Product Management

The Obsession with Blockers

So much focus is lost on asking – What are the blockers? – that the organisation forgets to enable its people to do the work.

Failing to enable those that do the work is the biggest blocker in an organisation.

Product Management

4 Signs Your Business Needs a CTO

If your business involves technology and you find yourself thinking along any of the following…

  1. Let’s get a developer to do “the tech”
  2. Let’s outsource “the tech”
  3. Let’s get some software off the shelf for “the tech”
  4. Let’s get started and sort out “the tech” once we start growing

…then it is a sign that you should think about having a your business might need a CTO.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong


Let’s see what can go wrong with each of the four points.

The Technical Talent

Good technical people in your network that you can rely on is the best thing to have for your business. Otherwise, finding technical talent can be exciting if “looking for co-founder speed-dating” is your thing.
Your next best option is to get guidance from a technical lead who has been there, done that; and will

  • help making early technology decisions that fits your bill;
  • align product features or project scope with schedule and budget.

The Outsourcing Shop

Getting somebody external to build your tech – outsourcing – is a frequently favoured approach. It promises to deliver a bespoke solution, tailored to your needs, often advertised at a low cost. If you have not worked with outsourcing companies before, or if you have not managed product development with a partner before, this could be a bumpy and costly ride.
Delivering a successful project with external partners requires a great deal of preparation and dedication during the execution from your side, including

  • interview, evaluate and select partners, suppliers;
  • oversee delivery from start to finish.

The Off-the-shelf Product

Finding a suitable and affordable off the shelf product, commercial or free open source, is a great way to get started. If you have the luxury of choice, then a thorough, objective analysis of options should reveal the most fitting one.
A single package rarely meets all needs. A new set of challenges will rise from customising it, or from integrating it with additional solutions.
Circumstances could lead to considering building your own tech. It is a decision not to be taken lightly.
Mitigate the risks by getting help for

  • vendor and product selection;
  • buy versus build analysis.

The Postponed Tech

Kicking the tech decision tin can down the proverbial road tends to build up technology debt. It risks future development, innovation and growth by increasing cost, timeline and limiting scope.
Think about tech strategically, make it part of your roadmap to address technology debt.
Addressing tech at the growth stage will throw up more of the same issues described earlier with the added twist of dealing with legacy.
Avoid being limited by tech at this stage by

  • devising strategy and roadmapping early;
  • performing regular technology audits.

Making technology work to create value for your business is often not a trivial task. The runaway costs, scope creeps, schedule overruns together with unnecessary complications and complexity can be overwhelming.

If still not convinced, or cannot commit to getting a CTO on board, perhaps consider working with an interim or part-time CTO.

Early stage technology decisions will have a profound impact on your business for a long time.

Hives and Silos

Multi-Tenant Systems and Rivers

The common metaphor for multi-tenant systems is the block of flats where tenants share the building and its services (water, gar, electricity, security, etc) but each tenant may organise and furnish their flat differently.

The part – that is often left out – is where the landlord limits each tenant how much change they can make to the flats, how many guests they can invite, how much of the services they can use. These limits what make multi-tenant buildings viable by protecting the infrastructure for everyone’s benefit.

SaaS and PaaS and IaaS are good examples of shared environments where the multi-tenancy metaphor works well.
The service providers – landlords – manage these environments closely, and enforce the limits strongly. This way everybody benefits the same way and providers can maintain their service levels (SLAs).

This metaphor struggles when transitioning to the next level of abstraction – sharing resources within one tenancy.
Multiple projects, new features, updates, fixes from multiple sources draining resources within the same tenancy.

The river metaphor for a shared environment is more suitable1

Each project and feature is an industrial installation – a factory plant, a power station, or any other build directly connected to the water ways.
Well behaving projects will keep the environment clean and liveable for everybody.
Projects with weak or no governance will pollute the waterways and ruin it for themselves and everybody else. Those downstream will have to work extra hard to clean up and maintain it for the rest.

Why does the river metaphor work better?
Because the societal and policy issues better resonate with the equivalent governance issues. It emphasises the negative effects of badly managed changes as opposed to showcasing the positive effects of a well managed environment.
It highlights the need for better and stronger governance in the absence of hard limits.

1Inspired by Seth Godin’s podcast episode: The river of time

Product Management

Cost – Time – Scope

There is simplicity in the scope, time, cost trinity.

There is always more to talk about, factor in, consider.

Quality, however, is part of scope!

Product Management Tech

The Choices We Make…


You are a techie in a corporate.
The platform you are working on offers a vast range of tools and capabilities.
You find the next task/user story/requirement to work on.
You immediately think of a way to implement a solution to complete the task and tick the box.

You have choices…

  • Are you going to discuss alternative implementations with your team
  • Are you going to check if this implementation has been done somewhere else?
  • Are you going to review against the existing design standards and patterns?


  • Are you going to get it done as soon as you can to show high productivity on the dashboard?

If you are an individual contributor, your choices will be limited.

If you are managing a team, then and ask yourself – What can I do to foster the former behaviour over the latter?

Either way, if you feel conflicted about this and prefer to have you and your team showing high productivity on some dashboard, then send a link to this article to your superiors.

Product Management Tech

Challenge is Good

Designs suffer from

  • Too many – often wrong – assumptions are made
  • Quick – often uninformed – decisions made
  • Trade-offs with the decisions often not understood

Challenging these should be part of the behaviour.

People need to appreciate that they are working in a shared environment.
They should not feel interrogated or confronted, it should be natural, and they should feel comfortable discussing these.

Make it part of every design discussions.
Make time for it.
Make it part of the culture.


Portfolio Tracker

Back in 2017 Google Portfolios landed on the Google graveyard. It was a smart addition to Google Finance where you could track a portfolio and its performance over time. Even new services and migration offerings sprung up seeing the gap Google left.

If there was one function I miss, it was the interactive portfolio performance graph with benchmarks.

How hard can it be to build a portfolio tracker?

It turns out a simple one is really not that hard once you have Python and Pandas in your tool-belt.

I started with is a set of transactions in Excel.

I wanted to be able to

  • handle cash transactions,
  • handle commissions,
  • report in a foreign currency,
  • plot Google Portfolios like chart,
  • include one or more benchmarks on the chart.

I did not need a web application, so I went with the next best thing – a Jupyter notebook.

Ran Aroussi’s yfinance package for python makes it easy to grab end of day trading data including stock tickers and currency pairs.

Pandas is excellent for dealing with time-series data.

The essence of the approach is

  1. grab end of day trading data, indexed by ticker symbol, and date
  2. overlay transaction data in new columns
  3. cumulative sum the relevant columns

Plotly draws great interactive charts inside Jupyter.

The latest version of the notebook is now hosted on GitHub:designfultech/portfolio_tracker.

What’s next?

I am planning to add portfolio analysis to the notebook, something like pyfolio’s tearsheets from Quantopian.