Food For Thought #80: Brilliant Jerks Kill Agile Culture, Slicing User Stories, Prototyping, Scaling Product

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of February 26th, 2017—shared with 6,488 peers—focuses on brilliant jerks and the havoc they cause on culture. You may have heard of Susan Fowler and her working “experience” as a software engineer at Uber. The case is symptomatic of everything that goes wrong when building a truly inclusive, non-discriminating—and thus innovative—culture is sabotaged by the leadership.

On the product side, we dive deep into slicing & dicing of user stories, how to up your prototyping game, twelve lessons learned about product/market fit, and your organization has to scale the product team.

Last but not least: New kinds of work require new ideas—and new ways of organizing work altogether. The New York Times Magazine has more on it.

Continue reading Food For Thought #80: Brilliant Jerks Kill Agile Culture, Slicing User Stories, Prototyping, Scaling Product

How to Make Agile Work in Fast-Growing Startups

TL;DR: How to Make Agile Work in Fast-Growing Startups

From 2010 to 2017, I was working several years in three Berlin-based, fast-growing startups in my capacity as Scrum Master, agile coach, and Product Owner. These are my lessons learned on how to make ‘agile’ work in a fast-growing startup, and what anti-patterns to avoid at all costs.

How to make Agile Work in Fast-Growing Startups – Age of Product

Source: What is Agile?

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How to Align Scrum Teams

TL;DR: How to Align Scrum Teams

Do you remember the good old days when the organization started with its first Scrum team? And the new engineering kid on the block was “merely” supposed to deliver a potentially shippable product increment at the end of a sprint?

The first team was to sound the bell for the upcoming change towards a learning organization. Little did we know back then about the challenges along that route. When teams 2, 3 and 4 joined, shipping a product increment at the end of a sprint became first complicated, and then complex.

It turns out that becoming agile does not only required to create (Scrum) teams. Reaping the full benefits of becoming agile, of becoming a learning organization built around software also requires changing engineering practices. Nowadays, it is all about continuous value delivery.

Agile Transition: How to Align Scrum Teams
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The “How to Get Hired as Scrum Master or Agile Coach” Book — I Need Your Help

TL;DR: How to Get Hired as Scrum Master or Agile Coach

A few days ago, LinkedIn published the LinkedIn Data Reveals the Most Promising Jobs of 2017 report. The report lists the Scrum Master position among the “most promising jobs in America based on the potential for career advancement, job growth, and salary.”

The number of downloads of the “38 Scrum Master Interview Questions” book which already have exceeded 7,000 copies also reflect this positive trend. Hence, I thought it a good idea to write a new guide from a candidate’s perspective: “How to get hired as Scrum Master or Agile Coach.”

From the identification of a suitable agile organization via the interview process to preparing for trial day—everything will be created with the candidate’s goal in mind. However, to do so, I need feedback from you.

Hands-on Agile: How to Get Hired as Scrum Master or Agile Coach
Continue reading The “How to Get Hired as Scrum Master or Agile Coach” Book — I Need Your Help

Hiring: 42 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters

TL;DR: 42 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions That Will Benefit Your Organization

This second publication in the Hands-on Agile Fieldnotes series is focused on hiring for the Scrum Product Owner role.

42 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions Avoid Hiring Agile Imposters by Age of Product

Co-authored with Andreea Tomoiaga, 42 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions to Avoid Hiring Agile Imposters represents the most important learnings of our more than 20 years combined hands-on experience with Kanban, Scrum, XP, and several product discovery frameworks. We have worked as Scrum Product Owners, Scrum Masters, agile coaches, and developers in agile teams and organizations of all sizes and levels of maturity.

We have each participated in interviewing dozens of Scrum Product Owner candidates on behalf of our clients or employers. The questions and answers herein are what we have learned.

