How to make every bet count

Talk given by John Cutler on how to make every bet count. You can find source material here:


In any project, we want to move the needle forward for the product that we are building and ultimately the business. The temptation of early career product managers is to plan projects that tick every box and “get everything done.”

This becomes a big issue because there is a ‘focus’ tax that every team will feel the more you stuff into a project.

Successful projects focus on a few questions:

  • What’s the core problem?
  • What must we deprioritize?

The way you do this is through defining Drivers, Limiting Constraints, Floats, and Enabling Constraints.

  • Drivers: The positive impact we hope to achieve
  • Limiting Constraints: Things we must navigate on our way to achieving the goal
  • Floats: areas of flexibility that increase range of movement in a project
  • Enabling Constraints: Remporarily decrease range of movement for the purpose of making progress

The goal of project planning is to focus on a small number of drivers and limiting constraints to increase the amount of floats and enabling constraints we can take on.


  • 00:00:19 - product manager spidey sense
  • 00:04:18 - Less experienced product manager: How can we get everything done?
  • 00:04:30 - more EXP: What’s the core problem? What’s the crux of the issue?
  • 00:04:47 - What must we deprioritize?
  • 00:06:46 - “We’re going to be great at everything”
  • 00:07:11 - [Annotation]
  • 00:08:16 - a “focus” tax is a product managers spidey sense. You can’t be great at everything all at the same time, when you focus on many things at once, your focus tax goes up
  • 00:11:31 - We underestimate the value of narrow focus. We overestimate our ability to have “broad” impact
  • 00:12:16 - We underestimate the negative impact of constraints. We overestimate our ability to juggle constraints.
  • 00:12:23 - We underestimate the value of flexibility. We overestimate the value of certainty.
  • 00:16:04 - Drivers
    • The positive impacts we hope to achieve
    • 00:16:13 - e.g. To increase… to decrease… to advance our… to maximize… to minimize…
  • 00:16:29 - Limiting Constraints
    • things we must navigate on our way to achieving those goals
    • 00:16:37 - e.g. but we… required to… need to… are constrained by… are limited by…
  • 00:16:46 - Floats
    • areas of flexibility. They increase range of movement
    • 00:17:16 - Enabling constraints: temporarily decrease range of movement for the purpose of making progress
      • 00:17:37 - e.g. We are choosing to… for now we… for now let’s ignore… Later we will revisit…
  • 00:20:55 - too many drivers is going to be an issue, you’re energy is spread all over the place
  • 00:21:49 - too many constraints will also squash productivity
  • 00:22:41 - You can predict the failure of an effort by scrutinizing the number of drivers and constraints
  • 00:23:44 - less experience PM: Effort vs Value
  • 00:24:28 - It’s better to have 10 well shaped projects with a clear driver and limited constraints than a thing that checks ALL the boxes
  • 00:25:03 - goal for a well planned project
      1. limit the number of drivers
      1. limit the number of limiting constraints
      1. increase the number of floats
      1. artfully use enabling constraints to make progress and learn
  • 00:25:42 - this is spirit of agile but people have reduced agile down into a series of technical hoops to jump
  • 00:27:14 - e.g. Right now we are working to increase ease of (VERB) integrating the SSO SDK (PRODUCT) for partners in the XXXX group (STAKE HOLDER) which could be potentially measured by tracking time to integration (TRACKING)
  • 00:27:58 - A crisp driver definition never goes out of style
  • 00:29:26 - fixed-price project oriented work, deadlines “drive” because they determine the profit margin
  • 00:29:29 - in product work, time/date is a float. Deadlines might be an enabling constraint if the goal is limit scope and accelerate learning and integration
  • 00:33:07 - where do you believe you have flexibility?
  • 00:33:48 - shaping should produce fewer drivers, fewer constraints and more floats and enabling constraints
  • 00:38:11 - A fundamental shift between.. Maximizing, juggling, peanut buttering, certainty-chasing to… intention, single threading, focus, strategy ambiguity
  • 00:47:50 - design system can be a enabling constraint when it works well and lets teams across the org be productive but it’s limiting constraint when it just slows teams down / makes it harder to work

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