Advisor Case Study: Measuring Lines of PRD

Ben Foster November 8 2020

The following is adapted from Build What Matters.

During my time at eBay, from 2001 to 2005, product management was run by a few different leaders. When I first joined as an entry-level product manager, Marty Cagan was leading product management and design, and there was a true appreciation for the innovative role that product management played. After he left, the engineering leader stepped in to fill his shoes. Her perspective was that product management’s job was to feed the engineering beast, producing volumes of product requirements documents (PRDs) that would keep thousands of developers busy. The joint product and engineering team became extremely efficient at delivering lots of code, less so at delivering consistent results.

With no clear way of holding product managers accountable for outcomes, she defaulted to pure productivity metrics. Product managers were actually issued a quota for lines of PRD written per quarter, and that quota was increased each quarter to demonstrate productivity gains to the COO.

The consequences were predictable. Product managers worked excessively long hours to produce monster PRDs for over-designed features. I personally wrote a 240-page PRD that required an entire week of meetings to hand off to the engineering team. Looking back, I’m confident the same results could have been delivered with a simplified product design and less documentation, which would have saved engineering capacity and allowed us to address the next business opportunity. Believe it or not, at the time, I was actually proud of myself. In what should have been a “teaching moment,” I was applauded for the time I put in and the amount of work I created for others.

Written by Ben Foster

Ben is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. In his career, he has been the Chief Product Officer at WHOOP and GoCanvas, the VP of Product & Design at Opower (which went public in 2014) and previously worked for Marty Cagan at eBay.

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