Do you know your role — an Architect or a Gardner?

When asked about what role you play in the team, you may say you’re a technical lead, business analyst, product manager, et al. While they’re accurate, I’m not referring to business titles in this context. Rather, do you know the business initiative you’re on. If yes, how are you preparing for your role mentally and functionally.

So, let me elaborate by using George R. R. Martin’s words about writing:

There are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.
The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.
The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

George R. R. Martin

The above concept or mental model applies well to product development or management. How?

Some features are fairly straightforward to build. Many others are ambiguous even after grooming them. The former you have a high degree of confidence hitting them, and the latter requires more work. How much work is it and how you approach it is the crux of your craft as a Product Manager. Take a wrong turn, perhaps you’re leading to a point of no return.

Enter mindset. If you approach these fluid situations from an architect mindset — one plus one is two — you’re either trivializing the complexity or spend significant upfront design time before developing and deploying it in the market. However, approaching these situations with curiosity and open mind leads to those corners that you’ve never envisioned. Very well leads to ‘one plus one is three‘ situations.

Identify the type of the problem early and check often. Beware of applying Gardner approach to situations where an Architect’s hat is appropriate: for well-defined problems with proven patterns of success.

Also see: Feature or Product: Know It for Better Positioning and Fall in love with the problem.

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