Jeetu Patel on the importance of having product principles
Feb 23 2021
Gordan Ramsey is a famed multi-michelin star chef, but he’s also kind of a jerk. For those of you don’t know, he hosted a show called Kitchen Nightmares where he’d go into a failing restaurant and turn it around with the owners, which of course sounds great, but it always involved two or three screaming tyraids by Ramsey about the owners being complete idiots.
Charitably this was done, of course, to try and make for good television and shock the owners out of complacency and into action. After watching more episodes than I’d probably like to admit, you start to notice a clear theme. Basically all of the restaurant owners had endlessly complicated menus, didn’t focus on customer value or satisfaction, and didn’t rally their team to be successful.
Gordon would come in and simplify, he’d reprioritize, and ultimately renovate, giving the owners new found hope and a playbook for being successful.
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Although mostly not as volatile, the best product people that I have ever met or worked with are just like Gordon Ramsey. They’re fiercely opinionated, but they’re constantly also walking this tightrope between uncertainty and intense conviction. It’s actually probably one of the most psychologically scarring jobs in tech, because you need to make the complex seem simple, you need to gather ideas like a democracy, but make product choices like a dictator, and do all of this while trying to be a mind reader of sometimes, the most fickle customers.
It’s tough, and that’s why I’m so excited to bring you today’s interview with Jeetu Patel, who leads up product now at Cisco and previously, as well as when this interview was recorded, was the Chief Product Officer over at Box. We were lucky enough to go deep on product with him, especially since he’s balanced both scaling and making decisions amongst tradeoffs with grace and aplomb.
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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.
What are product principles?
Product principles are the fundamental values that directly impact every decision or action the product team makes and takes. They’re a set of guidelines or rules where the decisions and/or actions your product team makes can be checked against to ensure you’re building toward the right objectives.
Why is it important?
Product principles are important to have and build into your company so that everyone is working with and toward those same principles. They help create alignment and serve as a guide—your product teams are still able to have autonomy, but they’re following the same set of principles as the rest of the company.
Schedule a time to discuss your company’s current product strategy to see what’s working and what’s not. More importantly, to see where there’s misalignment.
What to do next quarter:
Once you’ve discussed your current product strategy and/or principles, work on developing your own set of product principles, or improving your existing set of principles. Depending on your company and the type of product you provide, the set of product principles you establish or update, should be aligned to what your company is working toward. Next, work toward instilling them into your product team, and into the culture overall.
To help you get started, we’ve included a set of product principles followed by Jeetu Patel himself, as well as the tradeoffs associated with them.
Product principle 1: Protect customers’ data above all else
Product principle 2: Make content better
Product principle 3: Be exceptionally simple
Tradeoff: Feature density.
Product principle 4: Build horizontal software for the masses
Tradeoff: Industry specialization.
Product principle 5: Focus on building out network effects
Tradeoff: Tech scalability issues, as well as time.
Product principle 6: Think 10X
Tradeoff: Quick iteration and releases.
Product principle 7: Partner deeply. Don’t underestimate the power of neutrality
Tradeoff: Loss of neutrality.
What to do within the next year:
After establishing or improving your set of product principles. Commit to them and follow them. Utilize these principles for all decisions prior to moving forward with building out any updates, new features, or new products. Continuously evaluate your output as a result of implementing these principles to ensure the outcome is aligned with what you want your company to be.
Who should own this?
All product people.
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By Patrick Campbell
Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.