December 27, 2022

The 2nd Adam Thomas Hypothesis: Survival Metrics Guide Profitable Products that Matter to People

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we cover what led Adam Thomas to develop Survival Metrics, what they are, and how to use them.

The 2nd Adam Thomas Hypothesis: Survival Metrics Guide Profitable Products that Matter to People

What can we learn by following our curiosity, embracing the unknown, and creating amidst chaos? This is the question that propels Adam Thomas’s career as a technologist, product expert, and all-around thinker and creator. His answer so far? We can learn that our potential is limitless and we have an amazing array of options for living, working, and playing better.

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we cover what led Adam to develop Survival Metrics, what they are, and how to use them.

Subscribe for the full episode on Apple, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube and more. Love what you hear? Leave us a review, it means a lot.

Resource Links

Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

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Questions we explore in this episode

What are Survival Metrics and why should we care?

  • Adam has developed survival metrics in response to a trend he sees growing in product management: the focus on delivering features above all else.
  • Survival metrics is a framework to help you understand and apply strategy using sensing metrics that help you decide whether to stop, pivot, or invest
  • A focus on building products that people want that drives profit which can sustain a company through a downturn
  • It starts with understanding who buys your product and who uses your product - talking to actual customers

How do we apply Survival Metrics?

  • Move from vanity metrics to sensing metrics, which are time-bound, contextualized with a guiding policy, and tied to the strategy
  • On top of the sensing metric, there’s a stop, pivot, or invest statement, to make sure the next action is super clear
  • Create a cultural engine where your team can make good decisions that move the product forward

Why does Adam ask product managers how many disagreements they’ve been in this week?

  • Disagreement is an investigation that illuminates how we have different contexts
  • The tension of disagreement is healthy
  • Some of the best product managers have the willingness to be wrong in order to get to the truth

Quotes from Adam Thomas in this episode

Survival metrics is really a framework to help you understand strategy - applied strategy - and then to apply that strategy through using sensing metrics that have the actions tied to them of stop, pivot and invest to get you out of this feeling, to help you avoid this sunk cost and other cognitive biases that push people to do that thing we just talked about, which is go to release things every two sprints or release things every sprint, and really releasing things that don't matter all the time.
Disagreement is an investigation if you have the same goal. And so where most product managers miss the mark and really teams miss the mark is they shy away from that tension because they don't ever want to feel like they're wrong. And one thing I've seen from some of the most impactful product managers I've worked with, seen, coached, been around is they have such a willingness to be wrong. They have such a want to get to the actual truth of the thing.
Once you release something, it gets super duper expensive to claw it back. But what's even more expensive? Keeping it around.
If a culture is too damaging to you, you should leave. So just before I tell you anything that I'm about to tell you, if you're a listener, if it's bad and you can't sleep, leave, leave. It's not worth it. It's really not worth it. Because every time I've stayed at a job that was... I stayed too long, the health results that just... I look back on it and say, "Why did I do that to myself?"

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Holly Hester-Reilly: Hey Holly here. Before we dive into this week's episode, I wanted to share some information with you about some workshops that we're running. Here at H2R Product Science, we love to teach workshops, both public workshops, private workshops at companies, and even an online workshop for people who can't come to see us in person. If you're interested in learning how to identify the right products and features to build and how to develop the support to do so with the product science method, come and join us. You can learn more at, and welcome to the Product Science Podcast, where we're helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams, and companies through real conversations with people who have tried it and aren't afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I'm your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science.Welcome back to the Product Science Podcast. This week I am doing a second interview with Adam Thomas. Adam is the principal at Approaching One, and what Adam likes to think about is what can we learn by following our curiosity, embracing the unknown, and creating amidst chaos? This is the question that propels Adam Thomas's career as a technologist, product expert, and all around thinker and creator. His answer so far, we can learn that our potential is limitless and we have an amazing array of options for living, working and playing Better. Welcome, Adam.

Adam Thomas: Thank you, Holly. I'm happy to be back.

Holly Hester-Reilly: I'm so glad to have you back. So let's dive right in. We talked ahead of time about doing a conversation around survival metrics, and I think the time has never been better. So let's jump into that. What are survival metrics and why should we care?