Continue reading Hiring: 42 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters

🎆 Age of Product’s Roadmap 2017: Ebooks, Webinars, and an Online Course

TL;DR

Happy New Year! 2016 was a very rewarding year of blogging in general and curating the ‘Food for Agile Thought’ newsletter in particular. Therefore, it is an easy decision to spend more time in 2017 on helping you to excel as an agile practitioner.

Age of Product’s roadmap 2017 is all about creating more ebooks, webinars and an online course to help you identify the right position as a Scrum Master or Product Owner. Additionally, I will also continue the ‘Agile Transition’ series on how to get started with an agile transition.

2017 Roadmap: Ebooks, Webinars, Online Course
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Agile Metrics—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

TL;DR: Agile Metrics

Suitable agile metrics reflect either a team’s progress in becoming agile or your organization’s progress in becoming a learning organization.

At the team level, qualitative agile metrics typically work better than quantitative metrics. At the organizational level, this is reversed: quantitative agile metrics provide better insights than qualitative ones.

Continue reading Agile Metrics—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Agile Workspace: The Undervalued Success Factor — Agile Transition (Part 4)

TL;DR: Agile Workspace Means Choice Among a Diversity of Spaces

If you want your organization to become agile, adding more whiteboards to the workspace will not suffice. You have to abandon the idea that the workspace is an assembly line for white-collar workers. You need to let go Taylorism. We are now in the age of the creative worker.

To become agile – and reap its benefits such as becoming more innovative –, you need a diversity of workspaces to support all forms of creative work: focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize. Also, you have to let your creative workers choose which space is best suited for a task.

Continue reading Agile Workspace: The Undervalued Success Factor — Agile Transition (Part 4)

Three Designs for the New Scrum Comic — Which One Do You Prefer?

Introducing Age of Product’s New Scrum Comic

After three weeks in the making, it’s my pleasure to present you with three designs of our first Scrum comic strip. Each of the designs is a different visualization of one of the 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions:

A user story is lacking the final designs, but the design department promises to deliver on day #2 of the upcoming sprint. The product owner of your Scrum team is fine with that and pushed to have the user story in the sprint backlog. What is your take?

Continue reading Three Designs for the New Scrum Comic — Which One Do You Prefer?

You’re Invited: Join Our ‘Hands-on Agile’ Slack Team

TL;DR: Join the ‘Hands-on Agile’ Slack Team

I would like to invite you to join for free Age of Product’s new “Hands-on Agile” Slack team and enjoy the benefits of a fast-growing, 600+ strong community of agile peers from all corners of the world.

Hands-on Agile: Join Age of Product’s new Slack channel
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The Big Picture of Agile: How to Pitch the Agile Mindset to Stakeholders

TL;DR: The Big Picture of Agile

Let’s face it: While your enthusiasm for the big picture of agile practices is admirable, your stakeholders will most likely be moved by one thought only at the beginning of the transition: “What’s in for me? How will I now have my requirements delivered?”.

Read on and learn about one way how to kick-off the transition to a learning organization by pitching a simplified version the big picture of agile practices to your stakeholders first.

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How to Build Offline Boards – Agile Transition (Part 3)

TL;DR: On the Benefits of Offline Boards

Offline boards lift a team’s level of collaboration significantly. They are great information radiators for stakeholders, and they massively benefit from the psychology of getting haptic. Learn the best practices of getting started with your own offline boards in this third post of our series on how to kick-off an agile transition.

Age of Product: Agile Transition - How to create offline boards Agile transition part 3

Note: see the latest version of the board below.

Continue reading How to Build Offline Boards – Agile Transition (Part 3)

Product Backlog Refinement — Agile Transition Part 2

Product Backlog Refinement—TL;DR

Where to start when kicking-off an agile transition?

Usually, tools and processes are smallest the common denominator among all participants, as they are at the core of the grand scheme of agile things.

It is a rare occasion that you start from scratch with a brand-new team without an existing product, probably even in a more or less nascent organization, for example a startup.

