Having a human being set foot on the moon can probably be regarded as our most ambitious venture ever. It involved thousands of individuals and couldn’t have happened without a myriad of sub-projects and complex collaborations. It was initiated in a speech made 1961 by John F Kennedy, where he said the following:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

That’s got to be the most condensed mission statement ever, it could almost have fitted into a tweet.

I thought of that this morning when I heard Ken Sandy talking about “the death of the specification”. Ken teaches product management at UC Berkeley and is a silicon valley thought leader when it comes to all things product. He’s also a great speaker, so it’s easy to pay attention to what’s on his mind. (It’s the second time now that I hear him and I really must get around to buying his latest book)

Ken says we still need specifications but the old way of doing them doesn’t work anymore. They tend to be too long and too boring, so they get filed away and nobody really reads them. Also, they’re spoiling all the fun for the development team, because where’s the creativity in just simply executing on someone else’s blueprint for a solution?

Instead, product managers need to make themselves comfortable in the problem space and focus on providing the team with context and with a clear idea of what success looks like. They must not fall for the temptation of being prescriptive ‘backlog managers’ but instead zoom out and always make sure that the right problem is solved. They need to: “elevate the conversation to impact over specifics”. I like the sound of that.

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