Adam Thomas: Sure. So survival metrics, it is an intellectualizing of my hatred of what a lot of product management has become recently. And what that is, is people that have heard people like Marty Cagan talk about feature factory-ing, and they now seem to do it even more. They seem to be launching into it even more. And I think the culprit of that is the fact that teams are defaulting to this idea of go. Everyone needs to put out products. They have bastardized the agile process to mean we need to release things every two weeks regardless of what is happening, and we don't need to talk to anybody because our focus is delivery. Delivery equals success. And so my idea of survival metrics and what I'm hoping for people to get out of it is you don't need to do that.

Holly Hester-Reilly: You don't.

Adam Thomas: You don't. In fact, you'll be better off if you don't do that. And so the definition of survival metrics is, it's really a framework to help you understand strategy, applied strategy, and then to apply that strategy through using sensing metrics that have the actions tied to them of stop, pivot and invest to get you out of this feeling to help you avoid this sunk cost and other cognitive biases that push people to do that thing we just talked about, which is go to release things every two sprints or release things every sprint, and really releasing things that don't matter all the time.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah, releasing things that don't matter is useless. Why do people do it?

Adam Thomas:I have an idea of why. And I think that why is we've been trained by, I think, another bastardization, which is the bastardization of Steve Jobs reality distortion field. And for those who don't know, Steve Jobs reality distortion field was a term coined by Walter Isaacson and his biography of Steve Jobs. And what that meant was Steve Jobs would go into Apple and he would make the impossible possible, and he would just work people by putting on this reality distortion field. He would basically [inaudible 00:03:53] people into following him.

Holly Hester-Reilly:What? We don't know anybody who does that today, right?

Adam Thomas:No.

Holly Hester-Reilly:There's nobody out there who makes people follow him in a distorted reality.

Adam Thomas:No. And they didn't buy any social networks. I don't know. I couldn't imagine that, right? Yeah. So that's the thing. And so I think what has propelled feature factory-ing of our product teams is that we've taken this ethos of this reality distortion theme. We have put it into startups that have had way too much capital over the last five or six years.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Some of the capital's been crazy.

Adam Thomas:Record break. It's weird being in this business for a very long time to see people's series A being 10, 15, $20 million. I think I saw one that was like a hundred million.

Holly Hester-Reilly:What. How could anybody call that a series A? We've lost it.

Adam Thomas:Lost a plot.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yes.

Adam Thomas:I mean, I could put my aluminum foil, 10 foil hat on and I could talk about why that is for a very long time. But just understand that these numbers are ridiculous, and as a result, you have an upping of this want from the financiers to create some world changing thing. And so even the idea of product market fit is not enough. You just have to keep doing it over and over and over and over again. You can't have product market fit in one thing. You have to have it in 10 thingsLest you be absorbed by this group of big companies like Amazon or Facebook or whatever, because then your financiers are going to just take the money. And so what you end up with is everyone trying to push their own reality distortion fields out, which forces product teams to create over and over and over and over and over again. And that's how you get these two week, one week sprints where no one stops and thinks about what they're creating. They just have to keep going, because the executives are pressured by their financiers to keep producing things. That didn't work after three weeks, make another thing.And everyone is so busy, the amount of capital that's being deployed puts everyone in this box. And to tell the truth, they waste the money. And we're seeing the results of that right now, where they've wasted the money. And so 200,000 layoffs in tech over the last six months, and that number will increase. In fact, I was talking to someone the other day, I asked, "How many layoffs happened during 2008?" And they were like 150,000 through the entire process. We have blown past that in six months.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Oh, Adam, you're scaring me. Did you have to go and find that real data?

Adam Thomas:Oh, we have to make it real. It's serious.

Holly Hester-Reilly:No, it is. It's so serious. And I appreciate that you are finding this perspective.

Adam Thomas:Indeed. Survival metrics is here to help teams figure out, now that we're in this new reality, now that we're starting to have to pick ourselves back up, how do we start making products again?

Holly Hester-Reilly:What? You mean products that are actually viable and profitable at some point?

Adam Thomas:Yeah, that whole thing.

Holly Hester-Reilly:No. Is that what our craft is supposed to be about?

Adam Thomas:Yeah. So we need to build products that matter, and we are now in a position we have to do so. We have to get back to producing things that work and actually think about the customer and actually can produce profit. Because many more companies are going to find themselves in a place where they're going to have to make money to survive. They're going to have to build products that people want to survive. And all of this extra, we got another a hundred million coming in six months, so don't worry about that vanity project. There are going to be consequences now, or there already are and they're going to increase.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah. So how does somebody who has perhaps come of age and product during this boom that we've been in, actually figure out if they're on a vanity project?

Adam Thomas:The first thing, I think go talk to a customer.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yes.

Adam Thomas:Go talk to a few customers and see if there's any meaning to the product that they've bought. It's funny how the old ways really work best. Really just start with going to understand who buys your product and who uses your product. Stop building. Stop building. Because I guarantee you, if I go look at your utilization rates, who's actually using your product, it's going to tell me a story of you haven't talked or you haven't really engaged with what your customer base is telling you. You've been surviving on this venture capital that's been floated out to you. And so where do you start? Yeah, go talk to your customers. You said you've listened to Marty Cagan on a podcast. Go read his book. Go read Inspired. Go read Empowered. Get back to first principles. And yeah, let's start with talking. Let's start with figuring that out. That's step one.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah. So what if they are talking to customers but they're still fooling themselves and they're not set up for surviving? What does that look like and how do they realize when they're in that situation?

Adam Thomas:Well, if you haven't stopped, if you find yourself creating things on a constant basis, then you're in that situation, because you don't have anything to base off what you're creating. You don't have an anchor and that anchor looks like strategy. And so if you find yourself in that space, this is the first part of survival metrics. I would ask you, do you have a strategy?

Holly Hester-Reilly:And what does a strategy look like?

Adam Thomas:The simplest way I think I can describe it is a strategy is a problem that is laid out and very clear. There are ways in which you plan on dealing with that problem, and there are actions that operationalize the ways in which you want to deal with it. The best template for folks that want to pick this up and start to create it is Richard Rumelt's Strategy Colonel. And he lays it out pretty simply as the problem being a diagnosis. What are we seeing? What problem is the biggest problem in which we face?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Your diagnosis?

Adam Thomas:And again, problem. Not problems.

Holly Hester-Reilly:What? You mean we can't tackle five problems with our first product?

Adam Thomas:Oh yeah. No, no. I'm sorry to break this to you, but no.

Holly Hester-Reilly:I'm so upset.

Adam Thomas:You can't put six engineers on six problems and hope to solve it at the same time, or ever. I hope to ever solve it. And that's a really good point because I think folks miss when they do things like that, is that there are secondary and tertiary effects for everything you put energy towards. And so if you have five different problems, that means it's not five things, it's 25. In fact, and it's actually probably more complex than that, because each of those five things have to touch each other because they're all affected by each other. As a matter of fact, all the other things that you've talked about in the past also are being touched by those five things. And so then you add onto that and all of a sudden you have a huge ball of crap.

Holly Hester-Reilly:This is one of my favorite phrases, for lack of a better, less cursing. I like to say sometimes we've just got a big ball of shit and we're going to deal with that.

Adam Thomas:Yes. And so with the Strategy Colonel, you have your diagnosis, your guiding policy, which is, how you're going to tackle that one problem. And a guiding policy is not... And you see this in mission statements all the time. This idea of best in class or some other nonsense that doesn't make anyone make a choice. So your guiding policy is policy you choose, good over good. So you're choosing a way in which you intend to operate. That is going to be different than somebody else in your field. This is really bad. This is, I think the biggest thing that people mess up with. And what the result tends to be is what I call feature following. That means everybody's looking at everybody else's features and you just seem to just create the same features that you see on the market. Don't want anybody confused.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Don't want anybody confused, but they'll look over your shoulder and say, "I'm going to build this too."

Adam Thomas:Yes. Because you don't have a differentiated way of thinking about the problem you're trying to solve. You're just trying to solve it however you can solve it. And then lastly is coherent action, which, what are the next steps? What people get wrong about coherent action is they think that that means to plot out 12 months in advance. And so this is where you see these roadmaps that are 12 months, 18 months, two years. I have a five-year roadmap that's going to tell me what we need to build here, there, and everywhere.

Holly Hester-Reilly:I feel like there's a black hole now, like a five-year roadmap. The phrase being uttered anywhere in the vicinity of me has made the world collapse.

Adam Thomas:It's amazing to see where companies and teams, how they attached to this idea of false certainty or false certainty. They just want to say it because it makes everybody feel comfortable. And then back to what we were talking about before, they can go out to that venture capitalist or that executive or that board member and say, "Look, we got stuff planned for the next five years, one of these will hit." And none of them are. I can pretty much guarantee you, none of them are. Because you don't have time to think about the next thing. I mean, you don't have time to think about the thing you just produced. And I have yet to meet a single product team that has created the perfect thing on the first try.

