By Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting
“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”—Princess Leia in Star Wars IV: A New Hope.
My wife and I realized that our wills were twenty years old and out of date. We now have a bigger house, more assets, more guitars, more jewelry. Our kids are now adults and no longer need a guardian. So we went to a lawyer who asked us our requirements.
Basically, my will is “the kids split it all”, but it took the lawyer 85 pages of legal jargon to say it. As I was proofreading the final document, I found a whole paragraph defining the number “30” and I burst out laughing. Clearly this paragraph was the result of a lawsuit. When I complained, the lawyer replied, “But remember, when the will is being disputed in court, the judge needs to understand your intentions—because you’re dead and can’t explain.”
The reason it takes 85 pages to explain “the kids split it all” is because you’re not able to explain yourself when things go wrong.
Object Lesson 1
Has this ever happened to you? You have some seemingly simple sounding product requirement that you have specified completely and without ambiguity (at least from your perspective). Yet, when the Dev team interprets it, they have many questions and in fact don’t see it as completely and unambiguously as you do? Thankfully, you’re still alive and can answer their questions.
Getting back to the will…
Over dinner, I explained the basics of the new wills to the family, that the kids would split it all, that my daughter would get Susan’s jewelry and my son would get my guitars. After all, my son Chip is a professional musician. It seemed logical that he should get my guitars. Then my daughter said, “But daddy, I want one of your guitars.” She doesn’t play but she’s been listening to me play since she was a baby.
Then the kids started arguing over which of the five guitars my daughter could have. They both wanted the one I play the most—which is also my best one. It’s a 1979 Martin HD-28. The disagreement started friendly enough—you know, kind of kidding around but not really—and then it got kind of mean. For a few days it created a wall between them until I solved the problem. I found and bought another Martin, a 1975 D-35 in pristine condition.
Object Lesson 2
You don’t know what you don’t know, until you try and find out. I couldn’t have foreseen the argument over my guitar. The desires of my children only became apparent AFTER going through the process. I then easily addressed the issue. The same is true when creating new products. We learn through experimentation — trial and error. The key is to make the errors early enough so they can be addressed BEFORE they cause real harm.
And in my case, well before the will “went live”. Pun intended.
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About the author
Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.