Jean-Michel Lemieux: Three Product Decisions Every Team Needs to Make | E1129

Jean-Michel Lemieux: Three Product Decisions Every Team Needs to Make | E1129

Falling in Love with Product & Tech (00:00:39)

  • Jean-Michel Lemieux's love for product and tech began in high school when he discovered computers through Fine Arts.
  • He used a program called Cubase to create music for his high school's production of Phantom of the Opera, replacing the need for a live band.
  • After high school, he pursued computer science, seeing computers as tools for creativity rather than just programming.
  • Lemieux emphasizes that the safe path is not always as safe as perceived, and the risky path is not always as risky as it seems.

Advice for Graduates & New Entrants (00:03:01)

  • Lemieux advises graduates and new entrants to consider doing something they are good at rather than solely focusing on doing something they love.
  • He believes that continuing to do something one is good at can lead to key leadership roles, as demonstrated by his own career path at Shopify and Atlassian.

Impact of Shopify & Atlassian (00:03:38)

  • Shopify and Atlassian are influential organizations that have significantly impacted people's mindsets.
  • Both companies prioritize playing the long game and excel at marketing.
  • They invest in building communities around their companies, creating movements rather than just products.
  • Shopify created a movement around entrepreneurship, while Atlassian focused on open-source software and empowering teams.
  • These companies have demonstrated the importance of attracting attention and building a passionate user base.

Overlap & Differences Between Shopify & Atlassian (00:06:18)

  • Harley Finkelstein is the face of Shopify, while Scott Farquhar is the strategic leader of Atlassian.
  • Shopify prioritizes shipping high-quality products, while Atlassian prioritizes shipping products quickly.
  • Both companies have achieved success through different monetization approaches.
  • In the early stages, companies should focus on a narrow target market and gain a loyal customer base before expanding.
  • Companies should avoid trying to please everyone with too many ideas, as this can lead to failure.
  • Product decisions involve a balance between speed and quality.
  • Each team should determine their optimization priority, understand the trade-offs between speed and quality, and establish metrics for measuring success.

Importance of Shipping & Velocity (00:10:49)

  • Founders in their first three years should focus on both speed of execution and building the right product.
  • The speaker has experience in both hyper-scaling and building companies after product-market fit.
  • The speaker is currently doing a zero-to-one startup again to prove they can go back to basics.
  • The speaker is experiencing the debate between speed and quality firsthand.

Speed vs. Quality in Building (00:11:45)

  • Prioritize tasks by deciding what needs to be polished and what doesn't, and set clear goals and time caps to avoid wasting time on unnecessary discussions.
  • Focus on consistently shipping code rather than comparing progress to previous weeks, and use code shipped as a measure of progress and success.
  • The ultimate measure of a team's progress is the velocity of shipping products, not the number of lines of code or the amount of time spent on meetings and discussions.
  • Jean-Michel Lemieux believes that software teams should focus on building and running software together, rather than relying on rigid processes like Scrum, TDD, or standups, as these processes can be wasteful and hinder productivity.

Retiring from Software Process (00:17:15)

  • The speaker believes that too much process slows teams down and causes "time horizon friction".
  • Time horizon friction is caused by planning too much for the future and not focusing on building in the present.
  • Many people in companies who can't write code see progress as having plans, leading to more meetings about work that isn't being done.
  • The speaker suggests cutting out the planning process and focusing on building and shipping products.
  • The speaker's team now has a one-hour meeting a week to discuss what they are doing next month and a meeting to address any blockers.
  • The speaker believes that shipping products reduces risk more than planning.

Creating Structure without Process (00:21:06)

  • Creating structure without process is possible.
  • Alignment is important, but there are effective and ineffective ways to achieve it.

Approach at Different Company Sizes (00:21:51)

  • The approach to creating structure may differ based on company size.
  • People are conditioned to complete homework assignments perfectly, but in the real world, cheating (taking shortcuts, seeking feedback, etc.) is necessary to build things.
  • The education system needs to change to encourage people to build things rather than just complete assignments.
  • With less process, it becomes harder to monitor new team members' quality.
  • The only thing that matters is the output that customers see.
  • Performance reviews should focus on what the team shipped and what was good or great about it.
  • Building a shared understanding of what great is and how to achieve it is important.

Understanding New Team Member Quality (00:24:53)

  • The goal is to build an organization where everyone has an internal barometer for greatness and continuously strives to improve.
  • Rewarding based on a shared understanding of what great looks like, rather than the process used, leads to improvement.
  • Reviews should include an assessment of the code shipped by the team.

Flaw of Hiring Great People & Stepping Aside (00:26:42)

  • The advice to "hire great people and get out of the way" assumes everyone will magically have the same understanding of the world, quality bar, and alignment on how things are done.
  • This is impossible to achieve, and can lead to train wrecks in companies.
  • To achieve the level of autonomy that comes with "hire great people and get out of the way", a lot of things need to be aligned, including a shared understanding of what great looks like.
  • A concrete example of onboarding new VPs involves spending time together, "pair programming on leadership", and identifying three specific things to ship in the next six months.

Power of Alignment & Pair Programming in Leadership (00:28:26)

  • Alignment is crucial for effective leadership.
  • Alignment is not achieved through constant meetings but rather through regular communication and decision-making.
  • Sending daily Slack messages to your boss about decisions made and seeking their input fosters alignment.
  • Micro-alignments can be done frequently to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Micro Alignments & Regular Communication with CEOs (00:30:42)

  • Effective communication with the CEO is essential. Share decisions daily via Slack or email for quick alignments.
  • Trust your team and empower them to make decisions and take action. Avoid micromanaging.
  • Use Susan Scott's decision tree framework to categorize decisions as root (important), trunk (medium), or leaf (unimportant).
  • Discuss root decisions together, brainstorm trunk decisions, and disregard leaf decisions.
  • Building companies involves many micro-decisions that can make a difference, so getting feedback on root decisions is valuable.
  • Jean-Michel Lemieux's three-step process for structuring the hiring process includes the "snowboard test" to determine a candidate's natural inclination to take action.

