Category Archives: Clarity of Thought

From Servers, Phones, and Voice Assistants to Space…

Last week I joined my good friend  Den Delimarsky and his colleague Courtny Cotten hosted me on The Work Item podcast. “In this episode, we dive a bit deeper into Charlie’s approach to product ideation and design, discuss the importance of having a principled organization, and ask questions about his most recent adventure around space.” Czech it out here (I love that the transcript is available along with the audio): From Servers, Phones, and Voice Assistants to …Continue reading

Find the Crux by Debating Excellence

No, don’t debate excellence; become excellent at debating. “It is better to debate a decision without settling it than settling a decision without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert Vigorous debate is critical to clear thinking in an organization. Debates garner the full intelligence of an organization. For decisions of great import, rigorous debate depersonalizes the decision. People are predisposed to focus on symptoms or minutia. Arguing over extraneous details is inefficient and is often the …Continue reading

How to be a Secret Agent (of Change)

This post documents some essential tools I’ve collected in my “change toolkit”. By sharing them, I hope more leaders will become even better change agents, or at least be better at dealing with change.Continue reading

Do Your Job – Don’t Use Placeholder Text

If you are a UX designer, Software Developer, or Product Manager, and you use placeholder text anywhere but where it’s impossible to know what the content will be (user supplied) then you are doing it wrong. And you are not doing your job. I learned this from @joebelfiore: Using placeholder text defers decision making. It’s a cop-out by the person using it and gives reviewers an excuse to also not debate what’s right. It’s far …Continue reading

Open Office Hours with Charlie

Last month I offered “office hours” to anyone who wanted to chat with me. It was an experiment to see a) if interesting people would reach out, b) if I could be useful to these people, and c) if I’d be exposed to domains where I could spend more of my time in the future. All three hypotheses have turned out true. Thank you to all of you who utilized this so far! I still …Continue reading

Mechanisms

Mechanisms are complete processes built around a tool, owned by a leader that gets adopted broadly and regularly inspected and improved to ensure things get done, not because everyone has good intentions, but because the mechanism’s elements structurally force the desired behavior. “Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen.” — Jeff Bezos I’ve written previously about how Good Intentions are Never Enough and why mechanisms are needed, but I didn’t go deep into how to make mechanisms actually work. …Continue reading

Path To Green

A Path To Green (PTG) is a clear, crisp, and complete statement describing a team’s plan for getting a project from red or yellow status to green. This post describes the concept and provides some tips on how to be excellent at articulating a PTG. Organizations that routinely deliver great results hold individuals and teams accountable for delivering those results. Ensuring everyone is clear on projects’ status is key to this (e.g., is a project red, …Continue reading

Tenets

This post was inspired by a LinkedIn post by Dave Glick who was apparently the “Godfather of Tenets” at Amazon. Much of the content of this post is from notes I took in a class on Tenets at Amazon. I’ve subsequently used it to teach others how to be excellent at writing and using Tenets. Tenets are a few, carefully articulated guiding principles for a program or business area. They act as a guide for the team, …Continue reading

Have Specific Conversations, not General Conversations

If you are discussing a topic with colleagues, it’s almost always better to have a specific conversation instead of a general conversation. General Conversation Specific Conversation “We need to figure out how to scrub all open bugs.” Followed by a lot of non-specific debate… “There are 42 open bugs. 42 bugs fit on one screen in Excel. Lets look at them all right now and see if there’s a pattern.” “Customers are angry. We need …Continue reading

Taxonomy and Lexicon

How many times have you been in a heated discussion only to find out that the two sides were talking past each other because they were reading from two different dictionaries? I bet you can also remember situations where just a little more structure got everyone aligned quicker. Creating, explaining, and re-enforcing a strong Taxonomy and Lexicon is a critical skill for all leaders (reminder: everyone in our business is a leader, not just managers). Taxonomy …Continue reading

One-Way and Two-Way Doors

Effective decision making starts with understanding; in the long-term, very, very few things actually matter. The vast majority of the decisions made day-to-day are either minutia or easily reversible and can be made quickly. However, a small number of things (about 1 in 10) matter a lot (in the long term) and are worthy of serious pondering, discussion, investigation, investment, and decision making. Back when I was at Microsoft, a mentor introduced me to the pithy phrase 90% of …Continue reading

Mental Models

You’ve probably noticed people you work with who are effective at leading can frame complex ideas simply. They’ll lead conversations like this: “Well, I think there are three things we should focus on, not 15, and they are…” “Folks, I think there’s another way of looking at this problem. What if we viewed the problem through these four lenses…” A key to doing this effectively is to be conscious of the concept of Mental Models. …Continue reading

Good Intentions are Never Enough

Everyone has good intentions… Everyone WANTS to do the right thing (e.g., read the doc sent out by email the night before). But good intentions are never enough. Stuff doesn’t get done based solely on people’s good intentions. Change can’t happen based only on good intentions. What you need is a way to mechanize people’s good intentions. “Mechanisms” are the way. A Mechanism is a complete process that ensures things get done. A complete process is a ‘virtuous cycle’ that reinforces …Continue reading

Have a Plan (With Dates)

I’ve written a lot on the importance of having a plan. This week’s Leadership Principle tip doubles-down on that. Consider a status update: Bad: “The team will investigate the issue.” Good: “The team will complete the investigation of the issue by Tuesday afternoon and will share a plan for how to fix it by Thursday.” The Good version of this does a few things: It enables accountability on the next steps. It conveys the appropriate …Continue reading

Tools to Achieve Clarity of Thought

This post inventories the tools I use from my toolbox to drive clear thinking in product development. I was inspired to write this based on a Twitter conversation: The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions you ask, the more everyone gets clarity of thought. Better clarity of thought leads to better decisions. By everyone. Essentially. — Charlie Kindel (@ckindel) March 30, 2018 Charlie’s Clarity of Thought Toolbox Write …Continue reading

Clear Narratives Show Instead of Tell

This is yet-another-post on the topic of Amazon-style “six-page memos,” aka Narratives. This post focuses on the mantra: “Great narratives show, they don’t tell.” When writing things you believe to be facts, ask yourself: How do I know? How can I qualify it? Then, qualify it in your words. Tell (Bad): The BMW E28 M5 is a rare car. Show (Good): Of the 722,328 E28 5-series sedans BMW built between 1981 and 1987, only 2,191 …Continue reading

Customer, Business, Technology, Organization (CBTO)

CBTO = Customer + Business + Technology + OrganizationContinue reading

Merit Badges – A Mental Model for Success

A long-time mentor of mine, Chris Phillips, taught me the Merit Badge mental model. This mental model has given me clarity and peace of mind over the years when navigating big career decisions. What’s the Merit Badge mental model for measuring success? The concept of a Merit Badge comes from the Boy Scouts. The idea being a scout can only earn a particular merit badge (actually a patch that gets sewn onto a vest) by …Continue reading

Attention is the Currency of Leadership

Great leaders optimize how they spend their attention. They are skilled at turning up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things at the right times. Attention is the currency of leadership, and each person has a fixed amount of attention to spend. “Leaders have a fixed amount of attention units they can spend in a day, week, or year. Are you spending yours on the right things?” (A mentor …Continue reading

Have a Plan

Yesterday someone asked me to share my thoughts on the secret to building excellent things. I summarized what I know as: “Put the customer first, have a plan, create a shared mission, get early victories, remove process, and make it fun.” – me, yesterday.   This was the formula my cohorts that built the Windows Phone app platform used. It worked. This is what the small team that created www.milelogr.com did. “No battle was ever …Continue reading