C Todd Lombardo is a data and design obsessed product leader, currently the VP of Product and Design at MachineMetrics. He’s a mentor at TechStars, a global speaker and consultant on all things product design and customer experience, and is also on the faculty at Madrid’s I.E. Business School, and Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art where he teaches graduate level courses in design, innovation, and data visualization.
And because he’s obviously bored and looking for more interesting things to do, C Todd has also co-authored three books published by O’Reilly, with his most recent book being Product Research Rules which is one of my new favorite guides to thinking about product research.
This is a fun conversation that really explores how to think about the questions that we all are asking — often unconsciously — that shape our lives and work. Talking with C Todd made me a better listener, thinker, and question-asker, and I think it’ll do the same for you.
Please enjoy C Todd Lombardo.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:23 C Todd, welcome to the show. How are we doing today? Pretty well, thank you so much for having me. Absolutely. So right before we hit record, we had just started jamming on something that I think is going to be pretty relevant to a lot of folks, which is just the timestamp. This for everybody we’re recording this in December 2020, it’s been a bit of a dumpster fire of a year on all sorts of fronts. You know, big things for everybody is that this whole, you know, is work from home thing. This is going to be, this is going to be a thing not for. And you know, there’s no put this genie back in the bottle, I think, but we were just talking about this and you were starting to share with me a little bit about how it’s changing things for you as a product leader.
C Todd Lombardo 00:01:53 Yeah. So I was just talking about how I just got a standing desk and I have to assemble it this weekend. Which one do you get? By the way I got the, um, Jarvis at fully, I really liked their approach because you could kind of pick and choose what you wanted. And they had all sorts of accessories and, you know, 1100 bucks later, I have this, you know, whole monstrosity of thing to assemble, but I’m very excited about it for a number of reasons because I didn’t have a good work from home setup. Um, I, you know, sure. It had this tiny little desk, literally what I’m sitting at is maybe about 22 inches wide. It’s small, it’s not spacious. I have very little room to put a notebook and draw. Uh, and so as somebody who is a more design minded, uh, product person, oftentimes when I’m leading a meeting, I’m, I’m the one drawing on the whiteboard and I’ve had that reputation all over the place and you’re going to see sketch notes for me somewhere online.
C Todd Lombardo 00:02:42 Um, so I’m usually the person drawing on the whiteboard and trying to sketch out and visualize the conversation as it’s going. It’s a lot harder to do that when you’re just at home by yourself. And yes, there are tools, they’re great tools like mural and Miro. And, um, there’s another one I just learned of recently, um, women’s account whimsical, uh, is another one that’s very similar. Yeah. Um, so those are three great tools. They all do very similar, slightly different things. Um, but you don’t have to use them for every single meeting. Whereas if in the office you have a whiteboard in almost every conference room and somebody can get up and draw and that person is usually me. So that has been a challenge for me. And I’ve even, you know, I’ve been frustrated about it and I haven’t been able to articulate it.
C Todd Lombardo 00:03:25 And I was on a walk with my wife a couple of weekends ago, just walking the dog around town. And we were both just the conversation around our work environments and, um, uh, 2020 and everything. And she’s a surgeon by the way, just sort of give you a sense of her work environment is still relatively similar but different. Um, but there’s, there’s a lot more, uh, not like her surgery itself is probably pretty similar. Maybe they, they were a 95 mask instead of, uh, of the other surgical masks they’d use, but it’s all the stuff leading up to the actual surgery and, and, uh, in the office and how things are different from an office visitor. And she does televisits now too. So we were just talking about that and I was talking about like, yeah, I’ve got this small desk at home. I don’t have a larger desk that I had in the office.
C Todd Lombardo 00:04:10 It’s I can’t really stand up and, uh, there’s no whiteboard and all sorts of things. And so started to try and think about what can I do to make that better. I was like, well, I can probably at the very least just get myself a better task, um, and start to work on making the environment a little better. Um, but then also like, you know, I’ve been a little bit frustrated, like, okay, I feel like I’m a little stifled as a product leader because there’s a level of creativity and thinking, I think visually, I think in pictures. So the, the, the inability to get, get up when I’m in a meeting and just draw something out and say, do you mean like this? And draw some boxes and Adam literally meaning like boxes and arrows is all you need to do. Yeah. Um, and that’s kind of off, you know, a little bit off the board off the, off the board literally.
C Todd Lombardo 00:04:55 And, um, I don’t have, like, my space here is very constrained on my desk. It’s not even like I have enough room to throw a notebook down and be like, let me see, let me sketch this out for you right now. Um, yeah. So it just, that had got me thinking like, wow, I feel like, um, you know, I’ve got to find a way to help such solving for this a little bit as a product person. So I can help not only bring my team together, but also, you know, maybe conceptually drive them, um, and, and help them visualize some things. Because a lot of times I’m, I found it, especially this year. I’m a lot more verbal in my, in my communication. And we know that verbal community like communication, there’s a huge amount that’s nonverbal of their body language and tone of voice and everything. But also there’s a level of visual in that. And I think that part is missing, uh, this year, our, at least from me and product leadership.
Andrew Skotzko 00:05:38 Yeah. So here’s a, here’s a related question, just cause we’re on the topic of like, how do you lead teams and so forth in, in a, in a totally different environment. But the thing that I’m finding I miss the most is like the walk arounds, you know, or I’d walk around and just, Hey, what’s up, how’s it going? And that would inevitably lead to something interesting sometimes. Or, you know, there’s the water cooler conversations that would yield some great insight. And I’m curious if you’ve seen anything to try to replicate that or at least get some of the benefits of it, even if the way it happens is different.
C Todd Lombardo 00:06:08 Yeah. Yeah. We’ve, we’ve always had this at, um, at Machine Metrics and it’s called the dev cafe. And so, uh, it was really initially started by the developers and they were just, I think when they first started, it was like every day at like 1140. Um, they would just jump all, jump on a call or, uh, I think when everyone was in the same office, just hop on and just be like, Hey, what’s up? Uh, anyone want to talk about anything? And it was daily for a long time. Uh, and then when we got two offices, so we Boston and North Hampton, uh, there’s clearly like it had to be done over, over zoom and every day was to felt like too much. Um, so then we just limited it to Monday and Thursday and actually works out well, it’s still, still going. Um, so I wanna kind of hop on around 1140 or Adeline before you hop on and kind of just talk about whatever.
C Todd Lombardo 00:06:57 Like sometimes there’s an agenda sometimes there isn’t sometimes somebody throws in Slack like, Oh, Hey, I want to talk about this thing. And, um, so it, it is mostly for the product organization, uh, like marketing and sales really don’t really show up to it. Um, I don’t even know if they’re officially invited, but that’s the, just one example of that kind of water cooler asked type of banter, um, where you can kind of just almost a walk around, um, type of scenario. It’s like, Oh yeah, it’s not quite as random. There is, it is scheduled. Um, but it does, it does happen. I think Slack does allow for the, you know, quick, Hey, I want to talk to you about blank. Um, but it’s still, it’s, it’s still can get that quick access, which a lot of walk around can like, Oh, Hey, remind me. Um, but that also comes with a downside of like, you can do that at any time of day at any time of night when somebody is in a meeting or not. Uh, and that’s going to be, uh, antithetical to good product, like productivity. Like somebody could just be like trying to solve a problem. And so it’d be like Slack, like, you know, you put your phone in airplane mode, I put it in airplane mode. It’s like, yeah, let’s, let’s put those distractions aside. We need to have a conversation. Um, yeah,
Andrew Skotzko 00:08:04 Actually I have an idea that might help for this. So one of the things I’m very into in my life that helps me a lot. And it has been major help for me during the craziness of the, of 2020 has been, um, uh, a meditation practice. So that’s something I’ve gotten. I had one for a couple of years, but have really leaned on it this year. And I’m in a, um, one of the meditation groups I participate in has now basically moved fully online as you would expect. And we have like a Slack channel for it and everything. And there’s a thing that people are doing in that group that actually might work for this. It just occurred to me, which is, um, people in meditation groups. They like to sit and meditate together. And it’s a little bit like this where it’s like, how do you have that serendipitous thing?