In most cases, an existing product delivery organization with available products, and services will go “agile“. In this case, turning attention to the available product backlog is a pragmatic first step. The following process describes what aspects need to be attended to to optimize the outcome.

Continue reading Product Backlog Refinement — Agile Transition Part 2

Peer Recruiting: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times

TL;DR

Peer Recruiting is the new hiring: Shortly, all creative, technology-based organizations will need to abandon the command & control structures that served the industrial world of the 20th century so well. Instead, they will reorganize themselves around autonomous teams to deal with the complexity and pace of innovation of the 21st century.

In such an agile world, recruiting will become a team decision, and the role of the human resources department will change into a supportive one. Recruiters will need to become servant leaders or facilitators, guiding the peer recruiting process.

The following guide to peer recruiting is based on my experience in participating in the recruiting of such team members with Scrum-related roles over the last five years. This first article will cover the Scrum master role.

Continue reading Peer Recruiting: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times

Lean User Tests – Equipment and Location (Part 4 of 7)

TL;DR

This fourth part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on equipment and location: What hard- and software do you need to run your user tests, and where to run them? (Spoiler alert: It’s preferably not your office.)

How are your preparations progressing? If anything is impeding you from reaching this goal, please do not hesitate to contact me by commenting this post, and I will gladly help you.

Continue reading Lean User Tests – Equipment and Location (Part 4 of 7)

10 Proven Stakeholder Communication Tactics during an Agile Transition

TL;DR

Stakeholder communication: It is simply not enough for an agile product development organization to create great code and ship the resulting product like a clockwork. You also need to talk about it, particularly in the beginning of your agile transition. Marketing the agile journey of product and engineering to the rest of the organization—and thus getting their buy-in—is a critical success factor to step up the game: You want to become agile, not “do agile”.

So, learn more about ten proven stakeholder communications tactics that contribute to making this happen.

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How to Kick-off Your Agile Transition (Part 1)

Agile Transition—TL;DR

A hands-on, practical guide on how to kick-off an agile transition: Embrace the agile mindset and scale your engineering and product organization to harvest your organization’s full potential.

How to Kick off Your Agile Transition: Scrum Team #1 – Age of Product
Continue reading How to Kick-off Your Agile Transition (Part 1)

Lean User Tests – Inviting Interviewees (Part 3 of 7)

This part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on selecting and inviting interviewees: Who is a suitable candidate, how to invite them and why you will need replacement candidates.

You should now be around three to four weeks away from your next—or first—user test. If anything is impeding you from reaching that goal, please do not hesitate to contact me by commenting this post, and I will gladly help you.

Continue reading Lean User Tests – Inviting Interviewees (Part 3 of 7)

Scrum Master Anti Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom (or Scrum Pop)

Disclaimer: Of course, this post is in no way intended to be gender-specific. In my experience, there is no difference between the Scrum pop and the Scrum mom. This post is all about the emerging trend of Scrum helicopter parenting.

Beware of the Scrum Mom

Trying to be supportive and do good, is most of the time an honorable thing. This is particularly true in your capacity as a Scrum master. However, doing too much good can quickly have the opposite effect. It’s a known Scrum anti-pattern, often referred to as the Scrum mom syndrome.

Read on to learn more about its manifestations, and the damage to your team caused by being overly protective.

Age of Product: Scrum Master Anti Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom
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20 Questions from New Scrum Master to Product Owner

From Scrum master to product owner, this set of questions addresses the future collaboration between the both and the rest of the team. The questions have been modeled after some basic principles, that high performing teams have in common. (You can read more on this topic in Marty Cagan’s post Product Success.)

20 Questions to Ask the Product Owner to Get up to Speed as a New Scrum Master

This post is following up on the previous post 20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed.

This set of questions is intended for a first talk between product owner and Scrum master without involving the whole Scrum team.

