Sebastien Phlix

Essays on product management

I write about my experiences and learnings from building hyper-growth tech products. The 3 most popular essays so far are:

I write on Medium. You can either check out my profile there, or browse the articles I’ve written below by scrolling down.

The Typeform Product Playbook

An insider look into how Typeform identifies and ships value to its customers

In American football, the situation on the field changes all the time. It’s impossible for a team to plan all their moves in advance — they have no clue how things are going to unfold. To cope with this uncertainty, teams use so-called playbooks which contain the team’s strategies and plays.

When a new situation presents itself on the field, the coach turns to the playbook to decide what to do. Down by 6 points in the third quarter, starting on the opposing team’s 30 yard line? The playbook contains hundreds of plays which worked well in the past and can help the team win the game.

It’s an effective way of collecting knowledge gained through experience. You don’t make the same mistakes again, and you have a starting point whenever you feel lost and don’t know what to do.

At Typeform, we came across this idea in an amazing article by Jon Lax. It inspired us to make a playbook of how we build products — how we go from identifying value opportunities to delivering solutions and iterating on them.

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Negotiate like a pro: how to say ‘No’ to product feature requests…

… and still stay on good terms with your stakeholders

Imagine you’re a product manager and a co-worker from Marketing comes to you with a feature request. Let’s call her ‘fictitious Annie’. She asks you, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we built this amazing crypto-blockchain feature into our product?” Well…

Your inner voice goes, “Noooooooo…😩 we don’t have time for this!” Your roadmap is already packed with lots of promising ideas and experiments. You’ve fallen behind on your ambitious OKRs and you’re close to the end of the quarter.

It might be a cool feature, but now is just not the right time to focus on it. You have to say ‘No’ to fictitious Annie. What’s the best way to go about it? 

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 4 essential questions to ask before you prioritize product ideas

How to make the right decisions and keep your stakeholders in the loop, including the doc template I use at Typeform

Your team could build a million things. At the same time, your job as a PM is to make sure you ship the most valuable product. You want to solve the most important customer problems with the smallest effort possible.

It’s pretty straightforward to find new product ideas. Your customers share their feedback and request new features. The data you collect on customer behavior highlights usability issues. Your team and company executives share their new ideas with you all the time.

The hard part is to find the good ideas. Where should you invest your time and effort? In which direction should the team experiment next? Which idea will be 10x better than existing solutions?

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6 Tips for Product Managers to Work Better with UX Designers

Lessons learned at Typeform

Imagine you’re a Product Manager at a tech company. In your role, you don’t have any direct authority over most of what makes a product successful.

The design team owns customer research and product design. Engineering builds the actual product. Marketing and Sales promote the value your team shipped to the world. And Customer Success makes sure your customers’ questions and concerns don’t go unheard.

You don’t have anyone on your team who reports to you. You can’t hire nor fire anyone. Engineers and designers are more capable than you when it comes to designing elegant solutions to hard problems. Where do you as a PM come in?

Your responsibility is to make sure that your team ships value to your customers. Continuously, and not just ‘something valuable’ or ‘more features’ — you should always be solving the most valuable customer problems. How do you live up to your responsibility without any formal authority?

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How to stop forgetting what you read

My approach to the four levels of reading and note-taking

A few months ago, I realized I have a problem. I read a decent amount of books. But when people asked me ‘so what’s the book about’ I could only recount random bits, and usually didn’t recall all its main arguments. Worse even, a few months down the road, I had forgotten most of a book’s content. Damn you, human memory!

I came across Julie Zhuo’s awesome article, Always Be Learning, where she describes what she learned coming from a similar situation: “The value from reading doesn’t come from quantity. I used to think it was way better to read twenty books than two. Now, I think what matters most is how much you retain. It’s a shame how many thousands of books I’ve completed that I can’t really tell you very much about.”

I started looking for more effective ways of reading. My goal was to learn more and forget less.

There were two main ideas: the four levels of reading, and the importance of taking notes. After some experimenting and tweaking, I came up with a ‘reading system’ based on both ideas. It’s been working well for me, so I want to share it with you — here’s what I learned.

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A practical guide to learning the basics of web programming

How you can learn to code for free as a ‘non-technical person’

In this post, I share the condensed learning I got from sifting through countless papers, articles, books, and blog posts on how to learn programming on your own in the most efficient way, and for free.

My hope is that this post will help you avoid wasting your time as I did in the beginning with low-quality resources and ineffective learning approaches. I broke down the whole process of learning programming into seven steps — here’s what I learned.

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How to Make New Habits Stick

Struggling to keep up healthy new habits? Here are 10 tips to help you reach your goals, based on scientific research.

It’s hard to create new habits. We’ve all experienced it. We decide that from next week, we’ll work out 5 times a week. We’ll quit smoking, eat only healthy food, and wake up early to meditate every morning. In the first week, we’re excited and achieve everything just as planned. Wow, this is easier than expected!

Then real life kicks in. We have a busy day at work and decide to skip the gym, just this one time. The following day we get a dinner invite and skip another time, cause what the hell, we made it every time last week and nobody’s perfect. Fast forward another week or two, and we’re back at where we started. Why does this happen? 

According to Stanford’s BJ Fogg, it takes an average of 66 days to build a habit. 66 days. That’s more than two months. The range can be anywhere from 3 weeks to 8 months. It takes a long time to persevere before the behavior becomes automatic. And it’s what makes it so hard to adopt new healthy habits. So what can we do about it?

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Is there another topic you’d like me to write about? 

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