Andrew Skotzko 00:08:39 And so what people people will start doing is we have this just like, it’s always on meeting room basically. And anytime you want to go sit, like you can just pop into it. And so what people will do is they’ll just say like, Hey, I’m going to go sit in 10 minutes for half an hour. And anyone who wants to join just pops in then. And so they kinda like broadcast it out. And so it’s, it’s a little bit, uh, it’s not scheduled, but you kind of have that. It’s almost like, Hey, I’m getting coffee in 10 minutes. You have to go. It’s like, it’s kinda like that. Um, and so I don’t know, it might, might be a thing that could work, but it’s, I’ve seen it yields some funds. Serendipity.
C Todd Lombardo 00:09:10 Yeah. There’s a, the team out in North Hampton, mass. Um, they used to go for, um, they called it familiars at four. Familiar is a local coffee shop that was just around the corner from the office there. And so they used to go there four o’clock in the afternoon. Um, and, uh, what the, what the team still did. Well, I didn’t realize this. Um, but they would still like get together at four o’clock and be like, Hey, you know, familiars at four, they would actually just go and get together and just, just like, hang out on Slack and have a banter. So they, that was another thing. It was less scheduled. Oh, well it’s still scheduled, but it was daily. And it was again, you know, just show up and hang out and talk about whatever, like really just grab a coffee. And then we also have, um, Thursdays at four 30.
C Todd Lombardo 00:09:52 We do, uh, like anyone wants to just crack a beer and do a happy hour, come hang out and chat, you know, like, shoot, shoot the shit, you know, whatever, grab a beer, talk about whatever you want to talk about. Um, yeah, for sure. So those, those are a couple of things that we’ve tried to do to, to try to keep some of those randomness and some, you know, the, the not so everything’s scheduled. Um, the other thing that we’re trying that we’ve just started to think about, um, because we were a bunch of us were three or four of us were doing, uh, uh, let me back up this week. I told you off, off the recording, but, uh, this week my team has been working on OKR for the next year. And in that conversation, we’ve had some subgroups in this one subgroup.
C Todd Lombardo 00:10:33 I was in, uh, myself, my CTO and my director of HR. We were talking about the meetings and always being on zoom. And so we thought that one of the things we’re going to invite the team to consider is let’s just Mark a meeting as a walk and talk. So no zoom, right. Audio only. And you don’t need to be in front of a computer because so much of us, so many times we feel like I have to be sitting down in front of a computer, on a meeting to be on screen. And I think, cause that misses, we missed that. Like the familiar is at four, like you actually walk and talk and it’s amazing when you’re actually walking and moving and how your brain might move a little bit differently and think a little bit differently when you’re, when you’re in motion. So, um, we’re, we’re basically gonna propose like a, Hey, why don’t we just add that as an option in our calendars? Like, Oh, this can be a walk and talk meeting. So it means no screen, no, like just audio only walk around, you know, do, do something active while you’re, while you’re talking and don’t feel like you have to be in front of a TV or a TV up a screen.
Andrew Skotzko 00:11:31 Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I’ve started doing before the pandemic. I noticed that I was, I wanted more video meetings with people. Right. And now I want the opposite because before the pandemic, I be like, Oh cool. I would always be on a call with somebody and it was such an inferior experience. And then I wanted a video meeting and now it’s flipped because now I’m on too many video meetings. And so now I’ve started dialing just on phone to like every possible thing I can write if I have, like, if I have any one-on-one call with somebody, not at not any, but like at least half of them, I’m not showing up on video. I’m just calling in and I’m out for like a walk in the neighborhood somewhere. And, uh, I will say it totally works. Totally works
C Todd Lombardo 00:12:09 Well. Let’s, let’s sort of pivot into some of the
Andrew Skotzko 00:12:11 Main things we’re going to talk about today. Cause you, you know, it’s funny, you were just mentioning OKR is, and I think it’s that time of year, it feels like everybody I’ve talked to lately, right. Is, is where everyone’s in that product planning cycle. Everyone’s thinking like, okay, 2020s, thankfully just about done. What are we going to do next year? We’re going to talk a lot in this conversation about your new book, product research rules and about interviewing and things like that. But I actually, you know, you and I first got connected because your last book, uh, product roadmaps, relaunched like basically came, it was my white Knight when I was losing my mind to the, uh, to the world, to the insanity of roadmapping. And it just, you know, I feel like this is, this is, uh, this is everybody’s in that insanity right now. And I thought it might be worth spending a few, a few minutes, at least talking about that. And, and kind of, you know, it’s been a couple of years since that book came out, how your thinking has evolved about that. So, you know, if you were going to give somebody today, like, Hey, here’s what, how I would recommend you do this. Right? Whether it’s you think about integrating like, okay, RS and roadmaps in, should we have roadmaps? There’s always that question. Um, how are you thinking about that stuff?
C Todd Lombardo 00:13:13 Yeah. Great question. Um, my thinking definitely has evolved. I think the overall principles you wrote about in the book are still very sound. Maybe the way we explain them. And, uh, some of the more nuances around them probably have evolved since. Um, but, but overall it’s, um, setting goals, right? Goal setting is still important regardless of, of the industry, uh, your position in the company, et cetera. It’s good to set goals. I think that’s just a human thing. And then how do you know, you’re reach that goal? Like that’s where OKR is are. Right. And it’s funny. I was trying to explain OKR is to my wife. She’s like, why do you call them? OKR is why don’t you just call them goals? So like, you know, like, and that’s how you reach it. That’s great. I was like, that’s just the acronym. And I was like, nevermind, the history of like HP, right?
C Todd Lombardo 00:14:08 She’s like w uh, yeah, anyways, I was like, look, you have a patient. You want to have that patient, you know, the outcome is the, you know, successful surgery or the surgery is the activity you did, but the outcome is the health of the patient. I was trying to explain all that. And how do you measure the, uh, the health of that patient, that kind of thing, but it was fun. And, um, but I think that, you know, goal setting, whether you use OTRs or something else, right. Setting goals is important. Uh, looking towards the future, planning out the act of planning is incredibly valuable. Uh, even if the plan itself is not directly followed. Uh, and I think that’s one of the other things that I don’t know if we nail that point home in the book, but that’s what roadmapping is ultimately trying to get you to do is to think about where you’re going in the future.
C Todd Lombardo 00:14:51 And, uh, even if you may not go exactly there, the fact that you’ve come together and brought your team together, uh, and facilitated conversations so that you’re in agreement and alignment of this is the direction we’re going in. Um, great. That may, that may change that’s okay. Uh, but that’s ultimately, I think the thing that’s really important to setting a goal and having a direction are two of the, the big things. And then the Dean wants us to get there, like, yeah, separate your, your release, planning your roadmap. And that’s a lot of people, um, you know, from my experience and from others, like that was the epiphany of a lot of people like, Oh my God, like, I’m trying to mash these two of the same documents together to be one thing. It actually has to separate them and that’s going to help out a lot.
