Badass: Making Teams Awesome

I read Kathy Sierra’s BADASS: Making Users Awesome back in February and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. The premise of the book rang true in a way I’ve not experienced from a book for a very long time. Reading it leads to the sort of, “well, DUH” moment which only follows when you come across an idea so brilliant and genius that it seems–in retrospect–so obvious.

Judging from the reviews on Amazon, O’Reilly, and elsewhere on the net, I’m in very good company with appreciating the book and the value it provides. Thank you, Kathy, for this great tool you’ve given us.

Whenever we read a book, we do it from our own unique point of view. I’m in tech management, so most things that I read are viewed through a managerial filter. This book is no different, which is why it has stuck with me so tenaciously over the past few months. Read with this perspective, BADASS is one of the most insightful management books I’ve had the pleasure to experience.

“But wait!” you protest, “This is a book about user experience! About product management! What do you mean it’s an amazing management book? You, my dear, need to smoke more mad crack.”

To that I reply, “You have an adorably limited definition of ‘user’ and ‘product’.”

Simply speaking, a product is anything which you produce. Unless you’re an assembly line (in which case: my condolences), you produce things through skill and craftsmanship. As management, it is my job to help produce effective teams. It is a job which I take very seriously. It is not easy and it requires a lot of knowledge, experience, and time to do it properly, as does any craft, but the end result is always worth the effort.

As for user, there’s an old chestnut which says that only drug dealers and software developers call their customers “users.” But, that aside, a user is anyone who avails themself of or benefits from your product. Very loosely speaking, from a management point of view a user is someone who benefits from the team you’ve built, including (and especially) the members of the team itself.

Within this context, then, many of the concepts from BADASS are highly applicable to building strong, effective, and cohesive teams.

For instance, on the topic of performance:

Technical definition of badass: Given a representative task in the domain, a badass performs in a superior way, more reliably.

If performance can’t be evaluated in some way, we can’t help someone build it.

On coaching:

The difference between extrinsically (external) vs. intrinsically motivated experiences is the difference between short term and sustained motivation.

They [the users] don’t want to be badass at our thing. They want to be badass at what they can do with it. They want badass results.

In the perfect scenario, we give our users as many options as they could want or need, but we also give them trusted defaults, presets, and recommendations. Especially in the beginning, we make decisions so our users don’t have to. Be the expert, the mentor, the guide.

On productivity:

Make sure your users spend their scarce, easily drained cognitive resources on the right things.

On success:

The key attributes of sustained success don’t live in the product. The key attributes live in the user.

When you’re more skilled at something, it’s as though a part of your world got an upgrade. It’s as though pre-badass-you had been experiencing the world in Standard and now a part of the world has become High Resolution.

And on YOU:

They don’t need you to be perfect. They need you to be honest.

These are only a few examples of unexpected nuggets of managerial wisdom in this book. In fact, most of the ideas espoused in the book are applicable to many different walks of life. It really is a remarkable piece of work and one I recommend to anyone who wants to help make life easier and better for those around them.