Holly Hester-Reilly:I mean, but what about the Steve Jobs reality distortion field? Didn't Steve Jobs create the right thing on the first try?

Adam Thomas:No, that's the thing. Steve Jobs will talk about this publicly. He constantly iterated. Apple constantly iterates. What makes Apple different is they are very clear about how they're going to solve problems, and they only take one or two problems or three problems. How many product lines do they have? Five, six? And they're the richest company in the world.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah.

Adam Thomas:They're very clear about what problems they are intending to solve, and they are very clear about how they're going to do them, and they have a very coherent way of going about it. And they iterate on that thing constantly. And so yeah, that's where teams, again, they just miss the point when they think about companies like Apple. They look at it as if they just powered themselves through when it's the opposite. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he took what was a huge company and cut it down to four product lines. And so when we talk about that reality distortion field, you got to also talk about that other piece of him when it comes to that. Which is, I'm very clear about what decisions we're making as a company. I'm very clear about where we're going. And it isn't to just create things for the sake of creating them, because when we do that, we miss opportunities to really hone in and create something that people will cherish.

Holly Hester-Reilly:So let's keep following the thread of survival metrics. So tell me more about how you teach that?

Adam Thomas:So the thing that really makes it tactical, practical are getting people to move from metrics. In some cases, moving from vanity metrics to sensing metrics. And what I call sensing metrics are metrics that are time bound, that are contextualized with guiding policy of how we think about things. And then tied to that strategy, tied back to that diagnosis. And so in that sensing metric, we have all that information. And then on top of that sensing metric, we have either a stop pivot or invest statement to make sure that our next action is super duper clear. Because we're trying to sense where we're going to break away from this term of go, and this feeling of go, and this, I got to produce things on a biweekly basis or a weekly basis or whatever your sprint is.

Holly Hester-Reilly:So I guess I talk to a lot of startup founders or young product managers who think that they need to just go, go. And I'm just wondering what makes them stop and be ready for this different perspective?

Adam Thomas:I think on a macro level, looking around at the world itself right now is at least an opportunity to bring some pause. I think internally looking at whatever strategy or business that exists and just being very honest about what numbers are you seeing, because whenever I talk to younger product managers or startup founders and they tell me this wonderful vision of the future, the first place I go is, how do we know that this is working? And so we have these best practice numbers around utilization that we can toss out. If it's less than 10% to 15% utilization, you should be dropping it just immediately. And even if it's above like 10% to 30%, you probably should be thinking about charging for that specifically elsewhere and then you have the rest.

Holly Hester-Reilly:So break that down for me a little further. When you say these target numbers for utilization, what is the definition of utilization in that scenario?

Adam Thomas:In that scenario, I mean even at this basic level, just people who are using the product in a way that you think they should be using it.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Got it.

Adam Thomas:Which is going to be different for every company. There'll be some people who want people using the product on a daily basis. And there are some companies they'll want people using the product on a monthly basis or even a six-month basis, right?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Or a year if it's a tax return product.

Adam Thomas:Or a year. Yeah. I've worked at a company where I was a product leader and we expected people to be in the product for six to 10 times in a year. That's all they needed to be in the product for, in order to do what they needed to do because our software was designed to do the rest. Are they using that, and are you tracking it? And I mean, even before that, do you even know how often you want somebody engaging with your product? Have you thought about it?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah, you're absolutely right. And that's one of the things that comes up with my students a lot when I try to teach how to pick metrics, is so many people are just like, well, it's daily active users over monthly active users. And I'm like, you have to think. Maybe, maybe not. What's your use case?

Adam Thomas:Because that product that I mentioned that was really bad for that product. If somebody was in that product every day, that meant that person was going to churn, right?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah.

Adam Thomas:And so there is an example of how daily active users isn't always a good thing. It's contextualized. The thing about metrics, they have to have some push, meaning some problem that they're focusing on, they're showing some progress on. And then some pull, some goal that you're trying to get to. And if you don't understand what that push and what that pull is, you probably have a vanity metric, because you probably got that from some medium article. And I think all bad product advice comes from medium articles.You probably got it from some medium article. And it was just like, you should track daily active users, or you should track specific click-through rates for X, Y, and Z. Why? And if you can't tell me what the push in the pool is and how that ladders up into what you're ultimately trying to accomplish with your product, then why are you tracking that metric? And then guess what, no one else is going to use that metric either. So whenever I hear product people complain about nobody using the metrics that they're putting out, well you haven't given anybody a reason. Why should they just listen to you? You don't build anything. You don't make anything. You're not in the field making sales. So you're just going to come up with this magical number and I'm supposed to listen to you? Okay, why? Tell me a story. I read it on medium. Okay, I'll talk to you again in six months. I got to sell this product because I have to feed my family. Thanks.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yep. Yep.

