5 big ideas from Shreyas Doshi

How to escape the career treadmill, delegate well, and avoid mental traps

I fell down the most productive rabbit hole: Shreyas Doshi’s tweets. Shreyas is a product leader at Stripe, but on the internet, he’s been breaking records for clarity of insight — 280 characters at a time.

Shreyas is like the Charlie Munger of product management: he tells stories that help you reinterpret your past, and make better decisions in the future. 

Here are 5 big ideas I’ve learned from reading thousands of Tweets from him:

  1. Become 10-30-50 to escape the career treadmill
  2. Delegate with transparency
  3. Bias for building is a double-edged sword
  4. Focusing illusion leads you astray
  5. Gifted Debaters win the battle, lose the war

Each idea is modular, so feel free to skip around!

Become 10-30-50 PM to escape the career treadmill

Popular question: “How do I get to manage PMs?”  

Productive reframing: “How do I become an effective product leader?” Be the verb, then the noun will follow. While these suggestions are PM-specific, the underlying principles apply to getting any promotion. Let’s get started.  

At any moment, you have three levers to pull: impact, competence, potential.

3 levers for career progress: impact, competence, potential


Over time, you want to convert your potential into competence that creates impact.  
Impact is usually tied to your business model, and varies by team, so it’s important to understand how it’s measured.

Once you’ve defined impact with your manager, find the right project to showcase your chops (e.g., growth experiment to move numbers, ops-heavy feature to captain a chaotic ship, etc.) 

As you deliver impact, you will get more scope (multiple features, a whole product line) which often map to promotions. But to become a manager, you need to reach a certain level of scope and impact:

Product manager career path


Looking back on my own experience, I became Group PM in under 2 years for two reasons: 

  1. Fast-growing startup with ever-expanding scope to fill
  2. Showed impact by being what Shreyas calls a 10-30-50 PM

I didn’t know this at the time, but through hard work and iteration, I fit the curve:

10-30-50 PM: being top 10% in one sense, 30% in another, 50% in another


The exact ordering of skills varies, but every top-notch PM I know mostly fits the curve. Some companies value one sense over another, but in any case, it pays to develop at least one big spike (top 10%) and some supporting skills - your own talent stack.

Why is this important? Because the combination helps you consistently deliver impact, which turns you into a reliable leader. And making a reliable leader a manager? Well, that’s a no-brainer.

Delegate with transparency

As you take on more scope, you’ll need to learn the art of delegation. How do you balance instilling ownership, setting people up to do well and upholding quality?

For every decision, consider impact on the business and their confidence level:

How to delegate well graphic


The boxes go up in number based on likelihood that you need to lean in closely. Where you draw that line depends on the other person and their task-relevant maturity. Someone new may need your eyes on anything 2+, while someone more experienced only needs you at 5 or 6. 

Common delegation mistakes include 1) stepping back too soon for fear of annoying the other person, 2) staying very close but not sharing why. 

The graphic above helps you avoid these mistakes:

  • Illustrate where you can help and why depending on the project
  • Give the other person a way to measure their own growth as they take more boxes under their wing
  • Predict how you’ll feel - if you have a spike of 5s and 6s at the same time, strap in for a rough ride or rearrange some projects

Bias for building is a double-edged sword

This happens when you choose the comfort of constant motion over the pain of deliberate motion. Common scenario:

Product manager bias for building


The best analogy to describe me as a new PM would be pedalling on an invisible Peloton trying to get everything done ASAP. I thought my job was to keep the team busy, and I took it very seriously. We shipped dozens of features… that went nowhere. Worst of all, it took a long time to uncover because we were so buried in launches we didn’t keep up with the learnings!

Speed ≠ velocity. If you speed in the wrong direction, it only takes you farther from where you want to be. Then sunk costs kick in, making it hard to abandon your ill-chosen path.

What about the value of learning by doing? This is where context matters. Total cost of research is best weighed against total cost of building. Total is the key word because it changes with team size.  

Scenario A: research takes 2 weeks of your time, building takes 6 weeks for a team of 4 (6x4 = 24 weeks total). Do you invest 2 weeks to save 24? Hell yes. The riskier and longer the build, the more you get out of research. And the bigger your team, the higher the cost of starting and switching directions.  

Scenario B: research takes at least 1 week, building takes 1 week. If you can scope down to a light MVP whose cost is less than research itself, building is a smart move. A well-designed MVP will always get you richer learnings than desk research alone. 

In short, bias for building isn’t an outright flaw. It can serve you well on a small team, but as you grow, you’ll need to weigh the costs of immediate action vs. deliberate action carefully.

Low-hanging fruits are delicious, but make sure you’re under the right tree first.

Focusing illusion leads you astray

This happens when your tunnel vision for an idea clouds your judgment and inflates its importance to you and your customers. 

Picture this: you executed impeccably on a customer problem. Then you’re greeted by dead silence upon launch. What happened?

Successful product = quality of execution x idea solves a problem


What happened is that success is not a 2x2 grid, but a 3D map with a third axis: importance of problem. 

Successful product = quality execution x idea solves an important problem


The best way to gauge this importance is to ask customers to zoom out and stack rank all the problems they’re facing. Here’s a common scenario:

Ask customers to stack rank problems to avoid focusing illusion


Here’s how to put it into practice: 

  • If we take a step back, how does X compare to all the other problems you face? 
  • How do you currently solve X? 
  • Have you looked for better solutions? How much (time/money) have you spent?


The combination of questions reveal whether X is worth pursuing. You don’t need to pick the absolute biggest rock because that may not be the right starting point for your business, but stack ranking checks that you’re not chasing after a throwaway comment.

Gifted Debaters win the battle, lose the war

Being a Gifted Debater, Savvy Salesman, or Esteemed Executive means you often get your way, but it can backfire when you build products. Your charm and power can cause you to: 

  • Inflate your confidence
  • Snuff out skepticism from customers and teammates
  • Extract artificial buy-in
  • Accidentally create your own focusing illusion

Some antidotes: 

  • Lean on inviting questions like: “What am I getting wrong? What am I missing?” rather than “Do you agree? Does this make sense?”
  • Write ideas down and let people comment asynchronously
  • Make it clear that you want to get to the real answer, not just win the argument

It’s tempting to architect a smooth discovery process, but you can never escape the ruling of the market. Would you rather have a successful product review meeting, or a successful product? I’ve paid dearly every time I optimized for the former.

Recap

  1. You might be smart, but nobody is immune to psychological barriers
  2. Gifted debaters often don’t come out ahead
  3. To escape the career treadmill, focus on your 10-30-50
  4. Finally, learn to delegate with transparency

Recommended reads 📚

You may also like:

I made an actionable toolkit to grow your product career! Learn from real examples and use proven templates. Loved by hundreds of product people.

Product Manager Toolkit

-Linda

Built with no-code using Webflow 💙
© 2021 Product Lessons