ALI2019 Speaker Interview – John Cutler

With Agile-Lean Ireland 2019 only three months away, we had a chat with one of our speakers, John Cutler, who is a Product Evangelist at Amplitude. John shares his thoughts on topics ranging from roadmaps, feature factories, and psychological safety…


ALI: What first got you interested in Product Management? Who were your early influences?

John: I just slipped into it. I worked at two startups in NYC that really got me interested in product development. I was most drawn in by the messiness, creativity, collaboration, and joy of making something from nothing.

ALI: “Outcomes over Outputs” is a sentiment commonly heard, and most agree it makes obvious sense. In reality, many organisations still focus on outputs – why do you think that is?

John: I’ve spoken with many teams about this and reasons run the gamut. At the core, I think it boils down to the fact that outputs are tangible. Stories move across the board. The release ships. Outcomes are uncertain and can take time to materialize. So we naturally gravitate to the thing that feels more certain and controllable. We work in conditions of great uncertainty, but do our best to put a veneer of certainty around everything we do. Another big factor is how we budget for efforts. Instead of funding things incrementally based on outcomes, the money is allocated to ship a particular feature or project. Once that ship has sailed, it is very difficult to change course.

ALI: You’ve written before about re-thinking how to use Product Roadmaps. As a product leader, how do you deal with resistance when attempting to introduce these types of ideas?

John: One thing I have been focusing on lately is how to “hack” existing systems of thought. So, for example, if someone is making a prescriptive feature request I will urge the team to reframe it as a “bet” and be very explicit about the desired outcome. Or we’ll keep the output oriented roadmap and layer on a post-shipping exercise to review expected outcomes. With both of these approaches, we don’t try to suddenly frame everything as a “problem”. We don’t manufacture that. We just try to bubble out the expected outcomes and be transparent about that.

ALI: Many of your articles focus on the topic of psychological safety – why do you think this is so important?

John: So many reasons. Imagine all of the things you need to make good decisions quickly. You need information to flow. You need to share mental models. You need to exploit uncertainty instead of running away from it or glossing things over. You need to check each other on our various biases. You need alignment and focus… saying no to many things but retaining your relationships with teammates. All of this requires psychological safety.

ALI: What is the biggest thing organisations attempting to work in an Agile way keep getting wrong, and what advice would you give to help?

John: Organizations completely underestimate what they will have to “pay” for the newfound resilience and ability. It takes time. It takes slowing down. It takes working through bullshit. They’ve been sold the silver bullet without any sense that it will take a couple years to unravel bad habits and form new habits. Advice? Either start very small and get something small to work, or really be realistic about the investment.

ALI: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Agile-Lean Ireland 2019 in Dublin?

John: I an incredibly excited to check out Mary Poppendieck’s talk. I’ve been a fan for so long. And, and, and, and (all the talks). I can’t express how lucky I feel to be able to attend. While at Zendesk, I spent a short amount of time in Dublin. I hope to explore more and have some gripping conversations over beverages.

ALI: What can our attendees expect to hear from your talk at ALI2019?

John: I’ve been known to be “high level” in my talks… leaving people wondering how to make the concepts actionable. I am going to work on that in this talk. My goal for this talk is to discuss concrete things your team can do next week, this month, and this year to become more outcome centric.


John Cutler will be speaking on “From Feature Factories, To Value-Creation Networks”, on our Product Impact track at Agile-Lean Ireland 2019. Our conference takes place at Croke Park, Dublin, on April 25-26th 2019. Don’t miss you chance to see him by getting your tickets now.