Continue reading 20 Questions from New Scrum Master to Product Owner

Lean User Tests – How to Find the Right Candidates (Part 2 of 7)

This part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on acquiring the right candidates for the interviews, answering questions like:

  • How many applicants are required to fill an interview slot?
  • How to reach out to prospective candidates among your user base?
  • How to set up the application form?

There are differences in approaching candidates in the B2B versus the B2C space. However, the following general principles apply to all user interviews.

Continue reading Lean User Tests – How to Find the Right Candidates (Part 2 of 7)

Lean User Testing – How to Run User Tests Successfully: The ‘Why’ Question

User tests…

In a world where data-driven decision making is often prevalent, some people feel uncomfortable with agile methodologies as those provide only a few useful metrics. One of those few, however, is the cycle time from idea to shipping a valuable product increment to your customers.

If you want to optimize this metric for your organization, speeding up your product discovery process is essential. And this requires two things: a) rapid prototyping and b) people to test your prototypes with. That’s the main reason why running user tests continuously is so important.

Learn how to best organize and run user tests in this series of six blog posts. Today, we start with answering the “why” question and what huge benefits user tests will provide to your product discovery and delivery process.

Continue reading Lean User Testing – How to Run User Tests Successfully: The ‘Why’ Question

Product Roadmap Failure: Stop Setting Them Up To Fail

TL;DR

When dealing with product roadmap failure, stop debating whether you are doing product roadmaps “right”, or whether roadmaps are evil. Look instead at the job you are hiring your roadmap to achieve. And then ask if the roadmap is the best tool for the job.

TOC

  • 14 Common Product Roadmap Failures
  • A Summary of Almost all Methodology Debates on Twitter
  • Roadmap Needs and Being Awesome

New to Product Management? What is a product roadmap? For a standard definition see here.

Continue reading Product Roadmap Failure: Stop Setting Them Up To Fail

Why Agile Turns into Micromanagement

Agile turns into micromanagement as a result of the middle management’s resistance to change. Despite better knowledge, changing an organization into a learning one, that embraces experimentation and failure is not in the best interest of everybody. Self-organizing, empowered teams often conflict with the middle management’s drive to execute on personals agendas.

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Why Engineers Despise Agile

The agile consulting industry repackages an originally human-centered, technology-driven philosophy into a standardized, all-weather project-risk mitigating methodology. Sold to command & control organizations, their middle managers turn “Agile” into a 21. century adoption of Taylorism for knowledge workers. Beyond this meta-level, the reasons, why engineers despise Agile, fall into five categories: Control, manipulation, monitoring, technology and teamwork.

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Cargo Cult Agile: The ‘State of Agile’ Checklist for Your Organization

You want to know the state of agility in your organization? Here we go: Download the checklist, distribute it generously among your colleagues and run a quick poll. It will only take 5 minutes of their time–and then run an analysis on their feedback. If the average number of checkboxes marked is higher than nine, then you are probably practicing cargo cult agile. Consider changing it. Or abandon your agile experiment all together. But don’t refer to it as “agile” any longer.

Everyday Failures in Applying Agile

Agile methodologies, like Scrum, have been on the rise across organizations of all kind and sizes for some years by now. Many consultants responded to the increasing demand for agile practitioners, particularly from corporate organizations, with rebranding themselves.

Continue reading Cargo Cult Agile: The ‘State of Agile’ Checklist for Your Organization

Customer Care as a Litmus Test for Innovation and Agile Change

Customer care as entity, its function and status within a company, can act as a good litmus test for a company’s culture, its product management, and thus its potential for innovation and agile change.

If customer care is regarded solely as a cost center that needs to be outsourced, agile change is unlikely to happen in that organization.

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20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed

20 questions for you — the new Scrum master — that fit into a 60 minutes time-box. Start learning how the new Scrum team is currently working and get up to speed. Download an easy printable template for your convenience.