C Todd Lombardo 00:15:32 Um, you know, that’s also very, very important, I think because the roadmap can be much more strategic in nature and much more thematic as where you’re going. And, and if I think about it this way, it’s like, if your roadmap is that strategic direction setting, here’s where we’re going. The release plan is like your turn by turn directions, right? If I’m driving to you from, from here in the Boston area, uh, I might have turn by turn directions that might get me out of Massachusetts into New York, but I’m probably not going to have turn by turn directions that get me through Texas and all the way into, you know, maybe through Vegas and to Southern California. I might not have those right now because I may go a different way. I may have the San Francisco first and then go down. Right. I, I’m not exactly sure. I know I’m going West, uh, in a, in an overall direction, but my turn by turn directions, aren’t going to be that granular that far out, but they are going to be pretty granular probably for me to get me out of Massachusetts and, and maybe in, through to New York or something. Right. Um, so that’s kind of how I think the metaphor plays really well is that release plan is your turn by turn directions that are short term. Uh, but your roadmap is kind of giving you that more longer term, uh, direction.
Andrew Skotzko 00:16:36 Yeah. You know, I think when I first read your book, I think I had a confusion that maybe a lot of people who have read a lot of the things in the product space may also share, which is, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of voices in the product space, some of which are very, very vocal that we shouldn’t do, uh, roadmaps at all. We should rather just, just do OKR and have a, have a product vision. For example, Marty Cagan, he’s one of the folks who’s advocate strongly in that direction, but as I’ve sat with sort of both, both sets of material, and I just actually had Marty on the show recently, and it occurred to me that we were kind of, everyone was actually saying the same thing, just using different language. I think of Marty
C Todd Lombardo 00:17:13 Approach to a roadmap is the older, like more Gantt chart release plan. Like, like his mind goes to there with a roadmap. He, he thinks, I think, and I’ve had a couple of conversations. I had dinner with him in London at one of the mine, the products I, and we even approached him to talk about it. And he was like, Oh, I don’t want to do any of the roadmaps. But as you start to unpack what he’s saying, he’s basically thinking a roadmap is a longer-term release plan. Like that was sort of his Mo mental model of it. And I was like, Oh, okay, great. Then we’re actually pretty aligned in what we’re talking about. We’re just using slightly different words the way I interpret,
Andrew Skotzko 00:17:50 Like the way I’ve sort of pushed the smash, those together in my mind is that, you know, if you sit with a lot of Marty stuff, um, you know, he talks a lot, especially recently, which I’m very glad about, about product strategy, right? And he first defined that a few years back, he talked about it as like, Oh, what’s the sequence of product market fits. Now he started talking about it a little bit more abstractly in terms of, you know, basically what is the set of problems we need to solve and in what order? And it’s like, Oh, when you think about it, that way, you’re saying the same thing, like a roadmap in your language is just a representation of that. And so I was like, Oh, okay. They’re, they’re pretty, pretty much on the same page here. Just different.
C Todd Lombardo 00:18:24 Yep. No, I completely agree. It’s, it’s funny because we realized that we had to decouple those things. Cause everyone was thinking, Oh, roadmap is these two things together. And it shouldn’t be so
Andrew Skotzko 00:18:33 Echoes what I’ve heard from many people and experienced myself, which was, you kind of end up at that truth that I think it’s the famous Eisenhower quote where he says, what plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. Something like that, right. Where it’s like, yeah, the problem is only when we stay attached to our plans. Right. But the fact that we planned together, hopefully that was actually really great. Uh, because now we have a shared context and all of those things, I actually have a specific question for you that came from an audience member. So thinking about roadmaps by now, anybody who’s paying any attention in the product space has had it well drilled into their head that, you know, focus on outcomes, focus on problems to solve. Right. Marty’s big about this with his new book and powered, right. We know it’s an empowered team when they’re given problems to solve, not solutions to build.
Andrew Skotzko 00:19:18 That makes sense. Conceptually, where I and others are finding it a bit tricky, uh, to put into practice is kind of the, I’m going to say like the level, the altitude or the granularity, where it moves from one to the other. And so the question is, you know, if you think about a roadmapping process that is more strategic, kind of at what level does something move from being this strategic problem we’ve got to solve to being a quote unquote solution, like how well defined is something have to be for it to click over from the former to the latter.
C Todd Lombardo 00:19:50 Makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. You’re kind of asking like what, like what altitude, how grim you’re going to be about the problem I need to solve. And, um, it’s going to vary based on, I guess, what your position is, how big your company is. Um, and where are you at
Andrew Skotzko 00:20:04 As an example, maybe that’ll be, maybe that’ll make it more obvious. So I went through a roadmap exercise recently, and I obviously have to fuzz out most of the details here, but we were designing the future of a system, right. We just say, okay, we see this future in about two years, about two years out, we believe we can get to this future. And along the way to that, we can see these high level things that they have to exist for this future to exist. Right? Like you can’t do this future unless you have these, these big building blocks basically. Uh, and, and along the way, so those building blocks obviously represent big pieces of the challenge that have to be solved, but they’re tend to be framed as like you need, we were designing command and control for an autonomous system. Um, and we were looking at all the different things that had to be involved. And so my question is I started to wonder about, are we getting too prescriptive with this? Right? And so is it, is it, are we actually disempowering the team? If we say, Hey, in this quarter, we believe we need to solve like this planning problem or this part of the planning piece of the whole solution. Is that still a quote-unquote problem? Or have we crossed over now into solution territory? And are we disempowering the team?
C Todd Lombardo 00:21:10 So you’ve identified that the planning was the, the, the, the struggle to plan was the problem. Like, what was the problem that you had defined? It was around planning. Maybe I’m getting too, too into the details. Um, but it sounded like the, the, the problem was around, Oh, that the users struggle with planning this out. And so we need to figure out how to solve that, because is it, is it called, did it cause friction elsewhere? Did it cause friction in there in the rest of the user’s life or job or use outside of the product? Um, and if so, okay, this is going to add a lot of user value. Um, there’s probably a lot of ways you could solve for that planning. Um, and that’s where, you know, okay, we know we need to focus on this planning element. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it, but we need to figure out a better way to, to allow for planning.
C Todd Lombardo 00:21:57 Um, that’s where you could have, like I’ve clearly defined and framed the problem only to get the hell out of the way and let the team figure out what the solution is. I have another example that I can talk about from Machine Metrics. Um, this was kind of fun to see because it was a great, it was one of the, one of the first examples since I arrived at Machine Metrics was how the team came. And I, and I had been sort of doing the same thing with my PM at the time, like, see if you can just frame the problem and, you know, step back and not tell them exactly how to, how to do it or how to, how to implement it. And, uh, so my product manager at the time said, okay, we need a better way for machinists who were running these, these machines on the factory floor to see how they’re tracking on their day.
C Todd Lombardo 00:22:39 So, um, on a factory floor, a machinist might have, like, here’s an order. You got to make a hundred parts, a part a, and then maybe 200 parts of part B. Um, and so when they’re running that, that a part a, and they’re in that tracking on to that a hundred parts, it’s like, what does that look like? And so we kind of have some, some metrics around that and some visualizations, um, but like you have made so far, you’ve made 56 parts you should have made, you know, um, 58 parts. So you’re a couple parts behind what does that mean? And so we could just throw up some numbers. That was one of the things that we were trying to do, but then we thought about like, well, you know, the machinist isn’t always staring at the screen so we can make the numbers larger, but maybe we should figure out a way to visualize this.
