Focus on manageable iterations, not stakeholder proclivities.

Product Owners are often leading discussions around strategy, championing their development. Navigating these conversations can be tricky with many stakeholders and personalities. Harder still, Product Owners must reconcile various approaches — often in real-time — during strategy meetings.

I’ve noticed there are two predominant voices during strategy development; the Visionary and the Tactician. Watching for and recognizing these voices is crucial as both can be unproductive when shaping an actionable strategy.

Visionaries and executives talk about far-off long-term results. But long-term outlooks are often too speculative to be actionable. Discussing big results overlooks the work required to get there. It…


Are you dying to help customers?

The best gift a great product can give to its customers is surviving long enough to continue serving them.

There is never enough time and always far too many great ideas when building a product. Good teams are able to use heuristics or basic reasoning to weed out unworthy features. But this isn’t enough.

Photo by mark glancy from Pexels

Beneath these clear decisions are trickier ideas I’ll call “convenience features.” These kinds of features masquerade as valuable and low cost. But, in fact, they are unnecessary and costly to maintain.

These features merely help users while adding bloat to your codebase and shortening your runway…


Use informal celebrations to keep your team focused.

Teams don’t always work on the right thing at the right time. If feature X would benefit customers but the team is working on Z, they are working on the wrong thing.

I call this “team drift.” (I use this term instead of “scope creep” which implies helplessness — teams can absolutely solve this problem.)

On the surface, it seems as simple as, “Don’t work on Y, work on Z.” But solving adjacent problems is often necessary. When the necessary work is part of the main thing there exists a “team drift” trap. …


Change always happens mid-stream but where does it start?

The low point for me as a teen drummer arrived early on when I prematurely joined a band. One night on stage I started horribly wrong. The band leader quickly realized the situation was unrecoverable and simply turned around and yelled “Just!… Stop!... Playing!”

Change must happen mid-song or mid-course or it’s not change. It’s never easy, never a straight path, never ego-centric, and never perfectly articulated. Change is utilitarian, brash, unrefined, blurry, audacious… Messy.

These characteristics make it problematic to consider the topic of change in terms of formula or…


Within your team, there is an epic struggle for mindshare between the two big players in your Product’s world; engineers and users. And they see the world very differently.

Achieving mutual respect is important. One bellwether for knowing who’s winning the struggle is how data is being displayed. More specifically, whether or not your data display says more about the database or the user.

Here’s the clearest (and, sadly, most common) example:

No one does this. You shouldn’t either.

If you were to watch someone address an envelope with data labels you’d probably be struck by how silly it is. Everyone knows what an address looks like!


Groundbreaking inventions are super boring.

I was lying on my back watching the sky over the abandoned factories of Rochester, NY. A friend and I had decided to spend a week brainstorming ideas that would transform the world and make us rich. No client work, only brainstorming — full time… for a week. It was Friday and our exhaustion seemed to make our lying belly-up all the more appropriate.

Back at the office our whiteboard had a plan for dethroning DeBeers. We would build a diamond exchange to democratize the insular and monopolistic industry. We had insider knowledge, done research, and leveled a sound approach…


The broken promise of listicles

Ever notice the ubiquity of list-driven how-to articles? So-called listicles? I have and they’re wrong. Every last one of them.

When I was young and starting my first business John C. Maxwell rocked my world with his savvy wisdom. He and Steven Covey helped ignite this whole sub-lit firestorm with their odd-numbered “something or other” titles. They were wildly popular and I read every one. And they were helpful.

A few years later I was talking to a mentor of mine who casually mentioned that he’d thrown away his list books. Wait, what? Sacrilege! Why?

Because he explained, he’d had…


Blind spots are the cause of every project train wreck.

The project was careening towards a cliff. The technical debt was accumulating, the money was running out and the client was making larger and more distracting changes. At the same time the research and background was inscrutable. The specifications were detailed and vouched for. Expectations were set and reenforced with everyone agreeing enthusiastically with the project vision. Apparently none of that mattered.

I doubled down, vowing to figure out what was really going on no matter what. …


The sprawling camp that delayed a transcontinental pipeline for months drew people from around the country to stand up to the government.

DECEMBER 19, 2016 — Near Bismarck, ND: “Water is Life” is the breaking chant of Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. It’s part of the daily water ceremony at the Cannonball River. It’s said during protest. It’s an appropriate response of agreement. It can be a statement, a greeting, a prayer, or all these simultaneously.

Oceti Sakowin Camp is a sprawling network of roads, shelters and people. The itinerant composition makes the camp unwieldy but for a core base of residents. Over the 5 days from Dec 1–5 I witnessed campsites that were recently abandoned…


If there were such a thing as a business horror movie it’d probably start calm and cheery as 2014 did for me and my small business. There was money, great clients and everyone was getting along. Conversations tended to focus on our personal lives and the wonderful projects we were tackling to change the world. If anything life was actually a little too good.

The reality was that even though our clients were well served our business was neglected. We were focused on delivering great software and had passed the core of the business into the arms of a Certified…

Mark Ovaska

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.

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