I’ve been reading quite a bit of Michael Lopp’s work over the last couple of weeks. Certainly his thoughts on management have informed some of my recent decisions – introducing 1-2-1’s with team members, changing a meeting format from show & tell with feedback to more of a brainstorming session (with a bit of De Bono mixed in). I’ll probably talk about those some more another time.
What caught my attention this week was a chapter in his Managing Humans book about 1.0 releases (also here if you want to read the blog version. Specifically, what interested me was the Rands 1.0 Hierarchy model, since it seemed to to put a useful frame around how to think about new products. I’m going to use this post to dig a little deeper into that train of thought, by reiterating the model and running through the various layers.
The Rands 1.0 Hierarchy Model
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re already familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from which Lopp’s model is derived. If you’re not, here’s the Wikipedia article.
The Rands Model basically inverts the needs hierarchy and suggests that building a startup business is an inherently risky endeavour since everything is built upon a single point – the pitch. Consequently, the needs of the startup expand outwards as the business evolves, with the founder(s) necessarily expending the majority of their time and effort on keeping the pyramid propped up, lest it fall to one side or the other. Before you get around to the hard business of keeping it propped up though, he pyramid has to be built, layer by layer, starting with the Pitch.
The pitch is the idea or vision from which everything else is going to develop. It’s analogous to a seed which, though it may contain massive potential and one day grow into a mighty oak; it must first be fortunate enough to have been planted in good soil with plenty of water and other essential nutrients. It’s self-evident from the model that if you don’t have a strong pitch, notwithstanding the inherent instability of the inverted pyramid, you’re not going to be able to build the other supporting layers from which your product or startup business will eventually emerge.
In his article (or book), Lopp presents the idea that people are the next layer of his model, taking the view that their role is to get things moving in whatever direction is needed. What that actually looks like depends largely upon the specifics of the product or business. But Lopp draws the analogy of those people being like the kindling for a fire; a fire which presumably is going to set your product ablaze – in a good way! And, much like when building a fire, if you don’t get the kindling right, you don’t get a fire. If you have the wrong kindling, you need to go find yourself some more. It’s the same with the people with whom you’re trying to build your product, as I recently (and painfully) discovered.
Once you’ve got your pitch and some people on whom you can build further, according to the model, it’s time to start thinking about process. I’m not sure whether this is accurate or necessary, so I won’t dwell on it too much. What I did find useful about Lopp’s description of process, was that he talks about it being a tool for how your team communicates with each other. I’m pretty sure I already knew that, but it’s easy to forget as well – I think. So, it was a useful reminder.
The implication of the model is that, in order to get to your product, you have to have all of these other layers in place that support its creation and delivery. You may have an initial prototype, or even a working 1.0 version of your product which you intend to ship to market. But if you’re building a business around it, and if you want that business to scale, then you probably need to at least consider all the other layers of the model.
Inverting the Inverted Pyramid
Of course, you could argue that the pyramid would be much more stable if you just skipped straight to the product and built all the other layers on top. Inverting the inverted pyramid as it were. And interestingly, we’re in the process of running an experiment that looks somewhat like that:
How that’s going to work out is a story for another time, once the experiment is completed. Or at least somewhat further along than it is right now. It will, I’m sure, be an interesting demonstration of how you can build out new products and services once you have an existing platform from which to manoeuvre. Clearly though, there are still some instabilities, which suggest that – at least according to the dimensions of Lopp’s model – we may not have gotten things quite right.
But as we all hopefully know by now; all models are wrong. Some are useful.
What I really took away from the Rands 1.0 Hierarchy Model was the need for a strong pitch and the right people. I suppose the need for the right people stems from my recent experiences. But I imagine that one way or the other, it’s a lesson I would have needed to learn, or have reiterated to me.
The strong pitch requirement was something of a revelation. I had spent a goodish amount of time developing a product vision for a recent roadmap presentation, since I had identified from somewhere that this was a key part of the PM role – communicating the vision and making it sufficiently compelling that the rest of the team/business buys into it. I’m not sure whether I quite “nailed-it” or not, but I think I at least did a good enough job for our existing people to get behind me on plans for the future.
But that vision is for an existing product. When it comes to building out a completely new product, the lesson from Lopp’s model is that the pitch, the vision, the initial idea, concept or seed from which everything else will be born – is absolutely crucial. And since that’s [developing a new product] something I’m going to be working on some more in the coming weeks and months, it’s a lesson I can start to give some serious consideration to.
I’ve mentioned people problems a few times already, so I won’t dwell on them again. What occurs to me based on the above though, is that maybe some of my problems have stemmed from not getting the pitch quite right. Thinking this way is a bit of a stretch, if I’m honest, but it’s a possibility. In any event, really spending some time polishing and developing the pitch is not going to hurt. And it could help to make sure we attract more of the right people to our team to kindle that fire and build out all the other good stuff on top.Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.