Adam Thomas:I don't need to talk to you. You're wasting time. And yeah, that's why I don't show up to your meetings.

Holly Hester-Reilly:That's a point I'd love to hear a little bit more about. I know it might not necessarily be a piece of the survival metric story, but why would you not show up to someone's meetings?

Adam Thomas:There's no reason for me to be there. And the information that you're going to give at that meeting, I don't trust you to give me anything that's going to help me make an action. Because at the core of this, and actually it flows back into survival metrics, because the core of what you want people to do with the numbers that you provide is to do something with it. The reason why you have a metric there is to be shorthand for people to understand, I need to have a sense of urgency of what we're doing. We need to understand where we're trying to go. It's in service of a goal.And so to extend that out to why no one shows up to your meeting is because you're providing numbers that have no sense. They don't help them accomplish what they're trying to do. And then when they show up to the meeting, you're often up there indignant, and you're resentful because they're not using that number. And some salesperson or some marketer or some engineer or some designer, whomever, why do I want to be talked to in a certain way by someone that doesn't make anything that I can physically see for the business with numbers that don't help me? What am I here for?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yep. So what are some of the scenarios where you've encountered that?

Adam Thomas:Everywhere. I mean the name in places to protect the innocent, but I've been in a meeting where I've watched a product manager sit and have a presentation, and really I watched them run through it piece by piece. They had spent a lot of time with this and they had talked, wrote the CEO to coming in to talk about the problem they were trying to solve. And they had all the people there. And when it came to the end of the meeting, everyone just got up and left. They all just got up and left. And so I talked to that PM and they were like, "That's a great meeting. Nobody had anything to say. It looks like I had everything put together. And life was good." That PM wasn't that long for that job.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah, I was going to say, so what radical candor did you lay down on them?

Adam Thomas:So I happened to be a PM at the same place at the time. Right?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Okay.

Adam Thomas:This was a coaching person.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah. If you were in the right position, there would've been some real radical candor there.

Adam Thomas:Oh yeah. We would've stopped everything if I was their director or something at the time. Oh, we would've stopped everything and we would've broken that down. Because what they missed in terms of telling the story and why they ended up being exited from the company is they didn't get the core thing. And this is one of the things I'm really trying to get survival metrics to put people forth. And in fact, when we do the workshop, I ask this question. How many disagreements have you been in this week?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Ooh, interesting. Tell us why do you ask that question?

Adam Thomas:Because for product managers, we're talking about action and we've already established that we're fighting this inertia coming from your executives, money and all these things. In order to break people out of a spell, you have to throw something, you have to throw a pebble there from time to time. You got to force them to look at the pebble and you got to force them to stop and adjust. And as they adjust, that's when the people are able to start to think through. And so disagreements in meetings are a way to do that. So in strategy parlance, this is called repeated incongruence. What do you argue about? Well, everyone has a different incentive from themselves being there. I mentioned the CEO and the salespeople and all them in that same meeting. They're all after different things. They might be after this, we might be trying to solve the same problem, but they have different ways of thinking about it.They have different stressors on them, they have stuff going on, and they see things that you don't. If that stuff is not coming out and there's no way you can tell me that you're aligned on a strategy, there's no way you can tell me the team is together if they're not having some sort of tension in place. Because I know if I'm comfortable and you tell me the way to get to... Let's make it a New York thing for folks in New York. If you tell me the way to get to Times Square is the A train, and I'm in, let's just say, Union Square, I'm going to tell you no, I would take the in train, right?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Right.