Start Learning the Ropes in 60 Minutes

I was recently asked to participate in the product backlog grooming of a team that was looking for a new Scrum master. I was skeptical in the beginning. I had only limited knowledge about the project—a commercial website based on a CMS—, the grooming session was time-boxed to 60 minutes, and I hadn’t met the team members before beyond a very brief “hello”.

So, I prepared a questionnaire with topics I wanted to learn more about, and listened to the team grooming several user stories asking questions from the list when appropriate. Surprisingly, the insights turned out to be much more qualified than I expected. Particularly, the low-hanging (user story and Scrum improvement) fruits could be identified rather easily.

Continue reading 20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed

Hiring: 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters

Scrum Master Hiring: Demand Creates Supply and the Job Market for Agile Practitioners is No Exception

Image from age-of-product.com

Maybe, “Agile” in general is a management fad and not trend at the moment. But what we can say for sure is that Scrum has become very popular for software development purposes. A seasoned Scrum master is nowadays in high demand. And that demand causes the market-entry of new professionals from other project management branches, probably believing that reading one or two Scrum books will be sufficient.

If you are looking to fill a position for a Scrum master (or agile coach) in your organization, you may find the following 38 interview questions useful to identify the right candidate. They are derived from my ten years of practical experience with XP as well as Scrum, serving both as Product owner and Scrum master as well as interviewing dozens of Scrum master candidates on behalf of my clients.

Continue reading Hiring: 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters

App Prototyping with Absolute Beginners – Agile Experiments

Yes, even absolute beginners can prototype an app. And learn a lot about product management, product design and user experience along the way. It is a low cost exercise that will greatly improve communication within your organization.

Intro: Why Organize an App Prototyping Workshop?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “No More LEGO® At Agile Workshops – I Am Tired Of Building Airports” expressing my annoyance with the common practice of exercises in workshops that use an inappropriate means in my eyes. I also promised to experiment with an alternative: Building app prototypes, utilizing one of the many prototyping apps in the market. And here is what I have learned over three workshops into this experiment.

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7 Best Practices on How to Build a Product Roadmap

It’s Roadmap Building Time Again!

The end of 2015 is nearing and it’s product roadmap building time again—at least for those companies that are still dedicated to the old command-and-control model. In the next few weeks, execs and (key) stakeholders will come together and define what needs to be built to meet business demands in 2016. So, here are the seven best practices on how to build product roadmaps the agile way.

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Welcome to the Agile Clinic – Our New LinkedIn Group For Agile Change

Let’s Fix Agile

When I wrote the Agile Failure Patterns In Organizations post in October, I could not anticipate the feedback it would receive: Over 80 comments on the Hacker News thread and almost 15,000 readers on the blog and additional channels like DZone or Business2Community.

Continue reading Welcome to the Agile Clinic – Our New LinkedIn Group For Agile Change

Scrum: The Obsession with Commitment Matching Velocity

The Fine Line Between Risk Mitigation and Falling Back into Covering Your Butt

The team hasn’t met its commitments once. Not once.

The atmosphere was becoming thicker by the minute. The management was displeased with the progress of the project and was looking for answers, starring at a bunch of Jira charts, I prepared earlier. “How can we claim that we are working in Scrum mode, if the team is not sticking with the rules?”

Throughout the majority of projects I have been working on I could observe an obsession with burn-down charts and other Scrum metrics, mainly team commitments. And as a consequence, a side product of backlog grooming, estimation and sprint planning is elevated to the most important management indicator that “Agile” works: The team’s commitment is matching or outperforming its average velocity.

