Monday, August 2, 2010

NP Hard Business

In computer science, in the world of big giant brains, there is a concept called "NP Hard." Problems that are NP Hard are so hard that they are independently and mathematically certified to be flippin' hard. There is no easy, handy way of solving them. They are hard and take a ridiculous amount of time to solve. The Traveling Salesman Problem is NP Hard. No matter how hard you try, there is no efficient algorithm for solving it.

I think product management is effectively an NP Hard problem. I've been in product management meetings for over 10 years, and in any company, on any product, at any stage, with any number of people, an all day product management meeting WILL break its own agenda within the first hour, and get only SOME of its goals done. Always.

I think everyone thinks there has to be a way to actually do this properly. If only someone were more structure. Or mean. Or regimented. Or prepared. But, I just have no evidence that this is true.

Some things are just hard. I just wish I had the math to prove it.


PD said...

It's funny because I was just remarking on that today. It is without a doubt, a multi-variate problem. And it requires a degree of abstraction which is difficult to model.

Capt. BS said...

Coming from someone who somehow obtained an EE/CS degree while avoiding all coursework that dealt with NP problems, here is an ignorance-is-bliss viewpoint copied and pasted from an article I was reading today. But wait, there's a twist! I'm going to bleep out the company's name and let you guess which member of the Fortune 500 is being discussed here by a former manager...

Agarwal tells us that ****** is completely run by its engineers. "They don’t have a lot of product management," he says. "Most of the project teams are really small, and they’re all driven by the engineers."

On top of that, Agarwal says that most managers are all engineers as well, "not product people or MBAs." That means that the people overseeing projects understand the technology, what's necessary for a project, and can really relate to their team.

Agarwal says that, because most managers have strong engineering backgrounds, "there’s not a division between product manager and 'code monkeys'." There's a great amount of respect between the two tiers.

"My manager was an engineer at ****** for ten years before he was a manager... which made me want to work [even harder] to impress him," Agarwal says.

At ******, if an employee was using a product and found an issue that bothered them, they had the freedom to go in and fix it without having to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get approval.

So who is it? It's Google, right? Nope, it's... Apple. Who knew!