C Todd Lombardo 00:23:20 So, um, one of our front end developers saw the, um, the burnup chart in JIRA and he’s like, well, wait a minute. He’s like, basically the, the, the simple line, the dotted line is like, what you should have made. Like, you know, you, roughly every part takes a certain amount of time to make. Um, that’s roughly where to put that slope of the line based on what the cycle time of the part is, how much it takes, how long it takes to make a part. And he’s like, and then the step, like we can, the increment every time, uh, we get the, from the machine that says, Hey, you’ve made a part. Once we get that data point from the machine, we can just increment that. And so you kind of have this like step wise up. And so does, how far up or down are you from that standard line?
C Todd Lombardo 00:24:01 Um, does it see, so we’re kind of tried to replicate a similar thing to what year has for their burnup chart into our product. And, um, it was one of those things that like, Oh my God, like, it totally solved the problem, but we didn’t, you know, the PM didn’t say build a new, build a new chart. He was just like, yeah, we’re trying to figure out a better way to do this. So it was actually the designer, Oh, it was actually the front of developers, initial idea. And they worked with the designer to figure out exactly how to, how to implement it. But, um, good example of here’s the problem. They’re not like we have some numbers on the screen, but those numbers aren’t solving the problem. Uh, we gotta find a better way to visualize this. What can, what can we do? Um, that’s one probably more at the, like, here’s a product scene area around visualization, and here’s a more feature like specific feature level.
C Todd Lombardo 00:24:46 There may be something even higher than that. Right. Um, Oh, Hey. Um, but let’s just take the manufacturing operators for a second. Like, you know, operators are struggling to do their job right now. Like our, our tablet interface, our mobile laptop, not a mobile app, but it’s all tablet interface is designed to make them a better operator. So like empower one operator to the work of three, uh, effectively is what the intent is for it. So are we providing with the right pieces of information on that tablet interface to let them, you know, do that. And obviously we, they’re not going to be staring at it every single second of the day, they’re going to be looking at lots of other things going to be looking up like, all right, it’s 20 feet away. Do I have a quick visual that tells me what’s going on?
C Todd Lombardo 00:25:29 I don’t have to worry about that. I can focus somewhere else. Right. And so that’s a much higher level of problem to solve, and there’s a whole bunch of features that could actually go and solve that problem. Right. So I think it depends on the level of what you’re trying to solve and how broad it is when you start district we’ll circle back to your earlier question of like, when does it become a problem to solve? When does it become a feature? How do you actually frame it? Um, so does that start to help put into context of, yeah,
Andrew Skotzko 00:25:54 Absolutely. But it occurs to me that we’re really talking about problem framing, which is one of these to me, like subtle arts. Right. It’s, it’s very simple to understand at the surface, but when you get into it, it’s quite challenging. I find how do you actually coach people on problem framing? Like how do we know when we’ve got a good frame versus a not helpful frame?
C Todd Lombardo 00:26:10 Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. I think, um, one of the things that I think RS did a good job outlining, this is kind of in a book of like, you got a hunch and around something, and I’ve got a hunch that something is off and how do I go from that hunch to something that’s a little more crystallized. Right. And so what I, what I think about is does, you know, you’ve got a hunch on something like, what’s the, what’s the piece of information? What, what do you perceive is incorrect about a scenario or a situation? And can that help you think through a little more about what the problem is? And so a lot of it is, and some, a lot of it sometimes is like getting into that, you know, simple five whys. Right. But maybe it isn’t just why it’s like the, who, what, when, where how, right.
C Todd Lombardo 00:26:56 So it’s the five W’s plus H um, and just looking at a problem and be like, or looking at a scenario and saying, what’s different about what’s wrong about this? How do we think about this? How are we thinking about it today? How do we map out our assumptions? Um, and so it’s, uh, I’ve talked about this in, um, in other areas too. I think we mentioned a little bit in the, the research rules book is like, uh, I learned this from a guy here in Massachusetts called Dan Rothstein. It’s called the right question Institute and the, sort of the right questions, question formulation technique. And it was actually invented for like elementary school kids. And if you could teach kids to ask better questions, they learn better. So it was total educational environment that it was brought in, but it applies to all of our life. And of course, to a product person, because you, as a product leader, like what are the questions I need answers to, right. What are the, what are the ways to think about things? Cause if you have all the answers, you probably don’t have a, you don’t need a team, right. If you have everything’s answered, something’s wrong. Right. You, you should do it. Right. Exactly. There’s a question.
C Todd Lombardo 00:28:01 So I think that’s part of it is, is coaching them to think through what are the right questions I should be asking? Are they open-ended questions if I’m asking a close ended question, should I flip it to an open, if I’m asking you to open, I’m going to question what happens if I flip it to a close, does that change? What my, what, what I learned about the scenario? Um, so that’s one way to think about how to,
Andrew Skotzko 00:28:20 Through an example of using the question formulation, too.
C Todd Lombardo 00:28:23 Sure. What was the, um, the planning example you talked about, you want to use that as an example
Andrew Skotzko 00:28:30 We were trying to do is this is a tool, very similar to what you were saying to help empower machinists, to able to do more work basically, and have one be able to do the work of three. Yep. Same idea, but with farm operators, um, how do we sort of automate things and give them leverage effectively? Um, and so you’re starting to weave in automation technology to help farmers get more done, basically, and run it, run a more efficient farm. And the, the planning problem was saying part of this is going to be involved like the automation of certain processes that a farmer would have manually done themselves, but now they hopefully don’t have to. And the planning piece was saying, okay, there needs to be a plan that in the automated system we’ll be following. Right. And so there’s this whole question of how do you design that plan? Uh, how do you, how do you design the plan so that it’s efficient and safe and make sense? And there there’s all these like, um, kind of latent forms of understanding that a farmer or a farm, a person working on a farm has that they just implicitly do when they do it themselves. But how do you translate that into something that a machine could do basically. Okay.
C Todd Lombardo 00:29:36 So does that make sense? Yeah, it does. So from a QFT perspective, one of the things to do is what are the questions that you could think about, uh, about this farmer? What are the questions that you have about them? What questions do they have about their day and their job? And so if you started to write down all whatever questions, sort of like a question storm, like brainstorming, but for questions, right? You’d write down a bunch of questions. So maybe give me like two or three questions you might have about the farmer, their job, or their scenario. Sure. This is great. I love real examples
Andrew Skotzko 00:30:05 Are basically when does a farmer decide to go off plan, right? They’d go into a field with a plan in mind, but it’s very common that they basically deviate on the fly and they’ll say, Oh, I’m going to change here. So one question is like, well, when, when does that happen and why? Uh, another one is, uh, they talk a lot about efficiency. Uh, and there, I know there’s a lot of things that they are looking at in real time that have the kind of tell them, am I running efficiently right now? Is this machine operating efficiently? Am I on like, am I on pace in the way I want to be? Uh, I don’t think we have a good enough understanding of what those, what basically what those inputs to their decision process.
C Todd Lombardo 00:30:46 Okay. So let’s, let’s say I’ve got three questions that I wrote down. First question I had was when does the farmer decide to go off the plan? Second question was, why did they decide to go off plan? Third question was from the farmer’s perspective. Am I running efficiently? What is it about those, those three questions you got two first two are open-ended questions. Uh, when, when Y although when can, uh, oftentimes is a semi-closed question, right? There’s usually very discreet answers, right? Why as much more open broad open-ended uh, third question is yes or no. Am I running efficiently? Yes or no. So I would challenge you to say like, from a QFT perspective, so, okay. Um,
Andrew Skotzko 00:31:27 Or maybe I would reframe, rephrase the third one. I’d say, okay, what, how do I know when I’m running efficiently?
