I’m almost a decade late to the party—which means I’ll probably be signing up for a Substack newsletter in 2029—but as an experiment I’m posting my product management pieces on Medium. I write about product management and strategy from my background as a project-turned-product manager who writes fiction and has a doctorate in anthropology. Feel free to follow me there, subscribe for notifications, all that stuff.
Further below, recommendations for reading and watching, plus thoughts on maids, the gig economy, board games, deep work, and FOMO, though not all at the same time.
Storytelling is at the heart of product management. Whether referring to assembling the nuts and bolts of product delivery, crafting a product strategy, or selling a product vision, stories are key to both successful product development and customer engagement as a whole. I’d even argue that stories—and no, I’m not just talking about user stories—are also integral to the execution of projects. A story—that simplest of frameworks—serves as a musical counterpoint, if you will, to the formal project management phases.
Consider below some general reasons for using stories (and prepare yourselves for some unapologetically mixed metaphors). In a later blog entry I’ll focus on storytelling and specific applications to product management—but I’ll set the stage first before the curtain rises.
So this radioactive spider accidentally got loose in a lab and—ahh, who am I kidding. But my interests in the intersection of storytelling and product management do have an origin story of sorts.
Most people keep the different spheres of their life completely separate: there’s the day job, and there’s the stuff they do for fun. By day I’m a senior product manager, working with development teams to build software applications for internal customers at the Federal Reserve.
At night—or on weekends, or early in the morning, or on the bus back when I used to commute to work—I write. That’s my other “job.” I write blog posts like the one you’re reading now, but what floats my boat the most is my creative writing. I’ve written and published a handful of short fiction, a couple of personal essays, and I’ve also left the husks of many short stories, a novella, and a full-blown novel in a metaphorical desk drawer. (I am, however, still working on a crime novel. I haven’t given up on that one yet.)
And for a long time, there was no connection between these two aspects of my life.
Olga had encountered formidable enemies in her lifetime, many of whom were summarily felled by Rusviet military might, but never before had she faced in battle a man who talked to his pet musk ox. Would he grip both horns first, before bending closer to reveal his deepest confidences into the ox’s ear? Or was one horn sufficient? And though this awakened the smallest smidgen of curiosity in Olga—who was this mysterious Bjorn from the frigid Nordic wastes?—she quickly flicked it aside to concentrate on the task at hand. Ox-whispering aside, she still knew she would reach the Factory quicker than anyone else.
I really, really love this game. When I finally opened the box—after sitting on my Shelf of Shame for months—it didn’t leave my table until after 18 hours of pure gaming pleasure. (Those weren’t consecutive hours; I’m not that kind of a nut.) The art and components are just gorgeous, and this also happens to be the first game I’ve ever blinged out, with upgraded coins and resource tokens.
Even now, whenever I take out the board and lay it out on my table, I’m already queueing the epic movie soundtrack in my head. “And so the battle of wills begins,” I say to myself, even if my Automa opponent is acting and moving according to random card draws.
Scythe doesn’t really lend itself well to the narrative fantasy I wrote in the introduction, for the gameplay is a bit drier than what I imply above. (The heroes have a backstory and special abilities, but that’s about it.) But boy does Scythe inhabit its milieu of an alternate-history 1920s Europe, with its cast of squabbling factions; I would love to read fiction set in this world where advanced military technology coexists with agrarian peasant society. (Wait: isn’t that the Global South, but without the mechs?)