Product Field Guide

Pull it to the Left

Why speed matters

Pull it to the Left

A CEO I worked for set the tone within his first week. He joined in November, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, and learned that the annual sales kickoff was scheduled for February. That was too late, as the sales team would be directionless for the first month of the new year. So, he requested the kickoff to occur in December. Two months of planning compressed into two weeks. The slide decks weren’t pretty, the swag didn’t arrive on time, and the presentations weren’t polished, but the kickoff happened before year-end. And the sales team gained an extra month to hit their targets.

With that first kickoff, the CEO coined the idiom pull it to the left in the company vernacular, creating a culture of speed that separated us from competitors and led us to dominate our niche.

Pull it to the Left

Picture a Gantt chart depicting a project’s timeline, where the delivery date is somewhere to the far right of the chart. “Pulling it to the left” means moving that delivery date forward. Move faster, increase the urgency, and bring the target closer to the present. Instead of February 15th, could we do January 1st?

Shortening the timeline can up the tempo, as urgency creates clarity and offers opportunities for practical creativity. To meet a condensed timeline, teams can improve clunky processes, drop low-value requirements, and sculpt more efficient working hours. A faster delivery necessitates cutting scope, but not at the cost of quality. Pulling to the left believes in iteration—in making forward progress while acknowledging that a first attempt will be imperfect. Future iterations can address those imperfections, but nothing can be improved if it doesn’t exist in the first place.

Speed Matters

Speed matters in business. Environments and conditions change, and opportunities will expire, so we should act on them. Sitting on a new feature is a travesty when someone could benefit from it today.

People and organizations tend to procrastinate and default to a leisurely pace, so opting for speed is a strong differentiator—both on the personal, team, and company levels. Moving a to-do item from tomorrow to today, replying to a client in a day instead of a week, and bringing an MVP to market this quarter instead of next quarter are all ways speed differentiates.

Product managers are responsible for delivering value to their customers, so bias for action is a critical trait. Other teams will strive for perfection—design, engineering, analytics, ops—but a product person should get off localhost and shorten the time to value.

Bias for Action

When ideating for Product Field Guide in December 2023, I created a mile-long project plan. The plan gave me confidence but felt like a two-ton elephant dangling over me. I needed a website! An X account! A marketing plan! A logo! The excitement around Product Field Guide morphed into overwhelm and stress, so I resigned to launching in March. I would use the two months to configure the above, validate some ideas, and do all the “proper” product management things like creating a persona, mapping out their user journey, and understanding the total addressable market.

Then I heard the CEO yelling, “Pull it to the left!”

They say you should be embarrassed by your first launch. If you’re not embarrassed, you waited too long, and I was too comfortable with my March timeline.

Instead of two months, how could I deliver value this week? I didn’t need a perfect logo or a website; Substack was sufficient for collecting subscribers and sending mail. And what better way to set the tone for my new venture than launching on Monday, January 1st!

In the words of Reid Hoffman:

"If you're not embarrassed by your first product release, you've released it too late."

This article was last updated on 01 Jan 2024.

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