Let’s start getting things done instead of wasting time.
Why do we waste so much time?
Despite being downward economically, what I see in reality doesn’t match our current scary forecasts. Teams are wasting their time doing things that have little to zero contribution to creating value.
I’m not writing this piece to vent. I’m writing to share where you can apply pragmatism to overcome bullshitism. Wasting time is unacceptable.
I’ve been playing this game for around a decade and a half. I’ve been in different parts of the same equation, software engineer, product manager, head of products, and CPO. No matter where I sit and what I do, I still face the same nonsense. That sucks, and we’ve got to change it.
Nobody deserves to waste their time on irrelevant things.
I noticed that we tend to pay much attention to frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, and others, but miss the point of what’s surrounding our activities.
For example, extensive focus on writing backlog items instead of getting work done or attending several meetings to discuss the future and ensure predictability instead of taking action soon to learn from evidence.
We cannot afford such waste any longer.
Getting funds from venture capitalists, angel investors or banks wasn’t a big deal a year or two ago. Money was printed out. But today, money is scarce, so it’s time to get serious and cut the crap.
Let me show you where pragmatism saves time, cuts costs, and accelerates progress.
Building a Bullshit Radar
Some time ago, I had a realization. I used to think I was doing product management, but I quickly realized I was doing another work, which I call bullshit management. That may sound harsh, but facing reality was necessary for me.
Let me help you understand the difference between product and bullshit management.
✅ Product management is the art of producing business and customer value from products we create
❌ Bullshit management is the art of wasting our time on activities that contribute to no value but drain our energy
✅ Pragmatic product teams understand the cards in the game and make the best use of it
❌ When you fall into bullshit management, you look at the cards you don’t have and don’t play the game until you get them
✅ Pragmatic product management is strict with creating value and loose on the means of getting it
❌ Bullshit management is strict with processes and loose on creating value
The more bullshit you manage, the less value you can deliver.
You’ve got limited energy. When you waste it, you cannot expect anything beyond average results.
I learned the importance of developing a bullshit radar to save the company from wasting time. I do that by being mindful and unafraid of challenging whatever doesn’t contribute to value.
Here are some questions I constantly wonder about:
- How does this activity help us create value?
- Is this approach simplifying or complicating the issue?
- How does this approach accelerate progress?
- Are we externalizing problems or taking ownership?
Whenever I detect something unrelated to value, I speak up. Not everyone agrees with me immediately, but later most people will thank me for preventing us from wasting time.
Let me give you some clear examples of what bullshit management is:
- A backlog full of promises will force you to continuously deal with expectation management and look to the past instead of the future
- A calendar full of meetings that leaves you no room to breath or think about opportunities because you’re too busy attending meetings you don’t even know what purpose they serve
- Distributing “yes” to your stakeholders because you want to keep them happy instead of establishing a partnership with them to do what matters
- Wasting time on creating well-designed plans that show step-by-step how to reach the goal instead of acting and learning from reality
- Micromanaging software engineers to ensure they meet deadlines and increase the output speed instead of empowering them to solve problems
Now let me show you three opportunities to apply pragmatism instead of bullshitism.
One of the biggest time wasters is the roadmap, which has a significant chance of trapping teams for quarters, if not years. Why does that happen? Fear is the answer.
We hate the unknown and want answers to give us security. As a result, we spend much time talking about work instead of getting it done.
A bullshit roadmap will be something like this:
- Highly detailed and precise feature definitions
- Done without involvement of the teams working on the product
- Strict on deadlines and outputs
- Will take weeks to agree on its content, if not months
- Aims for predictability
The result of this type of roadmap is nothing beyond a trap, lack of commitment, and undesired massive time wasted.
On the other hand, a pragmatic roadmap will be:
- Aligned with the product vision and product strategy
- Simple enough to show the direction and empower the team to discover the path
- Crafted by the product teams and aligned with the leadership
- Strict on outcomes and loose on outputs
- Takes a couple of days to agree on its content
- Aims for direction and accountability
A pragmatic roadmap leads to ownership, engagement, and rapid progress. But it will also give little to no predictability on outputs. High-level management tends not to like that, but this is the best chance of creating value.
#2. Day-to-day work
Daily work can quickly become ineffective, and it may take a while for us to realize that. Today, we’ve got endless tools, techniques, and methods available to implement into our work routine. We may fall prey to them instead of using them to our advantage. Inevitably, this creates a big time waste.
Let me give you some real-world examples:
- Striving for perfection: Software engineers are reluctant to escape the standard process. The code needs to be perfect, reviewed by two other developers, have 85% test coverage, etc. This attitude can be great, but it depends on when that happens. For new features, you’ve got no idea if that creates value. Instead of building a perfect code, you need to simplify to learn faster. Being strict won’t serve all purposes.
- Tools: Common traps come from tools. We can easily let them drive us instead of using them to become more effective. Jira is one example. I often see gigantic workflows, long comment threads, a web of dependencies, etc. Jira isn’t the only one; it happens with many other tools. It doesn’t take long for us to rely too much on tools and water down our collaboration.
- Monstrous backlog: The Product Backlog shows the teams’ level of Agile immaturity. It’s often like dust under the rug. Every request becomes a backlog item, and the pile is ever-growing—yet teams have no time to adapt their backlog according to their discoveries because they’re too busy looking in the rearview mirrors.
If you step back and ask yourself, how does this activity help you create value faster?
You’ll quickly realize that you’re complicating instead of simplifying, and then, you’ve got a chance to change it.
#2. General Attitudes
The business world is complex. We all can agree with that. Everyone has distinct dreams and ambitions, as we follow different agendas, which increases complexity. Well, it is what it is. We’ve got to face this situation and deal with it.
Pragmatism has been the answer for me. The more pragmatic you can be, the faster you can create value.
Here are general attitudes to help you escape from traps like the ones I described above:
- Simplify whenever you can
- Listen to your gut, and speak up
- Challenge the status quo as often as necessary
- Follow the mission, not the mass
- Be the driver, not the passenger
- Say “no” ten times more than you say “yes”
- Don’t be afraid of conflicts, be fearful of mediocrity
Opportunities to use our time with things that create little to no value are everywhere. It’s easy to waste our time and hard to use it wisely.
I’m being harsh because wasting time is unbearable to me.
I know how painful it is to create software nobody uses, how disappointing it is to invest in features users don’t care about, and how embarrassing it can be to lead the team nowhere.
I learned my lessons, and I fight bullshit because bullshit ensures mediocrity, which is unacceptable.
When you opt to be pragmatic, many people won’t understand you. They’ll say it’s not simple or you’re breaching the process. But what they mean is that they are unaware of another way of working, help them understand it.
Whenever you recognize you’re trapped with bullshitism, it’s time to apply pragmatism.
Don’t let the status quo limit you. Take it step-by-step to create value faster by pragmatically dealing with bullshitism.