C Todd Lombardo 00:31:33 Right. So that’s my next challenge is let’s flip them both. Let’s flip them either direction. So when does the farmer decide to go off plan? How would you change that to an even more closed question it’s kind of open. So how would you change it to a more closed question? Or how would you team to, to a more open question? Um,
Andrew Skotzko 00:31:50 More open would be something like, uh, what has a farmer change the plan, or why does that was the first one? Wasn’t a, why? Why does a farmer change the plans? The second one I already was the second one. Um, I’m struggling with this one. Uh, this is harder than I thought. Um,
C Todd Lombardo 00:32:07 I’ll give you a little, little, little, little nudge. Does a farmer go off plan frequently? So again, it’s closing the question, right? Do they go off plan frequent? I don’t tell you when I just say, do they go off plan frequently or really often it, right. So again, it’s trying to just close the question. Cause it was the question initially was when, so it’s around frequency, um, or a time-based. So you could close the question by, by saying, do they go off frequently? All right. Now let’s take the second question. Why do they decide to do this? How would you close or reframe that question? You could think about a couple of different things there. Like how would you close that question? And not necessarily, you’re going to specifically go with the close, but the fact that you have to think through, how do I turn this open-ended question into a close ended question?
Andrew Skotzko 00:32:48 Yeah, no, it’s breaking my brain a little bit. This is great. Uh, this is a really useful exercise and I want to practice with this more. Um, I’ve never, I’m not used to closing that question down. Uh, so why does pharma go off plan? Um, I would say something like, why does a farmer, well, why is still pretty open? I was going to say, uh,
C Todd Lombardo 00:33:13 I’m
Andrew Skotzko 00:33:13 Trying to get, I’m trying to keep it still in the domain of like causes. So I could say what causes a farmer to change course.
C Todd Lombardo 00:33:19 Yeah. Yeah. You could start to get to a, what so stress to get to maybe a slightly more limited set of questions. Um, and I would, I would look at it as thinking, like, does it help the farmer if they go off plan? Right. So if they go off plan, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Right? Is it good or bad to go off plan? Yes. There was a plan. Like we just talked about plans and roadmaps and we know that sometimes going off plane is a good thing. The fact that we have a plan is good. The fact that we don’t have to stick to it sometimes sticking to what’s bad. Um, so maybe the same thing applies to a farmer. Right. Um, and the last question was, all right, close question. Am I running efficiently? How would you open that up,
Andrew Skotzko 00:33:57 Going to say, what, what are the important indicators that a farmer looks at in their operation? That’s a little bit still, still kind of close, but it’s a little bit more open. Yeah.
C Todd Lombardo 00:34:06 Yeah. Still pretty open question, I’d say. Um, yeah. Yep.
Andrew Skotzko 00:34:11 As a farmer and experienced farmer or an operator can quickly look at a dashboard or a set of metrics and have instantly have a sense of how well this is going. And I don’t understand that model basically. I don’t understand the model in their head.
C Todd Lombardo 00:34:27 Yeah. I would I phrase the question is how does a farmer know they’re running efficiently or not? Right. So that’s sort of how we open up that question. Right? So now we’ve gone through this exercise, just taking these three questions and trying to think about them in different ways. Um, so using, you know, Danny, uh, in their QFT method is like, okay, you know, um, now that we’ve opened our close to them, which question is, do we actually want to try and answer which ones are gonna help us achieve our initial goal of helping this farmer plan better. If we answer a certain questions we may get, we may get us further along to reaching our goal. So that’s kind of how you can use QFT to think through an area and try to frame your problem space a little bit better. That kind of helps exemplify the situation. Uh, yeah, he did. He broke her brain a little bit,
Andrew Skotzko 00:35:18 At least weekly. Hopefully more than that. Yeah. I love, I love that. Thank you. Uh, because the question I find that I struggle with is that teams of people on the teams I work with struggle with is knowing when it’s framed enough, basically right. Where they are. Cause you can go infinitely down the rabbit hole of like generating questions and, you know, one thing I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about is sort of the distinction between, uh, research questions and interview questions. That’s something that I think a lot of people, uh, they it’s easily missed.
C Todd Lombardo 00:35:46 Yup. Yup. For sure. Um, but in this scenario, like, yeah, you can go down the rabbit hole and then sometimes you might notice that some of your questions are actually very solution focused questions. They’re, they’re really focused on, well, what’s going to solve this problem versus do I understand more about this problem? And so that’s one way to start to think about how are we framing the problem appropriately. And sometimes it’s the problem framing. The problem itself is what we want to do. You could think about, um, like a simple object, like a bicycle, um, you know, the bicycle is blue. Um, the bicycle is, is specially they’re frames of looking at a bicycle. I could look at it and be like, Oh, I could look at it through one frame as a color. And it’s like, what color is the bike? It’s blue. And think about it from the aesthetic version.
C Todd Lombardo 00:36:30 Uh, I could look at another frame and be like, what type of bike is it? Well, it’s a road bike. Um, so that’s a different, and then another frame would be, how is the bike often used, uh, commuter bike, exercise, bike, you know, race, bike, that kind of thing. Um, there are different frames to look at. The same thing is a bicycle. I’m still looking at a bike, but I’m looking at it through different lenses, one through an aesthetic lens, a one through, it was more of an exercise uses lens, et cetera. Uh, one through a categorical lens. Like how am I categorizing this bicycle? And so that’s kind of how you can start to think and frame things, uh, when you’re looking at a scenario.
Andrew Skotzko 00:37:04 Yeah. I’d love to ask you something here. So one of the things that has been when I’ve been coaching people recently, uh, particularly when I, if I’m coaching somebody who I don’t actually work with, you know, sub just a listener and the as, as I I’ll do coaching sessions with people in the audience, friends, whatever, the piece of advice I was giving someone recently was if they could only change one sort of set of practices in their teams would be to move from sort of big bang heavyweight process, especially around research to kind of just lightweight, ongoing, continuous. And I’m curious, do you agree with that? And B if you do, what do you see as the things that really get in the way of that? Because I find that to be a lot of people see it, but they’re having a hard time getting there.
C Todd Lombardo 00:37:48 I say mostly, yes. I think there are scenarios where, you know, you really just need to stop and do some heavy research. Um, maybe you just don’t know enough. Um, I would say that those are probably less and less these days, but there are definitely scenarios we use need to kind of like, alright, we’re gonna roll up our sleeves and spend the next couple of months digging into this because we just don’t know enough. Um, that may mean you have a series of small, lighter weight things as well. Um, because the, that learning velocity is what you’re really looking for here. Um, but it may take you three, five, six months sometimes to get an appropriate answer for a question, whether that be a question on the user side or on technology side, um, you know, example that we’re working on. We have some technology we’re working on from a machine learning perspective that it’s not like we could do these lightweight things and learn something in a week.