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Ebookmakr Failure: The Fallacy of Knowing What to Build – The Post Mortem

Executive Summary – Lessons Learned from Ebookmakr’s Failure:

  1. Love the problem more than your solution.
  2. Don’t push too far your dreams of China in your hand.
  3. Use prototyping tools such as Marvel when running user interviews. (More here: Four Lessons Learned From Making Customer Value Your Priority.)
  4. Be careful with the selection process for user interviews: You might end up picking those that will support your vision – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy trap.
  5. Beware of false positives in user interviews.
  6. Never start writing a single line of code before an appropriate number of customers signed up. (For clarification: Customers are paying users.)
  7. Never spend money on developing a prototype when you’re not working full-time on growing the user-base and increasing customer value.
  8. Be patient and give your product the time it needs.
  9. Always make branded t-shirts and wear them later regularly to preserve the recollection of the disaster. (See below.)
Continue reading Ebookmakr Failure: The Fallacy of Knowing What to Build – The Post Mortem

Four Lessons Learned From Making Customer Value Your Priority

Building a valuable, useable and feasible product does not happen overnight. These are my four core learnings from focusing on customer value, looking back at the projects I have been pursuing over the years.

Lessons Learned #1: Customers Don’t Know What They Want. And You Cannot Just Ask Them.

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
Continue reading Four Lessons Learned From Making Customer Value Your Priority

Agile Failure Patterns in Organizations

Why Agile is Simple and Complex at the Same Time

Who wouldn’t agree that the four core principles of the Agile Manifesto

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

— aren’t derived from applying common sense to a serious problem?

That the application of those principles might be suited to fix numerous organizational dysfunctions and reduce an error-prone and complex social setting to maybe just a complicated one?

Continue reading Agile Failure Patterns in Organizations

No More LEGO® at Agile Workshops – I am Tired of Building Airports

How I Have Been Practicing Processes in Recent Agile Workshops

During the last 12 months, I participated in three inspiring workshops–I enjoyed all of them:

All of those agile workshops used LEGO® more or less heavily as a training ground to build a “product”, for example, to practice basic Scrum techniques such as organizing and running a sprint.

So, I was building airports…

Continue reading No More LEGO® at Agile Workshops – I am Tired of Building Airports

Food For Thought #79: Agile Tribes, Overcoming Waterfall, Prototype, Learn, and Iterate, Fear of Failure

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of February 19th, 2017—shared with 6,371 peers—focuses on how to create agile tribes by building great teams in a simple yet compelling framework, and thus overcome the waterfall legacy of established organizations.

We also dive deep into how to identify the right product, product increment, or feature: from hypotheses, via validation, to delivery.

Last but not least: We learn that failure itself is no longer an option but the goal. That the fear of failure is the enemy of innovation, and how the universal income thus might help becoming more innovative. (Star Trek. Finally.)

Continue reading Food For Thought #79: Agile Tribes, Overcoming Waterfall, Prototype, Learn, and Iterate, Fear of Failure

Food For Thought #78: Agile Enterprise, Spotify, What is Teal, Product Discovery, Dilbert on Agile

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of February 12th, 2017—shared with 6,242 peers—focuses on the agile enterprise: from where the return on investment is, via balancing autonomy and accountability at Spotify, to being agile with distributed teams.

We also dive deep into product discovery and its evolution over the last 20 years, why large teams tend to fail on building great products, and why product roadmaps are still a nascent trend.

Last but not least: We enjoy the transcript of the Slack AMA with Spotify’s former VP of Product, and we silently enjoy browsing this week’s Dilbert comics.

Continue reading Food For Thought #78: Agile Enterprise, Spotify, What is Teal, Product Discovery, Dilbert on Agile

Food For Thought #77: Team Building, Feedback, Guerilla Research, Career Limiting Steps, UX Survey 2017

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of February 5th, 2017—shared with 6,508 peers—focuses on team building, how to provide feedback to hardly bearable teammates, and why radical candor is good for business and your soul. Be warned, though, transparency has a dark side, too.

We also dive deep into how the best product teams evolve beyond Agile and Lean, how to utilize guerilla research to create excellent products, and what anti-patterns to avoid if you are pursuing a career in product management.

Last but not least: We discuss patterns and ethics of how today’s technology seeks to manipulate us.

Continue reading Food For Thought #77: Team Building, Feedback, Guerilla Research, Career Limiting Steps, UX Survey 2017