Adam Thomas:Because the in train gets me there, because I'm close to that. You don't see that I'm in Union Square. You just say the way to get to Times Square is to take the two train. You have it from your context. We're both trying to get to Times Square, but I got to give you context as to where I am. And the way that we do that is we come across, we have the information out there with us. Everyone knows we're trying to get to 42nd Street and people have to be clear that that is the goal. And so that allows us to argue, that allows us to have this congruence. Because then that person's going to say, well, I say you need to take the two train because I'm at 125th.And then people go, oh aha. Or they say, we need to meet at where the two train is because there's something I need to pick up and I need you to be there where the two train is. And so could you do me a favor and transfer from the end to the two or take the extra walk because I need this for this, this and this reason. And then everybody goes, aha, aha, okay. They're not just saying that because they need to say that. They're saying that because there are some things, there are some stressors, there are some outside forces that are driving them to this point as to taking this two train or really insisting on this two train. And you're not going to know that unless you put out your point of view. They put out their point of view and you start to create this tension around it, and you start to investigate from each other. And that's what disagreement is.Disagreement is an investigation if you have the same goal. And so where most product managers miss the mark and really teams miss the mark is they shy away from that tension because they don't ever want to feel like they're wrong. And one thing I've seen from some of the most impactful product managers I've worked with, seen, coached, been around is they have such a willingness to be wrong. They have such a want to get to the actual truth of the thing. And even if there are some mitigating circumstances, they know that everyone that's involved in that circumstance needs to know what's happening. So even if they have to make a bad decision, everyone makes that bad decision on the same page or less optimal.

Holly Hester-Reilly:I was just going to say, it's interesting to hear you say some of that because my first time in a growth stage startup, I will always vividly remember how in the interview process, I asked the lead engineer who was interviewing me, what's the worst thing about working here? And he said, "Well, people get into really passionate arguments about the right way to do something and sometimes it can be a little excessive." And I remember being like, "I'll take that problem. That's the one for me. I'm down. Where do I sign up?" And so for me, I was fortunate in the environments I was in, that I didn't encounter this lack of desire to debate the truth and uncover the real situation despite uncomfort, until I left startups and started coaching people in enterprises. I guess one thing that makes me wonder is have you seen this in all kinds of environments?

Adam Thomas:I've seen this in all kinds of environments, even enterprises or big companies. It depends on the organization you're around. But what was term? I heard this on... I think Noble mentioned it. Geez, I forgot the actual term. But it's basically unhealthy niceness because people are scared to talk. Because the truth about the environment where people passionately argue is you can tamp that down. You can create frames in which people can discuss things, because oftentimes when they're in that type of environment, something's happening. They're making actions based on that discussion, which is going to get you further along, way further along than a team that's sitting in a room and just going, yeah, that's nice. Which is interesting because that's the third part really. We walked into the third part of survival metrics.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Great. I totally planned that.

Adam Thomas:Awesome. See, that's magic. That's why you are a pro at this. Look at this magic that's happening. It's live.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah. So tell us the third part is what now?

Adam Thomas:It's cultural, which is creating the engine. And so before I begin this, I will add this proviso, or two proviso. One, if a culture is too damaging to you, you should leave. So just before I tell you anything that I'm about to tell you, if you're a listener, if it's bad and you can't sleep, leave, leave. It's not worth it. It's really not worth it. Because every time I've stayed at a job that was... I stayed too long, the health results that just... I look back on it and say, "Why did I do that to myself?"

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yes. I just want to amplify what you said. I'm going to print it on T-shirts. Like if you're in a culture that isn't working for you, leave. You don't have to suffer through it.

Adam Thomas:And the second proviso is as a product person, you are imbued with sphere of influence. And that is at a PM at least on the team level, you're basically hired to have some influence. In fact, if you're doing your job, you should have a lot of influence. And we're going to talk about some of the ways in which you can gain that influence in a moment. But you should have enough influence to where even if things are a little bit harrier above you or around you, you can create a space where this stuff works. The way that creating these metrics and being able to track them and having a strategy is these things work remarkably. If you can communicate them, people start to trust you a lot more. If you're able to tell people, hey, this is why we're doing something, here's why we're doing it and this is why it's different than our competitors.Here are some actions in which we're going to take that. Again, do not look like a 12-month roadmap. But there are a few things, here are a few steps that tells us. And then we have these sensing metrics. I know when we're going to stop. Here's a list of when we're going to change direction. I know when I'm going to stop. I know when we're going to have a conversation about what our next plan is or when we should change direction. And also, I know when we're going to invest and we're going to double down on opportunity. And in fact, I want your insight, dear leader on when we can start to make that call. If you communicate those things, suddenly you have a lot of influence.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yes.