Three-Step Hiring Process (00:35:51)

  • To assess a candidate's true passions and motivations, ask them about their dream job at the company and why they care about it.
  • Let candidates teach you about their desired job by asking them to explain how they would approach a specific task or project related to that role. This evaluates their knowledge, skills, and depth of understanding.
  • Discuss the specific job role, responsibilities, and expectations with the candidate. Inquire about their past experiences and the most challenging situations they've faced to gain insights into their problem-solving abilities and approach to work.
  • Jean-Michel Lemieux asks candidates about their proudest achievements to gauge their level of difficulty and ability to stretch. He also assesses their motivation, will, and skill, and whether they can grow quickly and understand and fix multi-layered problems.
  • Common mistakes founders make when hiring for product and engineering roles include not ensuring alignment between the candidate's desires and the job requirements and hiring candidates who lack the depth and ability to address complex challenges.

Common Hiring Mistakes (00:42:54)

  • People tend to focus on interviewing candidates for specific layers of the company (code, emotions, etc.) and may overlook other important aspects.
  • It's important to consider a candidate's overall fit and abilities across different layers during the interview process.
  • Rushing the hiring process can lead to skipping crucial steps and missing important information about candidates.
  • Joh M admits to making hiring mistakes when he's rushed, especially during periods of rapid company growth or when there's a sense of urgency.
  • Rushing the process often results in skipping parts of the interview process and not thoroughly assessing candidates.
  • To avoid rushing the hiring process, Joh M suggests taking the pressure off by starting the search as soon as someone leaves the team.
  • This allows for a more thorough and thoughtful approach to finding the right candidate.

Avoiding Rushed Hiring Decisions (00:44:41)

  • When faced with uncertainty, focus on the team's accomplishments and customer needs, and empower team members to take ownership of their work.
  • Take time to get to know potential hires before making decisions, and prioritize networking and talking to interesting people regularly to build a strong talent pool.
  • Smaller teams can achieve remarkable results with limited resources, and AI and coding tools have revolutionized product creation, empowering individuals to create products with small teams or even as solo developers.

Future of Code & Product with AI (00:50:24)

  • AI tools can write 80% of code, allowing programmers to focus on more complex tasks.
  • AI will enable the creation of more software for various industries that are currently underinvested in technology.
  • AI will make programming more exciting and efficient.

Game-Changing Power of AI (00:52:21)

  • AI will lead to smaller teams and faster shipping of products.
  • AI will distribute programmers to areas where technology is needed the most.
  • AI will increase the demand for technologists to solve complex problems in various industries.

Future of Teams & Structure (00:53:03)

  • The incumbent companies (Adobe, Microsoft, Nvidia) are stronger and faster than ever before due to their data advantages, cash flow capabilities, and speed of innovation.
  • The speaker is concerned about the dominance of these incumbents and the challenges they pose for investors looking to invest in innovation.
  • However, the speaker also sees opportunities to build new things and improve existing systems, such as creating a country operating system or improving infrastructure.

Opportunities to Build New Things (00:54:56)

  • The speaker believes that there is a need for more infrastructure investment, particularly in hard tech areas such as electrification of transport, improvements in hospital facilities, and physical infrastructure within countries.
  • Investing in hard tech is different from investing in software and requires a different mindset.
  • The speaker is concerned that many software investors will get burned by investing in hard tech without understanding the unique challenges involved.
  • The speaker has missed out on investing in many foundational model companies because they believed that the foundational model layer would be commoditized.
  • Platform companies that build foundational layers face two main exits: being acquired by a larger company or taking 20 years to scale.

Commoditization of Foundational Models (00:57:12)

  • Jean-Michel Lemieux stresses the significance of having a "pace bunny" to maintain a steady and optimal pace for teams and companies.
  • The transition from a large-scale company to a zero-to-one startup can be isolating, making a support system crucial during this phase.
  • Building a zero-to-one company enables experimentation and the testing of new products, fostering valuable connections and insights.
  • Jean-Michel Lemieux expresses enthusiasm for Equals ( due to its subtle yet increasingly valuable features.
  • GetEquals, a new tool combining SQL and Excel into a shared data warehouse, simplifies data handling for users.
  • The product's early stage and high starting price pose challenges for adoption, particularly for startups.
  • Product marketing for GetEquals faces difficulties due to its complexity and the competitive data analytics tools market.

Exploring New Products & Innovations (01:02:44)

  • Customer acquisition is hard.
  • Pricing is important, especially for a business tool.
  • There's a market for Pro tools, but there are already some successful ones like Adobe.

Messy Product Marketing Challenge (01:04:07)

  • CEOs underestimate the importance of go-to-market strategies and the grind required to create a movement around their product.
  • Founders make the mistake of hiring too quickly for product and engineering teams without understanding their team's capacity.
  • It's important to start on the support team to learn about the product, the team, and the customers.

Quick-Fire Round (01:05:49)

  • Sales, design, and engineering are the three functions that often have the most tension, especially when there is misalignment between sales and product.
  • To improve alignment, it's important to define the right customers and focus the product roadmap on delighting them.
  • Commonalities can be found between small and large merchants, such as low complexity and low skew count, which can help companies create a product that appeals to a wide range of users.
  • Jean-Michel Lemieux and Harry Stebbings had a great discussion that went in many different directions, which is a sign of a great conversation.

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