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Blaine: Tell us how you got to where you are today before we talk a little more about Mironov Consulting, how did you get to be such an expert in the art and science of product management?
Rich: I'd love to tell you it was a plan and that I had mapped out all the steps. Of course, it never works out that way. The very short version of this is I was at my third startup I think in 2001. It wasn't really going at all well and I quit to take a little time off. It turned out that was September 1st of 2001. Anybody who remembers that month knows that the world changed a lot on September 11th.
So, on September 12th, it turned out I was a consultant because I had a mortgage on a house in Silicon Valley and a daughter who wanted to go to college and no income. That's pretty much the definition of the consultant. [laughter] So, I hung out my shingle to figure out what I could do and really have been focusing on software product management up the stack since then. That's almost 18 years now of mostly solo work.
“I see most traditional companies, instead of becoming software companies, are going to fail to become software companies and we won't remember their names anymore. I'll give you a good example here. This is a slow-moving process until it catches you and it's over.”
- Rich Mironov
Blaine: Satya Nadella from Microsoft said, "Every business will become a software business." Talk a little bit more about that. Are you seeing that companies fundamentally need to embrace this?
Rich: I think it's really hard. If you've been running an airline for the last 20 or 30 years and you think mostly about fuel, gates, on-time arrivals, how much luggage goes into the hold, whether it's balanced left to right/front to back, the idea that a piece of software could dramatically transform your business is alien.
I see most traditional companies, instead of becoming software companies, are going to fail to become software companies and we won't remember their names anymore. I'll give you a good example here.
I did some work seven years ago at a great, great little den startup company called Wealthfront which has automated the problem of investment portfolios. You can put your 401k money in there and their very, very smart algorithm will rebalance your portfolio every night and do all the tax loss harvesting and do all the things that humans find difficult at something like one sixteenth of the cost that Merrill Lynch charges you for bad service. They wear nice suits and nice shoes and they have offices and you can go meet with them, but if you're in the millennial generation, honestly, those are points against, not points for.
Wealthfront and its cohort of what they call "robo advisors", we will discover in 15 more years that they completely ate the investment market, but the Merrill Lynches of the world honestly won't feel the pain for 10 more years because they're still trying to sell to 40 and 50 and 60-year-olds who already have savings for retirement. They're missing the next wave of everybody who doesn't want to do it that way and overpay for bad service and product.
This is a slow-moving process until it catches you and it's over.
Blaine: You seem to be putting out a bit of a message of despair for legacy companies that are trying to become something as a service companies and they don't buy software or am I misreading?
Rich: Well, I think the point is that it's hard and most of the digital transformation efforts that I see or that I am involved with don't work out well because they're trying to put some software icing onto some other major business instead of rethinking how real users want to interact in the world.
Blaine: Any final takeaways or tips for business leaders that are trying to figure out how to more effectively use product management as a way to transform the business?
Rich: I think, particularly around digital transformations, if I put my leader hat on and say, "How do I push for good outcomes and good results through my product management engineering team, but in general?" One of the two for me is every time somebody proposes a really big project, I want to come back and ask what we could do in three weeks or six weeks that's really small that shows measurable improvement, that proves out a theory and if it's wrong, we didn't waste a lot of time and money.
Every time somebody wants an 18-month greenfield restructuring of some application, I think it's a mistake. And likewise, when I'm sitting with my product and engineering and digital teams, I think we want to first ask the question of "What did we learn last week?" before we ask the question of "When am I going to get a particular deliverable?".
Because if what we learned last week was that deliverable is going to be of little value, then it lets us ask the correct follow on question which is, "Why are we still working on that thing? Shouldn't we cancel it for a better choice?" The whole agility thing is about business thinking and business choices in the three to six to eight week phase. If you can't get something good out of eight weeks, I would go back and chop it smaller.
Those interested in hearing more of Rich's insights should follow him on Twitter @richmironov and also check out his Web site and blog at mironov.com. And of course, search for his book, “The Art of Product Management”on Amazon or wherever you buy your books. You can reach out to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.