Parenthood, Product Management and Pain
In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage. – Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986
Being a parent is at once hard and rewarding. It’s a part joy, part frustration and always a learning exercise.
I am one of the two parents of Atlassian, the father of the crazy idea that became JIRA and a guy who bleeds Atlassian blue every damn day.
Today is a tough day to be me.
Yesterday we closed the top voted JIRA issue for Field Level Permissions (FLP) as “Won’t Fix”, with a long explanation as to why that is so. We communicated that it will not be included in JIRA for the next 18 months. As we expected, there’s been varying reactions from across our community – mostly in the form of flames from users who really wanted this feature.
I can assure you this was a very difficult parenting decision for us to make. It was not taken lightly.
I know how many people want FLP. I know what they want it for. I know how hard and complicated it is to build nicely because I’ve tried (find me another system with the queryability, flexibility of JIRA and an equivalent FLP system to what’s above and I’ll send you a signed t-shirt).
I do believe that despite the votes, we have made the right decision for our 8,500+ customers.
We recently did a big internal exercise at Atlassian to articulate what our values were. I say articulate on purpose because values aren’t something you go into a room and decide on. They’re in the founders, they’re in the early employees, they transmogrify themselves throughout the organisational DNA. You don’t decide on values, you articulate them.
So what did we articulate as our 5 core values at Atlassian?
Well, I love ‘em. They’re heartfelt, they’re irreverent, they’re cheeky, they’re bold, they are us.
- Open company. No bullshit.
- Build with heart and balance.
- Don’t fuck the customer.
- Play, as a team.
- Be the change you seek.
I could explain any one of these values in a long blog post. We’re open. We try to be upfront and straight forward. We try to make hard decisions being passionate and evenhanded to all parties. We put customers first, we stick together, we have fun and we’re trying to change the world in our own way.
We ran a number of different exercises to try to draw out these values, for example – the Mars Group is roughly “Imagine you’re recreating the company on Mars. You can only send 5 employees. Choose which 5 you would send. Why did you choose them? What values do they share or exhibit?”.
We ran the exercises separately with our senior management team and with a group of employees from across the company. Both had to come up with 5 values they felt embodied the company.
The most fascinating (and gratifying as a founder) thing about it was the huge overlap between the two lists the teams came up with (which were merged to become the above). The correlation was scary, they were almost exactly the same list.
Fear not – the DNA runs strong in this building.
Taking Tough Decisions
Values are only worthless if they’re just stuck on a wall. They should be embodied in every employee, in every new hire, in your products and in all the company’s dealings.
So how does the decision to close FLP stack up against our values?
We’re being open. We just can’t do it at the moment and we don’t think it’s the best way to deploy our limited engineering resources for the next year. We’re copping the negative reactions on the chin – we offer you no BS and hope for none in return. This decision was not easy to come to, but it needed to be made – one way or the other. We considered all the possible outcomes and stakeholders. Isn’t this decision screwing the customer because we’re not delivering a feature they want? I don’t believe so. As a product company, we need to take decisions about where to deploy our engineers, what to build for the benefit of the thousands of JIRA customers. By not pursuing FLP, I truly believe we will deliver more value over the next year to those customers in aggregate. We aren’t having fun nor playing today. Being roasted by customers is never fun – trust me. My inbox is an ugly sight. I understand the frustrations being vented on the issue. That said, we are a team on this. Despite all the discussions, arguments and heated debate over the issue – I stand with Brett, Anton and all the others in the decision made. I’m not sure Gandhi ever knew what an issue tracker was but I can only guess as to whether he would have wanted FLP.
Where does all this leave the users who feel aggrieved? I hope they know that we are learning a lot from this issue. We’re learning how to serve customers better, how to be the open company we want to be (trust me – being open is hard) and how to better communicate our decision making and direction.
Judge us on this – certainly – but judge us on all that JIRA is, not just JRA-1330.
Call The Fire Department
Amongst all the flames and anger, there is some balance – and I really would like to extend a thank you to those users, like Mike Brevoort:
Though I’m very disappointed and Atlassian shouldn’t have let this drag on for this may years,* I applaud them for at least making a decision, a decision that in their opinion is in the best interest of the product*. How many times have you been strong armed to produce a feature that our constituants have choosen to not listen to the downstream consequences? Then six months later the same people are complaining about all of the things you warned them about. Just like parents, we need to make the best decisions for our children. Hopefully they made the best decision.
It’s time to move on, re-raise your more specific issues and if Jira doesn’t fit your need without this feature, go find another tool. Again, I applaud Atlassian for not falling into the be everything to everybody trap.
I couldn’t have put it better if I’d written it myself. We should have made this decision earlier – I completely cop that.
JIRA is a 5 year old this year – a toddler. Many of our dreams for this little chap haven’t been fulfilled yet. I’m really excited about the new features we have coming down the pipeline in the next year. I hope you’ll be excited by them too.
And please remember that all this only happens because Atlassian is such an open company. Try to vote for features with Oracle or Microsoft or Sun any other large software company.
If we didn’t let users vote on their issues, read each others comments, interact and scream at us – we wouldn’t have this problem. Would that be a better place to be? Hell no. I still believe the gain to us and to customers from being open is far greater than the pain from publicly letting your customers down.
We’re trying to be the best parents we can be. Time will tell.
Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. – Oscar Wilde
I hope this explains our thinking. As always, I welcome your feedback – the love and the flames.