Adam Thomas:I've never not seen that work. Actually, I've never not seen that work. Let me be clear. I've never not seen that work. And so even within that sphere of influence, you might be asking, "Oh, okay, all right. So I got this within the team and maybe even my director of product or maybe even my VP of product. But what about sales and what about legal? Oh man, our data privacy officers, GDPR..." My first question is, have you talked to them? And talk to them before there's an emergency, before you're coming to their office, 15 minutes before you launch a product and you say, "Hey, I need you to overlook at all these things. Hey CISO, I got this group of things that we need to do and I need you to check this product. What do you mean we can't launch it next week?"Because I tell you one thing, you're not going to be dear product manager listening to this. You're not going to be involved in any of the audits that CISO has to go through for the product that you just released. And let me let you know, if you've never been in those audits, they are very tedious. They are very long and they want to see the paperwork. And if you want to feel this, go to any security office in which you work and just say, I want to check in on audit. You'll get an education very fast as to why people ask for paperwork, and why they're not just trying to stop you. And so that's really the key of this next piece about communication. So we talked about the first part already in that short data of once you have all these things, it becomes a lot easier to communicate these things and to communicate them clearly. But the second part is, as you look at the rest of the organization that you're around, you should have an understanding, however you get it, of what their incentives are.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Incentives are so important, and I feel like once you start really understanding the incentives around you for different people in the organization, like a major step towards becoming a real product leader.

Adam Thomas:Yes. And it's going to make your strategy make a lot more sense. And your coherent actions in your strategy make a lot more sense. The coherent actions aren't the releases. It's the thing that guides yourself to a release into an iteration. Those are your coherent actions. It's not we're going to release an Android app and then we're going to release the iPhone app and then we're going to release. Because again, I've never seen anybody get those things right on the first try. And I've never seen them launched on time. Right? And so this last one is something that I've had to either coach or direct PMs to start doing whenever they come into a team of mine. Is you're complaining about X, Y, and Z not happening or somebody stopping you. What do you know about their world? Do you understand? Or are you doing what a lot of folks do?Which is, "Hey, can you do me a favor?" And then when the consequences land on you, "Oh, I didn't know. I didn't know that we had this legal thing." And yeah, we're going to have to go to court. Why weren't they doing their job? That's what you're going to say. And they're going to be like, "Well, I did you a favor." And then they're going to learn to never do that again. Most experienced people in those positions have seen someone get burned or have been burned themselves. And so yeah, they're not doing it again. But what you can do is go understand their process. And there's probably a way that you can interact with them that'll make their lives easier. And guess what? All of a sudden your life is easier as a result. Matt LeMay has this talk that he's been doing, which I love. Called, You Can't Convince Anybody of Anything.

Holly Hester-Reilly:That's a good hook.

Adam Thomas:It very much is. And I love Matt and his work, because I think he understands this through his book, Product Management and Practice. There's a chunk of this also in the talk that he's been doing, which I think adds onto his book. Like you work in an organization, people have things they're doing, you don't see those things because it's not important for you to see those things. The only thing you should know is that they have a busy 40 to 50 hour week too, and it has nothing to do with whatever you're doing. And for the most part, what I see in product managers do is they rush in and they go talk to these people at the final hour. And so your product marketer is sitting here swamped with the release and they have no idea what's going on. Your sales people, sales enablement, what is that?You know, got this new feature, shouldn't it just sell itself, legal or your data privacy folks? I mean, come on. Isn't the data more important in these EU fines? No, they're not. And those EU fines can be way larger than your salary. No, it's not more important. And soon, for us product managers who think they've escaped this, California will have that law January 1st. Is essentially something similar as GDPR. And as California goes, as this nation, New York is not far behind, and your data is going to touch people in those states. So you're also going to be in the thick of event. So please, you need to understand how your organization works. So what I often tell people is to go draw an organizational map. And not the org chart as you see it on the website, but think about your decisions that you make. Think about those coherent actions. How do they work inside of your organization? Start to try to find those patterns. And then that's going to tell you where you can start to build your communications plan, where and how to communicate with these folks.And then lastly, you're going to be able to iterate on that. Because here's why you want to do that. Much like we just talked about, when it comes to legal getting in trouble, if something legally bad happens and CISO's getting in trouble because something bad insecurity happens, when your product launches fail enough times, guess who's in trouble?

Holly Hester-Reilly:Might it be you?

