Really Bad is MUCH Better than Nothing and Really Great Isn’t Much Better than Bad

01_luke Guest post by Luke Hohmann of Enthiosys.

Product Managers, Agile or otherwise, are asked to create a fair number of documents. Even when we’ve replaced our “Big” MRDs with vision Statements, Roadmaps, and Backlogs, most of us are still expected to clearly document:

  • Who we’re serving (e.g., target markets, market segments)
  • Why they care (e.g., benefits of product often expressed in ROI)
  • Why we care (e.g., market size, total available market, total addressable market, growth, and share)
  • How we’ll reach them (e.g., sales channels, partner structures)
  • Our sustainable competitive advantage
  • The competitive landscape
  • Personas
  • and… ???

My point is that even the most minimalistic approach to Product Management has a Product Manager creating a fairly large number of documents. Which doesn’t concern me, because these are quite sensible documents to create.

What does concern me is that I’ve seeing an increasing number of product managers who are avoiding creating these basic artifacts. The conversation goes something like this:

Luke: “Francesca, can you show me your personas?”
Francesca: “Oh yeah—personas. They’re really great. I like the cooper format, but I also think the format I learned from Pragmatic Marketing is really neat”.
Luke: “Yes, both formats are quite useful. I’ll be OK with either. Can you show me your personas?”
Francesca: “Well, you see, that’s the thing. We don’t have personas. You see, we really didn’t have all the time we wanted to create the persona format that we thought would be great. And since we couldn’t create a really great persona we decided just to skip it.”

Push the big red button labeled “STOP”.

Just because you can’t create a “really great” anything does not mean you should skip it.

Yes, I know. Writing a really great persona is hard. But a really great persona is merely better than a good persona. And a good persona (which looks “bad” in comparison to a really great persona) is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better than a bad persona. Logically:

“bad” Product Management deliverable >> NO deliverable

“really great” Product Management deliverable > “good” Product Management deliverable

To help get you started, I hereby proclaim that creating “bad” deliverables is OK. Specifically:

  • It is OK to have a persona without just the right picture.
  • It is OK to define your Total Addressable Market as a “reasonable guess” Low-to-High estimate of your Total Available Market
  • It is OK to have a roadmap that only projects 12 months into the future
  • It is OK to define your initial market segment as the “customers who bought from us”
  • It is MORE than OK to define your ROI in less than 12 lines of Excel
  • It is OK to focus more on your customers and than your competitors

What do you need permission to create badly?


Luke is a recognized expert on agile product management of software products and a former senior software product manager at four companies. He is also the author of three books  and numerous articles on software product management. He is also a frequent speaker at software and other industry events.  Before founding Enthiosys in 2003, Luke was vice president of business development in the U.S. for Aladdin Knowledge Systems; vice president of engineering and product development at Aurigin Systems Inc.; education technical director at ObjectSpace Inc.; and vice president of systems engineering at EDS Fleet Services.


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This entry was posted in guest blogger, startup, user experience and tagged , , by Jeremy Horn. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with 2 decades of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and wearables. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Accelerating the next evolution of product management, Jeremy acted as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly and The New School, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine (where is he also a judge). To see where Jeremy is now check him out at (1) and (2)

One thought on “Really Bad is MUCH Better than Nothing and Really Great Isn’t Much Better than Bad

  1. Great post! I might go even further: I find that the time required to create something “really great” is often wasted. That is, things change so much that a PM’s time is better spent on change-management of their features/specs rather than just creating a monolithic spec and throwing it over the wall. I think that kind of focus would also give PMs more time for fundamentals like personas.


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