Have you ever bluffed your way through a conversation to the point where asking a basic question was no longer an option? Uncomfortable, isn’t it?

I regularly find myself in the situation where I’m way past the point where it would be okay to ask someone what their name is again. and I’m always worried about being exposed. Pretend like you know something for too long, and it looks bad when you reveal you don’t. It’s true of people, and it’s true of companies.

One of the liberating things about starting a company, I’ve found, is the freedom to be upfront about our challenges with potential partners, investors and new hires. I can say, “Revenue growth has been choppy,” or, “organic traffic is lousy,” or whatever. Their reaction is usually, “Yeah, that’s not surprising.” Then we talk about how to fix that part of UserMuse.

It’s one of the (precious few) luxuries of starting something from scratch: since very little has been figured out, everyone feels free to call out big deficiencies and address them.

As companies grow up, that mentality is often lost. The longer you’re in business, the more you’re expected to have things figured out. Generally, investors know how to find out what’s real and what’s not. The bigger problem is when the employees stop talking about the big problems among themselves.

Don’t Stop Reminding

Fundamental problems that remain unaddressed for a long time risk acceptance by the employees. The veteran employees are sick of acknowledging them, and later hires often assume there’s a reason they weren’t addressed, particularly if they’re more junior.

Here’s why all of this matters: Every product team has some big items that just never seem to move up in the backlog. You wince when they come up during release planning and they haven’t budged in months. My advice is: resist the urge to just delete them. Even if they’re in the same spot for years, keep them there. Teams need reminders of the the big things they haven’t done yet, even if they’re embarrassing. Even if it seems like you’ll never get to them.

Just like everybody has that movie their friends can’t believe they haven’t seen, every product has gaps that most people can’t believe are still there. Get rid of the reminders, and you stop talking about them. Stop talking about them, and you cement them in place.


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