Adam Thomas:Ooh yes. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. And, I think if you want to be really good at the work you do and be able to launch things that matter, and most importantly, you want to get people out of that status quo, you need a level of trust. And you'll gain that trust by not only looking at and understanding how people do their work, but also infusing some of their incentives into those sensing metrics that we talked about earlier.

Holly Hester-Reilly:And what does that look like? How do you infuse their incentives into your sensing metrics?

Adam Thomas:So let's say the director of operations is really, really thinking about AWS spend. They got to manage that. How much more likely are they to trust you, if you go to a meeting with everyone and you lay out these sensing metrics and they look up at the sensing metric and say, if this production release is projected to increase our AWS spend by 10%, we need to sit down and have a conversation about it, because it affects X, Y, and Z. I know if I'm a director of operations and I see that coming from product, I go, "Whoa, wait a second. They actually care. Okay, great. Let me help them accomplish this goal because it's going to help me." So any nuggets of information that I come across, I'm going to talk to this PM about. And so yeah, when PMs come to me and say, oh, they never take my meeting. I ask, what have you done for them? Why should they take your meeting?Again, back to what we were talking about earlier, why should they care? You're not helping them. You're not creating metrics that help them make decisions. You're not giving them any insights. You would just be there wasting their time. I wouldn't take your meeting either. I got other things to do. And so when you start to make this in, you have a communication plan around these things, around this problem. Not a release. Release is an output of you trying to get to your outcome. You're in a better place and people are starting to trust you more. You start to get more of those disagreements and you start to be able to see, you're able to stop bad things from happening. Because here's the other side of that equation. Once you release something, it gets super duper expensive to claw it back. But what's even more expensive? Keeping it around.And so the secret behind survival metrics or one of them is as you do this over and over and over again, you'll be able to stop releases before they happen. Before you get to that release point, you'll be able to look at something. Your processes will guide you into jettison things that don't serve the company. And not only that, the company will understand. The people that you're communicating with will understand why. But the things you do release, they'll have impact. And maybe, just maybe, you'll start to find your way to that product market fit that's being asked of you. And while you do it, everybody's along for the ride. The team's along for the ride, you're getting more trust in the organization. People feel like they know what's going on. People stop asking you for roadmaps, right? Because they have an understanding of what's happening, when it's happening. They have a place to look at it. And you start to find these values.Another thing you start to find is you start to find the applied values of the company through this, because you start to see what people actually care about. And then as you can start to align your communication, how you create and manage product into what the company actually cares about, you've transformed yourself from just a PM that's doing stuff to a PM that people trust. People know that whenever you create something, it's going to matter.

Holly Hester-Reilly:I think that's a really great place for us to come to a close. You've definitely described what I call the high-growth product leader phase of the product teams development, and it's a wonderful place to be. And I think you and I both can say that we've seen it. It does exist, and it's hard work to get there, but it's worth it.

Adam Thomas:100%. Because another secret of this, you end up working less. Less stressed. Believe it or not, this sounds like, oh, this is a lot of extra work. Trust me, once you start doing this stuff, just as much as information you're communicating out, comes back to you. And you don't have to go running around clawing at people things to start hitting a certain flow, and you can start to go to that wonderful Broadway play or go to the movies every once in a while or work out or go hang out with your partner. They miss you.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Yeah, exactly. That's awesome. All right, well, this has been really fantastic. Thank you so much, Adam, for this conversation. And, yes, survival metrics for the win. Where can people find you if they want to learn more?

Adam, you can go to the website, LinkedIn, Twitter, if it still exists by the time we hear this, @TheHonorableAT. And then you can always email me. If you have any questions about this or you want to chat about this, feel free to just send me an email,

Holly Hester-Reilly:Awesome. Thanks so much, Adam, it's been a pleasure.

Adam Thomas:Thank you for having me, Holly.

Holly Hester-Reilly:Hey, Holly here. I hope you enjoyed listening to this week's episode as much as I enjoyed making it. I wanted to share with you that at H2R Product Science, we run lots of workshops and we'd love to have you join us. We teach the product science method, a step-by-step process for evaluating product opportunities and laying the foundations for high growth product development. We help product leaders and startup founders identify the right products and features to build and develop the support to do so. We do this at private workshops. We also do it at public workshops, both in person and online. If you'd like to learn more, check it out at Product Science Podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and product leaders how to use the product science method to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high growth products, teams, and businesses. Learn more at Enjoying this episode? Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss next week's episode. I also encourage you to visit us at to sign up for more information and resources from me and our guests. If you like the show, a rating and review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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