C Todd Lombardo 00:38:33 We actually need a lot time to let that happen because we just need to acquire the amount of data, process it, et cetera. It’s going to take months to get there. Um, it’s not going to be like, Oh yeah, it’s one or two weeks of research and we’re done. No. Um, uh, so I think there’s, there’s, there’s different scenarios, but I tend to be on the side of, yeah, let’s be a little more lightweight in what we’re trying to do, because I think it goes back to that learning velocity. How quickly can we learn if we’re right wrong and course correct. Uh, especially in software because we can change things relatively quickly. Um, it’s these days we can change. You can change stuff within a couple of weeks, like, Oh, we’ve built this feature this way, access the wrong feature. Doesn’t solve the problem. Let’s move and change it, uh, go into another different direction. Um, you know, the example I gave you with the operator interface, like, yeah, we were throwing up some numbers, but the numbers weren’t quite doing it. So the visual actually helped a lot better. Um, you know, simple, simple solution, different solution, but our, one of the individual solutions didn’t solve the problem. We had to go, go think it again. So, um, yeah, yeah. Is that, does that help?
Andrew Skotzko 00:39:38 It does. It does. As I’ve read, I was reading the book and everybody, if you’re interested in learning more about how to do product research, I highly recommend going getting your hands on this. It’s a, it’s a short book, but it really, it, it it’s, there’s no fluff. Let’s put it that way. It just gets right into it, which I thoroughly appreciate as somebody who reads a lot of books. Um, what are the things that I really notice? And I’m actually going to reference the page number here. I think it’s page 89 because it stood out to me that much, there is a chart you have there where you basically help people figure out. One of, one of the things that I think is most difficult, which is basically which tool do I use when
C Todd Lombardo 00:40:11 76 actual book.
Andrew Skotzko 00:40:14 So it’s actually changed the question here, see, Todd is, you know, there’s so many tools at our disposal. How do we decide which tool?
C Todd Lombardo 00:40:21 Yeah, yeah, yeah. It does ultimately goes back to like, what is it that you’re trying to answer right. Making? And this is, that was the big thing for this particular chapter was you don’t want to go to, um, an evaluative research technique, like a usability test. Like can somebody, you know, complete this flow and you know, let’s see complete to check out of a shopping cart, right? You don’t want to do that when you’re still trying to understand what their buying behaviors and attitudes are. Uh, so putting somebody, putting a shopping cart, design concept and seeing how they navigate your, your, just your shopping cart, isn’t going to tell you attitudes and behaviors. It might tell you a little bit, if you’re able to ask them a couple of questions, it’s not going to give you the right data you need. So matching the, the method of your research with what you’re trying to answer.
C Todd Lombardo 00:41:06 And this gets to probably the research question. What the heck is a research question? How is it different than just an interview question? Um, that’s probably, you know, you need to think about those, those methods of, alright, it’s just like building a house. You’re not gonna, you know, um, necessarily get two pieces of wood stuck together with a saw, you’re going to separate one piece into two that way. Right? Make sure you use the right tools for the right thing. Um, so, and sometimes I think there’s been a reliance of when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Oftentimes some people just be like, Oh, well, let’s design a prototype, put it in front of our customers. It’s really good to do that, but it’s not the only thing we should be doing. Right. We should be looking at a lot of different things.
C Todd Lombardo 00:41:47 And one of the, you should be looking at your qualitative data. You should be looking at your quantitative data. You should be looking at your market daily. She would go all of those different things. Because as a product leader, you can’t ignore any of them. Right. You might have a focus in one, one area, the other, but you can’t ignore them. You have to bring them all together. And that’s a thing we were trying to do with the book. Um, but when it goes back to like, how do I know which one to do? Like that table we created? Like, all right, if we are looking for attitudes and behavior, qualitative type of research, right? Generative user research, you want to be looking at like dairy studies, interviews, other things like that to try and explore this. Now we didn’t want to make the book a compendium of methods because when we started down this path, we’re like, this is going to be an encyclopedia.
C Todd Lombardo 00:42:28 That’s like 900 pages long. Hence the, the sort of evolution into like, these are some rules to guide you, um, and think about things. Uh, so, but you know, if you want to look at more qualitative things, like what pathways does, um, a customer navigate through your application to get to a certain point, like you may want to look at your, your, your quality of it, whether you use Pendo or amplitude or Google and it’s, whatever your heat, any of your favorite analytics packages that can help start to tell you what the journey is through that from a product usage perspective. But what you don’t know is where were they before they came into your product? What did they do after they left your product? What drove them to come into your product that day? Uh, was it a notification or a trigger, or was it some other external factor that’s where some of your qualitative data can help you? Um, do you need to find out like, um, you know, what, is there a hierarchy around things like, are you looking for particular behaviors? So a lot of it is, you know, abstracting it, that goes back to like, what are you looking to try and answer? Making sure you’re matching the type of, of data qualitative or quantitative, probably some mix of both, uh, with the one that matches up to the research question, trying to answer that research question could be a lot of different things.
Andrew Skotzko 00:43:40 Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So tell me a little bit, so in terms of selecting methods, a lot of the listeners I have heard from are at the earlier stages of a product, right? And so I’m curious, how do some of these tools, like, how does the thinking need to shift to somebody, you know, really early stage, like maybe it’s a brand new product and a startup that doesn’t have product market fit yet. You know, that is a very different world than when you’re optimizing and scaling a thing that is fully locked into a market.
C Todd Lombardo 00:44:07 Yeah. You’re still trying, you’re still in discovery mode in a sense. Right. And so a lot of it is going to be more, much more qualitative type of research then, because one, you probably don’t have a lot of customers tracking through your products. You can say, Oh yeah, you know, I’ve got X percent of my customers, you know, doing this and that we might have 10, 10 customers. So that like, you know, 10% means only five, uh, one person, uh, doing this. So, um, you’re pressing much more the, on the qualitative side of things. So you’d like more generative user research, ethnographic studies, more, um, maybe even descriptive usage. I was taking that like, alright, cause generative research might be like, what questions do we need to answer? Um, descriptive research says, we know what the question is. We just need to fill out what actually what what’s going on here.
C Todd Lombardo 00:44:48 We need to, we need to be more descriptive of the scenario. Um, so you’re looking probably at different types of research questions there. Then if you’re in like, I’m, you know, I’m Dropbox, I just need to work on optimizing for this particular, um, problem around file sharing, for example, or file editing, that kind of thing. Um, and that’s where you might want to look at usage patterns and diagnostics analysis and things like that. And you can start to, you know, if you have lots of data, you can get predictive. Um, but that’s a whole other ball of wax. But yeah, that I sort of did that table in the book tries to map out like here’s stage wall and here’s stage two here’s stage three. And we kind of give you some very, you know, finger stick guidelines around, well, this is the type of things you probably want to understand. Here are a couple suggested approaches and a couple of detailed methods.
Andrew Skotzko 00:45:35 Yeah, absolutely. So one of the questions that’s come up, you know, everybody in product, we all, we all deal with, uh, you know, everyone’s favorite word stakeholder. Um, and one of the, one of the things that occurs to me and I’ve seen is that there’s a trap we can fall into when we start to adopt some of these methods, which is, you know, the team might be really doing a great job running way ahead, like getting into the research, understanding what is going on, et cetera. And there, it seems to me there’s a real risk of, if you don’t bring those stakeholders along for the ride, it’s not going to go well at the other end, right? Like you’re going to come out the other end with a very different conclusion. That’s going to be jarring. It’s probably not. It’s probably gonna get shot down. Um, so how do, how does, how do teams do that? How do we, how do we bring all these other folks who are not actually necessarily in the room and on the ride, how do we bring them along for the ride? So that they’re bought in to what happens at the other end,
C Todd Lombardo 00:46:26 A couple of different ways to do that. Um, uh, one of the things we talked about in the designs for book way back, when was that bringing in, um, executives or other stakeholders at key parts. So maybe they can’t be there for the whole, uh, whole design sprint, but bring them in at the initial kickoff, bring them in when you’re doing an assumption storming exercise, to understand like, what are the key questions and assumptions we have, you know, get their, get, make sure that they are part of it. Um, and then we would bring them in again, like, Hey, these are the key problems that we think we’re gonna solve. Or these are the, these are the prototypes we’re looking to build. They’re just sketches right now. But here’s how they relate to the initial assumptions and things we had previously. So bring them in again and be like, Oh yeah, I see where you’re going.
