four dangerous animals of product development

The four dangerous animals of product development

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This is going to be a short walk in the product development zoo, I hope you’ll enjoy the ride!

Caveat: what you’ll read about are (usually) not personality types but behaviors in a specific (type of) situation. Acting like a HIPPO, a WOLF, a RHINO or a ZEBRA doesn’t make anyone a bad person. You’re still a team, aim to understand where they are coming from, and, well, they might even be right, with the wrong communication style.

The HIPPO – the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion

hippo - Highest Paid Person's Opinion

It can be tempting to give in to the HIPPOs – founders or CEO or VPS who want to make all the decisions – but don’t let them steer you off course.

Bring everything back to your vision and objectives. If the HIPPOs aren’t aligned with those, you could be headed for dangerous waters.

Don’t let your HiPPO kill your ideas – inform them with data and make them a Data-driven HiPPO!

Read more about what happens when a HIPPO runs your company.

The WOLF – Working On the Latest Fire

The WOLF has a short attention span and a temptation to jump from one problem to the next. They tend to only enjoy fighting fires, This will disrupt your team’s focus and effectiveness, making you easy prey for your competitors.

Create a process for collecting feedback about problems, bugs and only consider these along with all other requests. Set up triaging and set clear priorities and a method for prioritization.

There’s a whole book on WOLF prioritization: The Phoenix Project

wolf - Working On the Latest Fire

The RHINO – Really Here In Name Only

rhino - Reall Here In Name Only

The RHINO is just there to collect a paycheck without contributing much to the team. They might not be actively impeding your decision-making, but they are not helping much either.

Having a clearly defined prioritization process can help ensure all your team members understand how decisions are made and give them the confidence to actively participate. Hopefully, in this process, everyone is empowered to have a say and it doesn’t turn into “Well our process is that the boss tells you what’s important” – which is exactly how you end up with a team of disillusioned RHINOs.

The ZEBRA – Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant

ZEBRAs think they know it all but rely on their instinct rather than any actual evidence. To stave off the ZEBRAs in your midst, make sure that you’ve got data to back up your decisions.

Come up with quick experiments you can run to test ideas and gather evidence. Push for a data-driven culture.

An interesting article for the HIPPO vs. the ZEBRA: In defense of the HIPPO…fear the ZEBRA

zebra - Zero Evindence But Really Aggressive

And one extra…. the RHINO again! This time, Really High value New Opportunity

Usually, it’s a salesperson with an amazing value customer deal for an unplanned feature insisting re-allocating resources to build what’s required to win the deal. The results, sadly, are an ignored strategy and roadmap and resources allocated to serve a single customer.

There are two ways here:

1, Chase the RHINO away: Compare the opportunity cost and value and argue against signing the deal if you have customer insight supporting the roadmap.
2, Tame the RHINO: Adjust the roadmap if the opportunity includes features you already had planned for later in the year.

Read more here: Taming the Rhino

There’s an amazing doc called The Essential Guide to Prioritization which explains the above with more context and more detail.


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