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Product Management as an Episode of Black Mirror

Being a product manager on a small remote, distributed team reminds me a lot of the Black Mirror episode, Be Right Back.

In this episode of the sci-fi anthology series, a woman uses an AI service to bring back her recently deceased partner. She does so by uploading all of their text messages, emails, voicemails, and any other computer-mediated conversation she shared with him to the, uhh, Cloud I suppose. That’s one use case for GDPR data requests! All of this data was then used to train a super language model to embody (literally) a clone of her prematurely departed husband.

So, what does this have to do with being a product manager on a remote, distributed team? The sheer volume of written text I produce, of course! So much you could nearly hope to train a clone of me someday, language model and all.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

On remote, distributed teams, asynchronous, high quality communication is essential. Now, I only have experience working on remote, distributed teams (so nothing to compare it to), but hopefully this becomes more of the norm. And in any case I think there are a lot of great reasons to write and write a LOT as a product manager. And ideally, you write in a way that faithfully transfers your product thinking, insights, and vision faithfully to Google Docs text and formatting.

Here are a few reasons why I think Black Mirror worthy documentation should be a best practice regardless of whether you’re colocated and shoulder-to-shoulder or if multiple timezones separate you and your closest collaborators:

  • A no-brainer (maybe literally if this catches on): Clearly written specs should enable my coworkers to focus on building uninterrupted as much as possible.
  • “Propaganda!” Framing my artifacts up-front with context which is an opportunity to weave a consistent thread in the story I want to weave for our product’s direction. It then becomes a story I can trust my team to internalize.
  • It’s like designing a redundant system… if I make myself partly redundant through documentation, I might be able to afford to spend some of my time on a bit of extra higher level strategy and planning here and there. ;)

So there you go, that’s why being a product manager at a remote, distributed company is like being in an episode of Black Mirror (except in a good way!).

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