C Todd Lombardo 00:47:05 And then bring them, uh, once you’ve done all the interviews from, at the end of the design sprint, you’re doing your debrief, bring them in and say, Hey, look, we’re gonna do a debrief. We can watch some videos. We can talk about some of these things and make you include them into small parts, like maybe half hour, you know, each time. So they’re not spending the entire 40 hour week, but they’re spent maybe an hour and a half to two hours over the whole week, um, with the team along the way that’s super helpful. The other thing is try to bring, bring the scenario to them. Um, one of my favorite books is the, the chip and Dan Heath books switch and in that book and if you’ve read it, but the story that they tell about, um, trying to get organizational change around, uh, the ordering system and inventory and procurement, sorry, was procurement.
C Todd Lombardo 00:47:47 And they found that, uh, I think it was maybe it was for one of the auto companies, had a bunch of different gloves that they were buying, uh, rubber gloves, all different types of gloves. And it turned out there was like a hundred or 200 different types of gloves that they were ordering across their, their, their, um, company. And that alone was just causing all sorts of procurement issues. Um, so what they did is they said, get me one of each pair. And they brought the box of one of each pair of, I think it was like 200, but it was a lot of, and they brought, and they dumped it out on the conference table and said, look, this is a problem. So they brought the problem to the team and said, look, this is a way to go beyond just a graph. I mean, think about how empower impactful that is versus here’s a chart that shows the number of gloves we have, right.
C Todd Lombardo 00:48:38 Versus I’m sh I’m looking at a pile of a hundred gloves that are on this conference room table right now, uh, very, very different impactful, but it’s a way of bringing the problem to the stakeholders so they can see what’s going on with the research. Right. So, um, that was a great example. I think, of, of physical things on top of their desk. And, you know, videos is obviously a good thing. I’m sure there’s other AR VR types of ways to say, Hey, look, let me play you what it’s like to be this person for a day and really play you like five minutes snippets of this, or throw on some AR and see what it’s like to try and navigate their life. Or you got to walk around the hospital here, try to walk around the hospital with this, these impediments, how do you do it? Right. So bringing that beyond just the data, bringing some level of emotion to it in some way is really helpful by if you can’t bring them into it, uh, bring some element of it to them. And that’s how it’s like, I got very high level, but that’s how you have to try and do it in either direction.
Andrew Skotzko 00:49:37 I liked that because, you know, often I actually appreciate that the slightly more abstract answer, because that is like kind of the principle that you can lean on. Right? And you can, you know, the details of every situation are different, but if you understand that’s the principles, okay, don’t bring them to the problem, bring the problem to them, help them, see it and understand it. That that makes a lot of sense. Well, I want to shift gears here and close out with some rapid fire questions. They are short questions. Your answers don’t have to be, they, they’re just kind of fun starting points. So, uh, first one is what is a quote that’s important to you or saying, you know, something you, you kind of come back to often and what about it speaks to you?
C Todd Lombardo 00:50:13 Wow. So many, so many things here. Um, I’m trying to like which one do I pitch? I think probably the thing that speaks to me the most, and I dunno if this is gonna be attributed to anybody in particular, but it’s like be curious, right? I, that, that just is such a helpful guide in career and life. Um, about being curious, um, you know, what is it there’s never a stupid question or something like that. Um, that’s the thing to me is like, you got to ask questions, you just have to ask questions. And, um, because with that, you just learn so much regardless of who you are, where you are and being humble about it. No stupid, no, there, no question is a stupid question. Uh, is probably the biggest one for me. Um, in terms of quotes. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:51:00 One of the things to live by right there. So who or what has had a really big influence on how you,
C Todd Lombardo 00:51:06 You show up? Yeah. Um, I would say, Oh man, I’d say I have two, probably two places I can go with that. One is very personal. Um, my grandmother lived till she was 97 years old, probably the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life. Um, and very fortunate to that. And she was positive to her dying day, um, because she would say to me, you know, and she, when she was 97 years old, every day, I wake up, get out of bed and put my feet on the ground is a good day. So if you is as much, if you think anybody who’s listening right now, you’re having a bad day, you got up, you got out of bed and you put your feet down on the ground. You’re having a good day because there are many people in this world who can’t do those things.
C Todd Lombardo 00:51:57 So you’re probably having a good day, even if you might think you’re having a bad day. So I think there’s some level of, she had this simplistic wisdom to her, which I think, you know, now she, she passed away many years ago, but I think it still affects me because it just had this certain like way of showing up and looking at being here today right now, um, and being appreciative of even a simple thing of just waking up and standing up in the morning. Um, and so that, that’s sort of one more personal element of how I think about has shaped how I show up. And I think another one, um, is, is also a little, a little personal, but also related to, to work in that my dad was a DIY, like he’s a DIY guy through, it’s your electrical trained electric engineer, but he’s the type of person who’s like, ah, we could do this better. Like I can,
Andrew Skotzko 00:52:46 How many times, or why did they do, why did they design it this way? This doesn’t make any sense,
C Todd Lombardo 00:52:50 Totally do this better. Um, and you know, taught me how to like, you know, fix a car when I was a kid and all these things that like, and, you know, you’ve got a manual, a handful of tools and you’re like, all right, we’re not a mechanic shop, but we’re going to go out and fix this car. And that kind of trying to problem solve as a kid growing up, definitely helps with the, and I didn’t realize it until I actually got to business school. And that’s probably the other more where it like further took shape. Was that critical thinking in business school and design school that helps you think about problems in a different way and how do you solve them? Um, so those of three things come together, I think helps shape how I think about things and think about problems and trying to be a problem solver and even more so, even better than being a problem solver. Can I prevent the problem from happening in the first place? Yeah. So yeah,
Andrew Skotzko 00:53:38 You ready for this interview? And I listened to a number of other things, obviously I’ve read some of your books and it was really clear to me that, you know, you, your mind, whether by nature or by training or by both, uh, seems to bring together and fuse a few different modes of thinking into an interesting cocktail of like, there’s a sort of very, uh, there’s a very human elements of it. And then there’s also a very sort of critical design thinking element to it. And then there’s also a little bit of like that sort of very analytical, uh, engineering element too, where you’re, you know, you’re not trying to just understand the problem. You’re like, cool, what’s the root cause. And how do I, how do I weave that sucker out? I don’t think it’s ever been,
C Todd Lombardo 00:54:14 Been phrased to be that way. So thank you. That’s a, that’s very illuminating to hear hopefully that resonates with you and it really does. I think it, it does. Uh, it’s very, it’s an honor to hear that. Thank you very much. Absolutely.
