In ‘Productorio’, a poem by Dante’s lesser-known younger brother Dino, we read the account of a well-meaning product manager at the shores of a large machine learning implementation. There, he meets with the poet Yourdon, who proceeds to walk Dino down Product Purgatory’s iteration roadmap, making sure to swerve into each of the seven infamous pitfalls we know as pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust.
As they step out into this learning journey, Yourdon explains to Dino that product managers and product owners alike can free themselves from Product Purgatory voluntarily, provided they correct the flaws within their processes that led to committing any or all of said seven deadly sins.
First pitfall — Pride
The first of these sins is the hubris of pride. As Yourdon and Dino begin to ascend into this pitfall they see beautiful sculptures expressing design thinking, the opposite virtue.
After their introduction to this solution-centric mindset, Yourdon and Dino meet the souls of the proud, who are bent over by huge stones on their backs. These unbearable weights result from epics and feature stories whose hapless product penitents created through their indifference to analytics, and in spite of the sage wisdom of ‘you are not your user.’
Second pitfall — Envy
Yourdon offers a reminder in verse that envy is the sin that tempts us to look with grudging disdain upon another product’s user experience and value proposition. This transgression manifests itself either as a covetous critique of said competitor — or worse —the forfeiture of any differentiation from said rival by blindly following them feature-for-feature.
The souls of the envious are compelled to wear drab, one-size-fits-all Product Camp t-shirts. Their gaze continually distracted by competing product demos and press releases … to the point they are blinded to the product-to-market fit surfaced by their own experiments and early adopter programs.
Third pitfall — Wrath
While perched on the precipice of Wrath, Yourdon explains to Dino that these first three pitfalls of Product Purgatory relate to sins caused by selfish, sometimes career-climbing acts, that are frequently engaged at the expense of others.
In the case of this wrong-doing, it is often passive-aggressive behavior that betrays the offender’s inability to lead without authority. These actions invariably impede the teams they serve in their response to changing conditions.
Those caught up in this crater are seen lashing out at their teams for technical issues beyond their control, at DevOps for introducing improvements in the release train, or even castigating customers for modifications in their workflow and/or business model.
Fourth pitfall — Sloth
On this fourth trap, we find souls whose sin presents itself in sloppy user stories that are poorly sized and completely inestimable.
Fatigued by the journey, and being late in the day, Dino falls asleep. It is during the REM portion of his respite that he experiences vivid dreams of a paradise of product backlog items perfectly written in adherence to INVEST principles.
And just as Dino is about to enjoy a flawless sprint demo, he is jolted out of his slumber, awakened by the nightmare of a PMP prodding him with a PERT chart based on a bloated backlog of poorly prioritized JIRA tickets.
Fifth pitfall — Greed
Dino finds this particular snare filled with regretful product owners, who in pursuit of up-front revenue, sold their souls to implement features whose only value was to close a deal.
A sin so great, that it can only be absolved through the removal of the incredible technical debt that accumulates when the long-term strategy is sacrificed for short-term sales.
Sixth pitfall — Gluttony
Here Yourdon introduces Dino to sinners, who either out of blind ambition or impractical extravagance, indulged sales’ and marketing’s insatiable appetite for more features.
The result is deafening moaning from said penitents who find themselves oppressed against bloated backlogs of their own doing, forcibly death marched through a ‘scrummerfall’ process whose misery is born out of a big batch delivery mindset.
Seventh pitfall — Lust
Dino realizes that these last three pitfalls are those who sinned by loving good things but rather for loving them in an excessive or disordered way.
With lust, he observes remorseful product people plunging through an immense wall of flame to sign a pledge to abstain from promiscuous pivots and remain loyal to sustainable product vision while ensuring product health through strategic fidelity.
In an attempt to resist similar temptation, Dino asks Yourdon to read aloud the Phoenix Project, only to drift into a fitful sleep after Chapter 17.
Dino awakens with the dawn, and with his journey through Product Purgatory complete, vows in retrospective-of-retrospective to do better.
In the form of an operatic arietta he pledges to better engage customers, stakeholders, and the teams he serves through more design-thinking, data-driven, build-measure-learn processes that help everyone involved attain a more delightful, differentiated, and scalable product delivery paradise.