brad dickason
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Stop Writing and start Editing

How do top silicon valley PM's lead massive projects?

They don’t do it by themselves. They don’t work longer hours or ‘hustle more.’ They delegate work to others and review it regularly.

They are editors, not writers.

You can do the same.

Editors start with the outcome. They identify the decision(s) needed and the artifacts (e.g. a pitch deck, a strategy doc, or a plan) to get there. This allows them to work backwards and identify all of the pieces needed to get to that desired end state.

Editors break artifacts down into chunks. They create an outline for each artifact and break it into mutually exclusive pieces that can be worked on independently. This allows the work to be parallelized by multiple people.

Editors make someone accountable for every piece. They identify the person who is best suited to complete each piece of work. They write that person’s name next to a section and ask them to own it. We’ll call these people the writers. This allows the editor to fully delegate large chunks of the project. The editor should only write pieces they are uniquely suited for.

Editors lay out milestones. They identify a reasonable (but aggressive) set of timelines and deliverables to complete the work. They propose these timelines and let writers push back. This creates a predictable schedule.

Editors review work on a regular cadence. They set a schedule (typically weekly) to go over all work leading up to a milestone. This ensures that work is on track and prevents a ‘grand reveal’ just before a milestone.

Editors hold writers to high standards. They ask questions and critique until the work is as good as their own. Ideally it’s even better.

“Good editors are not ‘permissive’; they do not let their colleagues do ‘their thing’; they make sure that everybody does the ‘[product’s] thing.’” -Peter Drucker

Editors take over writing if the work isn’t converging. They monitor progress and give feedback if projects are behind. They will take control if work isn’t coming in on time or at quality. They only do this as a last resort (as it jeopardizes autonomy/trust).

Editors stay high level. They constantly remind writers of goals and problems. This allows writers to go deep into the details but ensures someone has the big picture in their head.

Bonus addition: There’s one additional mode that I employ from time to time. I’ll call it ‘the janitor.’ The janitor plugs every hole on a team, from taking notes to pulling SQL queries to QA’ing releases. This mode is useful when you have an understaffed team or want to deeply understand a problem space.

Have you successfully transitioned from writer to editor? I'd love to hear more: @bdickason

Special thanks to Kashi for introducing me to Writer vs. Editor.

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Post last updated: Feb 4, 2021