Andrew Skotzko 00:54:26 Yeah, absolutely. Um, so, you know, it’s funny, I was just, uh, this morning I happened to be scrolling through Twitter and I saw you had retweeted something about somebody else had tweeted about, you know, Hey, you can be successful without, uh, being an entrepreneur, making millions of dollars, uh, writing the most cutting edge machine learning code, like whatever, all these lists of these various, you know, shiny things in the current culture. And I was curious, you know, when you think about that today for you, like where you are today, your life, what does success look like for you now
C Todd Lombardo 00:54:59 At this stage? Yeah. Um, I think for me, it’s around, um, in my helpful and impactful am I able to help somebody bigger, small, like the fact like I consider a successful because today I was able to break your brain in a very small way around questions. I was able to break your brain and help you think differently about questions, that’s success. I made an impact on somebody’s world. Hopefully I’ve made your life a little bit better. So the next time you think about questions or framing a problem, you might remember this conversation and it might, you much, it might be like infinitely better at being a good problem framer. And if that is true, I am successful. Like that is so cool to me. Like that is, to me the thing that I’ll maybe also help, partly why, how I show up is I hope I want to be helpful in any way I can. And if it’s helpful in a small way or a big way, I don’t care. It’s to me, it’s, it’s an equal amount of joy. I will feel if I help you in a very tiny way, or I help you in a really big way. So how can I help? Yeah,
Andrew Skotzko 00:56:05 This is going to probably come across as a complete tangent, but I have a deep interest in, um, Eastern philosophies, especially Buddhist philosophies. And there’s been, I’ve been doing it, having a lot of conversations, exploring the overlap of those ideas and how they integrate with a lot of the more Western ideas that we’d spend our, our days inside of, around business capitalism on and so forth. And I think when you start to look from the place that you are standing right now, you start to see something that is very unpopular right now, or out of Vogue, which, um, it’s very, very popular right now to kind of bash on capitalism and, and, you know, capitalist, patriarchal society, et cetera, et cetera. And there’s good reasons for those criticisms, for sure. Um, but I think there are also, there’s another view that is often missed. That is what I see when I look from the place you’re articulating right now, which is that, um, at its best. And I emphasize that because if there is a worst, but at its best, the things that we’re talking about here, whether it’s product or business in general are fundamentally generous acts. And I think it’s sort of good for some reason, it’s just overlooked and kind of miss, but it’s something that I am, I don’t know, I’m I’m hearing and what you’re saying.
C Todd Lombardo 00:57:12 Yeah. I think you’re right. And I think that’s when I looked back at leaders I’ve followed or people who’ve mentored me in my life or the managers I’ve had that, the ones who have been more generous are the ones that I look back. And like I learned a lot from them. They helped me, like they weren’t a jerk or an asshole or authoritarian. Um, I have an employee who reports to me. I think he’s, he’s got a background in thinking that authoritarianism is like, is what leadership means. And um, and I’m not an authoritarian leader. I think for him, it’s like, maybe I’m breaking his brain a little bit to use your phrase. Um, but also showing them like, look, it’s not about me dictating what you, what to do. It’s me helping you be a better you. And I think for him, it’s a little like, huh. Uh, and I just try to emulate that as like, cause the people who’ve influenced me have been the ones who are probably the most generous with their time and energy because they’ve been, they’ve invested something in me. So I need to, I should turn around and do the same because that makes us all better.
Andrew Skotzko 00:58:12 Yeah, for sure. Quick aside, have you ever read the book, um, turn the ship around? No, should I? I think you’d like it, I think you’d really like it because it articulates kind of a really different way of looking at leadership where it’s about our job as leaders is basically to create more leaders, uh, and to make everybody the leader that the best leader they can be and help them work with the natural best in this episode, then all of us get to where we’re trying to reach more people and build these community links to the sources and everything else we discussed to reach about what is the small changes to months, whatever be sure to subscribe from memory that’s had an outside impact for you soon.
C Todd Lombardo 00:58:58 Well, we talked about earlier the desk, right? So even before I got this desk and I still have to put to the standing desk together, I moved the desk. I had to a different room. So, uh, this is sort of like my was previously only my wife’s office, but, um, and I had it in another, another area of the house. Um, this was just the fact of moving this here. And then we put a sofa somewhere. Like we just made some subtle rearrangements to house by putting this desk here and then a sofa over there. Huge, huge impact in just the, like the functional way, the flow of the house, the me feeling like, Oh, I’m not so cramped in, in this house. Oh, also there’s um, there’s a light here you see on the ceiling, uh, there used to be a ceiling fan there, so that was dropped by about another 18 inches.
C Todd Lombardo 00:59:40 So this room felt a lot smaller. So by removing the ceiling fan, moving the desk in here, like already, and there’s more, there’s more sunlight as you see in the, from the window, really outsized impact. And just my overall feeling of this, you know, work from home all the time. Ness has been a challenge, uh, because I mentioned earlier my desk constraints, I mean that alone has been a big help. I can only imagine once I get the standing desk, that’ll be, you know, uh, even better, so very small changes, but really a big impact,
Andrew Skotzko 01:00:11 A hundred percent. Okay. This is a bit of a random one, but what thing do you know best?
C Todd Lombardo 01:00:16 I it’s so hard. I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just, I don’t know if I know anything best. Um, that’s the thing for, that’s a hard question to answer. I’m like, there’s probably somebody out there who’s better than me at this. Um, uh, and maybe it’s just, uh, an internal narration. I have,
Andrew Skotzko 01:00:35 I, I see what, you know, people I’m asking, what, you know, what is the thing, you know, the best for yourself? Like of all the things, you know, what do you feel like you are, you really have a handle on, um, probably know it’s totally
C Todd Lombardo 01:00:47 Probably trying to drive derive to clarity and, uh, hence the question thing, right. Um, uh, driving to clarity is something that I think that I, I do well and know pretty well. Um, when I facilitate groups either virtually or previously in the room. Um, and I can try to just reflect back on comments. I’ve had where people have said to me, things like after, whether it be, uh, you know, something I’ve done as a consultant engagement or something I’ve done with a team, they’re like, wow, I just really make sense. Everything makes sense now. Or like, that was the best damn meeting I’ve had in my 30 something year career or, um, Holy crap, this, this provides so much clarity. We know what we’re going to do next. And, or like one thing for a client once. And then we come back later, like, yeah, we had like our best, our best meeting we had in 20 years after I helped them think through what that meeting was looking like. So things like that are probably like, I don’t know. Maybe that’s the thing I could, I know better, but I’m sure there’s somebody else who’s, who’s even better at it than I am.
Andrew Skotzko 01:01:51 Sure, sure. Awesome. So, uh, first of all, see, Todd, thank you so much for being here today. Thanks for spending time with me and for the work you’re doing. I really appreciate it. And your openness in this conversation. Um, but just in closing out, what do you want to leave the listener with? Well, firstly, yeah.
C Todd Lombardo 01:02:05 Uh, thank you so much for inviting me. I mean, it’s always an honor to be invited on any podcast, let alone this one. And, um, I really appreciate the thought that you put into, into this and, and clearly like your, your questions, you, you came prepared, even though I know we went off script, uh, you came prepared and that was super cool. Um, things that I want to leave listeners with, um, I would challenge every product person, product leader to think about how they’re framing things, how they’re framing their questions, how they are asking questions of their colleagues and how they’re asking questions of themselves. Um, I know it’s a, maybe it’s a cop out by saying that, but that self-reflection and thinking about how, even if I just can change how I ask this question, right. Even if I can just make the change from a slightly close ended question to a slightly more opening question or vice versa, if you can reflect on that just a little bit before you have your next meeting or next conversation, um, how might that help you be a little bit, this much better.