM Manifesto

Is it time for a product manager manifesto? Steve suggests statements like “conversation over documentation” and “data wins over opinions” should be included if there were one (we do have one CPO’s manifesto here).

He also rejects the idea of “best practices,” arguing that they are just the most common practices, not actually the best. He advises companies to look at a variety of great methods and see what is the best fit for them.

We also compared the Waterfall method to the sixties, talked about cool products like what3words, and even listened to some of Steve’s music.