What jury duty taught me about product management
Unexpected parallels and hidden lessons about leadership and product management from my experience on a jury
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So, I had jury duty last week. Like everyone ever, I expected to get dismissed at some point in the process—until I was juror #1 on a weeklong criminal case.
The experience was equal parts disruptive, rewarding, and fascinating. Being the product nerd that I am (and because we had a lot of time to sit around and think), I started to notice parallels and hidden lessons about leadership and product management. Trials, I realized, are a great lens for studying important soft skills. In both litigation and PM, you’re trying to convince a group of people to do what you believe needs to be done. And facing decades in prison is much higher-stakes than getting button copy wrong 😵💫
Here are five lessons I took away from my jury duty experience:
1. Be super-selective about who’s in the room
The trial lasted a total of three days, including one whole day for jury selection. A third of the trial was picking the jury!
Think about all the time attorneys put into laying out their case, interviewing witnesses, cross-examining witnesses, opening and closing statements, etc. The prosecution and the defense spent as much time picking who they were pitching as doing the actual pitching. I know this timeline isn’t the case for every trial, but from my research, it’s typical.
What’s the product lesson?
Projects: Think carefully about who you want on your next team. Who’s going to help you align, make decisions, and ship—and who’s going to derail everything?
Meetings: Think carefully about who you want in that upcoming meeting. Who’s going to help you get to the outcome you want—and who’s going to create confusion?
Leadership team: Think carefully about who needs to be on your leadership team. Who’ll do real work and push the team forward, and who just wants to be involved?
Success criteria: Think carefully about how success will be judged for your project. How could you set your team up for success before you even start the project?
Career: Think carefully about who you want to spend your days with. Is the place you work full of people who are better than you, or do you constantly need to pull everyone along?
2. Tell them what you’ll tell them → tell them → tell them what you told them
Here’s how a trial unfolds:
Opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, each laying out what you’ll hear during the trial. ←(Unexpectedly important)
The prosecution makes its case by bringing up witnesses and asking them questions to lay out the facts as they see them.
The defense makes its case by bringing up its own witnesses and asking them questions to lay out additional facts and dispute the prosecution’s facts.
Closing arguments from each side.
The jury deliberates and shares their verdict.
What surprised me most was how impactful the opening arguments were on my mindset throughout the trial. Each side started by telling us exactly what their case was going to be—including who we’d hear from, what each person would tell us, and what evidence we’d see. There was no mystery. As a result, as the prosecution (who went first) laid out their case, I always had in the back of my mind, “This sounds damn convincing, but I know the defense will have someone later tell me this wasn’t how it happened at all.” Knowing the key points up front helped me avoid jumping to conclusions too early.
What’s the product lesson? The effectiveness of this simple presentation flow when trying to make an argument to an executive:
Tell them what you’ll tell them.
Tell them what you told them.
This framework is often referred to as the Aristotelian triptych (though it’s not clear whether it actually came from Aristotle), and it connects nicely with the Minto pyramid principle, which teaches us to start a presentation with your conclusion, instead of saving it for the end.
Here’s Daymond John (from Shark Tank) sharing this lesson in 30 seconds—using the actual technique within the video:
3. Don’t go into important meetings not knowing what key stakeholders will say
Most people imagine a trial going like this:
When they’re really mostly like this: