Sim City: An Interview with Stone LibrandeScreenshot of our own SimCity (called, for reasons that made sense at the time, We Are The Champignons) after three hours of game play. In the nearly quarter-century since designer Will Wright launched the iconic urban planning computer game, SimCity, not only has the world's population become majoritatively urban for the first time in human history, but interest in cities and their design has gone mainstream. Once a byword for boring, city planning is now a hot topic, claimed by technology companies, economists, so-called "Supermayors," and cultural institutions alike as the key to humanity's future. A shot from photographer Michael Wolf's extraordinary Architecture of Density series, newly available in hardcover.
In March 2013, the first new iteration of SimCity in a decade was launched, amidst a flurry of critical praise mingled with fan disappointment at Electronic Arts' "always-online" digital rights management policy and repeated server failures.
A few weeks before the launch, Venue had the opportunity to play the new SimCity at its Manhattan premiere, during which time we feverishly laid out curving roads and parks, drilled for oil while installing a token wind turbine, and tried to ignore our city's residents'—known as Sims—complaints as their homes burned before we could afford to build a fire station. We emerged three hours later, blinking and dazed, into the gleaming white and purple lights of Times Square, and were immediately struck by the abstractions required to translate such a complex, dynamic environment into a coherent game structure, and the assumptions and values embedded in that translation. Fortunately, the game's lead designer, Stone Librande, was happy to talk with us further about his research and decision-making process, as well as some of the ways in which real-world players have already surprised him. Nicola Twilley: I thought I’d start by asking what sorts of sources you used to get ideas for SimCity, whether it be reading books, interviewing urban experts, or visiting different cities?
Stone Librande: From working on SimCity games in the past, we already have a library here with a lot of city planning books. Geoff Manaugh: While you were making those measurements of different real-world cities, did you discover any surprising patterns or spatial relationships?
Twilley: I’d love to hear more about the design process and how you went about testing different iterations. Instead, what I did was that I came up with two extreme cases—around the office we call them “Berkeley” and “Pittsburgh,” or “Green City” and “Dirty City.” We said, if you are the kind of player who wants to make utopia—a city with wind power, solar power, lots of education and culture, and everything’s beautiful and green and low density—then this would be the path you would take in our game.
But then we made a parallel path for a really greedy player who just wants to make as much money as possible, and is just exploiting or even torturing their Sims.
I made a series of panels, showing those two cities from beginning to late stage, where everything falls apart.
Basically, we figured that if we set the bookends, then we would at least understand the boundaries of what kind of art we need to build, and what kind of game play experiences we need to design for. Twilley: In going through that process, did you discover things that you needed to change to make game play more gripping for either the dirty city or the clean city? Librande: It was pretty straightforward to look at Pittsburgh, the dirty city, and understand why it was going to fail, but you have to try to understand why the clean one might fail, as well. What happened was that we just started to look at the two diagrams side-by-side, and we knew all the systems we wanted to support in our game—things like power, utilities, wealth levels, population numbers, and all that kind of stuff—and we basically divided them up. Twilley: One thing that struck me, after playing, was that you do incorporate a lot of different and complex systems in the game, both physical ones like water, and more abstract ones, like the economy. Librande: Food isn’t in the game, but it’s not that we didn’t think about it—it just became a scoping issue.
I watched some amazing food system documentaries, though, so it was really kind of sad to not include any of that in the game. Manaugh: Now that the game is out in the world, and because of the central, online hosting of all the games being played right now, I have to imagine that you are building up an incredible archive of all the decisions that different players have made and all the different kind of cities that people have built. So, there are what we call “hardcore players.” Primarily, they want to compete, so we give them leader boards and we give them incentives to show they are “better” than somebody else.
Each of those leader boards, and each of those challenges, will start to skew those hardcore people to play in different ways. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the “creative players” who are not trying to win—they are trying to tell a story.
A regional view of a SimCity game, showing different cities and their painfully small footprints. Twilley: Building on that idea of different sorts of players and ways of playing, are there a variety of ways of “winning” at SimCity?
Librande: For sure, there is no way to win at SimCity other then what you decide to put into the game. Now that I’m done with that phase, and I’m just playing for fun at home, I’ve learned that I enjoy mid-density cities much more then high-density cities.
Manaugh: I’m curious how you dealt with previous versions of SimCity, and whether there was any anxiety about following that legacy or changing things. Librande: First of all, when we started the project, and there were just a few people on the team, we all agreed that we didn’t want this game to be called SimCity 5. Technically, the big difference is the “GlassBox” engine that we have, in which all the agents promote a bottom-up simulation.
Because our SimCity—the new SimCity—is really about getting these agents to move around, it’s much more about flows. Once we made that decision—to go with an agent-driven simulation and make it work from the bottom up—then all the design has to work around that. Manaugh: When you turned things over to the agents, did that have any kind of spatial effect on game play that you weren’t expecting?
We knew this would happen, but we just had to tweak the real-life metrics so that the motion and flow look real in the game.
We Are The Champignons' industrial zone, carefully positioned downwind of the residential areas. In the end, it’s not one hundred percent based on real-life metrics; it just has to look like real life, and that’s true throughout the game.
I know what you are talking about, though: in the game, bigger cities feel a lot busier and faster moving.
The fact that there’s even a real rush hour shows how important timing is for an agent-based game. The result is that you end up getting really interesting cycles—these flows of Sims build up at certain times and then the buses and streets are empty and then they build back up again.
Librande: One thing that amazed me is that, even with the issues at the launch, we had the equivalent of nine hundred man-years put into SimCity in less than a week. I’m not sure where we are going to go with that, though, because we’re not really an eSport, but it seems like the game has the ability to pull that out of people. It takes just 15 seconds to understand the basics of someone’s personality style (including your own). If you run a software-as-a-service (SAAS) business, you might already know about the core concepts behind Aaron Ross and Margaret Tyler’s book Predictable Revenue. Lately, I’ve been getting asked frequently in my consulting practice about how to structure the Customer Success role. Predictable Revenue encourages the segmentation of sales roles earlier than one might think and I totally concur — but again, for all roles. So how should you actually structure the four specialized roles defined by Predictable Revenue?
The first picture shows the ten major functions of this business in grey: Strategic Execution, Strategic Finance, Sales and Account Management, Product Management, Customer Success, Technical Operations, Software Engineering, Marketing, Strategy, and Admin. Before I proceed, I want to remind you that an organizational structure is not the same as an org chart.
It seems to me that the authors of Predictable Revenue understand these differences intuitively.
If you can conceptualize Account Management and Customer Success as two distinct roles rather than one, it suddenly gets pretty easy to figure out how to structure them both. In addition to the head of Sales and Account Management, you’ll also want a head of Customer Success that oversees Client Onboarding, Client Training, Client Analysis, and Client Experience Optimization.
There are 3 major types of breakdown that occur when you combine Account Management and Customer Success into a single role. On the other hand, companies that combine Customer Success and Account Management, end up with similar problems, sacrificing the product experience of the many accounts (Customer Success) for the needs of the few key accounts (Account Management). Again, the Account Management role is a relationship role that needs to focus on the needs, aspirations, and renewals of key accounts.
The PSIU style and approach of a world-class Key Account Manager requires a high drive to Unify or create rapport and connect with key accounts. You can contrast the style of a great Account Manager with the style and approach of a world-class Customer Success leader, who should demonstrate a high drive to Stabilize and Innovate, but not to Unify. If you were to place an Account Manager type with a high Unifier style into the Customer Success role, then you would get a lot of great customer interactions but not a lot of scalability, design insights, or process improvements. In short, always try to put the right style of people into roles where they and the business can thrive.
In addition to a breakdown in focus and styles, there is also a different time horizon for Account Management versus Customer Success. Customer Success is going to be under a lot of short-range time pressure too but you want to design the organization so that Customer Success doesn’t collapse under this short-range pressure. We want Account Management to put pressure on the company to fulfill on the needs of key accounts.
Predictable Revenue has started a broad and productive conversation that is still evolving. Despite how it’s been defined by Predictable Revenue, I believe that Customer Success should not be placed in the same category as Account Management. Finally, the idea of having happy, recurring customers is obviously not new and it involves more than formalizing a Customer Success role. Assuming that you already have a sound strategy and execution framework in place, if you can get your Product Management function right, you’ll solve a lot of problems inherent in scaling your business. In the early start-up stages of a business, Product Management doesn’t need to be a well-defined function. But once product-market fit is established and the company is ready to scale up by adding new product lines, customer types, or markets between the late Nail It and early Scale It stages, that’s when Product Management should be rethought and redesigned.
It’s pretty easy to spot a breakdown in the Product Management function in your business.
Elon Musk would make the dictionary definition of the Product Strategy or Product Visionary role.
The style of a head of Product Strategy is very Innovative or future-oriented and focused on possibility (psIu).
The style of a head of Product Design is usually a mix of Innovator and Stabilizer or pSIU. An example of a Product Design style is Jack Dorsey, who is co-founder and now CEO of both Twitter and Square. Depending on your business type, Product Design likely has a title of Designer (Software) or Prototype Design (Manufacturing).
Product Development is the function that transforms product designs into actual working products or, in the case of a manufacturing company, actual working prototypes for manufacturing to produce at scale. The PSIU code for a Product Development function is a high drive to Produce or get stuff out the door and a high drive to Innovate or to be creative and disrupt the status quo.
Depending on the type of business you’re in, Product Development may be called Software Engineering (Software), Prototype Engineering (Manufacturing). The fictional Peggy Olson from AMC TV’s Mad Men is a classic example of a Product Marketer. In your own business, the Product Marketing function might be called just Marketing or Brand Management – even as it helps to manage a wide range of functions such as product positioning, pricing, promotion, competitive analysis, PR and creative, and drives marketing execution and more. Sundar Pichai is a classic Product Manager type who was recently promoted to CEO of all of Google. This includes prioritizing Product Development and Design resources by product, coordinating with Product Marketing activities, and ensuring that the short- to mid-range product development roadmap ties into the overall Product Strategy and is clearly communicated.
In PSIU code, the PM function needs a high drive to Stabilize and a high drive to Unify, or pSiU for short.
Aside: Note that Sundar has a very different style compared to the more famous Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who both have a high Producing and Innovating style or PsIu common to entrepreneurial founders. In your own business, the PM function may not yet exist at all, or it may be called something different.
In the rest of this article I’ll show why the PM function may be missing or has been set up incorrectly in a business that is attempting to scale and how to do it right. Now, you may quibble with how I’ve defined and described the many facets of Product Strategy, Product Design, Product Development, Product Marketing, and Product Management, and the examples of styles found in each. So yes, you want to improve your company’s ability to define, prioritize, build, release, and promote its products – but how do you know where the breakdowns are really happening and how do you catalyze a breakthrough? There are five basic product management tactics that every business can implement to help it scale up more easily and profitably. You’ll notice that all five of these tactics relate just to the PM function and not to Product Strategy, Design, Development, or Marketing. In most businesses struggling to scale, there’s not usually a big gap in Product Strategy, Design, Development, or Marketing. However, there usually is a breakdown in how the PM role is managed in a company between the Nail It and Scale It stages. And if it should turn out that your current head of Product Strategy, Design, Development, or Marketing still can’t cut it after relinquishing PM duties, well, congratulations. Breakthrough #1 is to treat the PM role as its own major and separate function in the organizational structure. While Product Design and Development (under Prototype Engineering), Product Marketing (under Marketing), and Product Strategy (under Strategy) are in their correct relative locations in this structure, the PM role is missing. For example, what do you think happens in a business when the PM role and Product Development or Design roles are co-joined as the same function?
On the other hand, if you have a strong PM who is also head of Product Development or Design, then you’ll likely have a really thorough product plan that is well-communicated but perpetually late on shipments. Again, you can get away with burying the PM role in another function when the business is in start-up mode with fewer problems.
When scaling up, the PM role should become its own major function in the organizational structure. When there’s budget and availability, this founder must find talented replacements for each of these hats so they can focus on being the head of Company and wear just one or two additional hats (such as the head of Product Strategy or the head of Team and Culture).
But if quarterly P&L accountability is not delegated to the PM role, then the founder will never fully take off the old hats.
Few things are more ineffective and dispiriting than having accountability for something without the authority to see it through. By delegating P&L to the PM role, you are putting real teeth into its authority and allowing it to fulfill its purpose. The head of Company and head of Finance then also collaborate with the head of the PM function to set profit margin targets, the pricing matrix, and discount percentages allowed for each product.
By listening to and collaborating with all the other major business functions, the PM decides on the resource allocations to be put toward the various products and features.
As mentioned, having accountability for P&L also allows the PM to be effective in their role. For instance, let’s say that you are a US-based manufacturing business and have manufacturing sites in Chicago, Tokyo, and Frankfurt. Put another way, to decentralize means that if you have multiple products, factories, or semi-autonomous sites, then a PM function should be assigned to each of them. Using the above example of a manufacturing company with three sites, you’d work to develop a separate PM Office at each site.
The style, vision and values, and capabilities of the people who play a PM role in your organization also have a lot to do with its overall success. Another common misstep occurs when the company believes that its products aren’t creative or innovative enough and so it looks for a high Innovator style to play the PM role thinking that that will lead to more creative ideas.
But when two strong Innovating styles are forced together, this usually turns into a pissing contest over who really owns the vision.


You want your PM to have enough Innovating force to get and appreciate breakthrough ideas coming from elsewhere in the organization. There are other capabilities and attributes to look for in a strong PM besides the natural ability to Stabilize and Unify.
Purchasing or deploying a new tool or platform without first making the PM role a core and distinct organizational function, assigning quarterly and annual P&L accountability to it, and staffing it with the right people, would be the equivalent of applying a fresh coat of paint to a badly designed house. Instead, put most of your energy and attention into rethinking and redesigning the PM function (as well as your overall strategy and execution framework) and then you can help to equip the PM with the right processes and tools to be effective. The PM must also make communicating the short-range product roadmap cycle a regular priority.
The bottom line when it comes to processes, metrics, and tools is that a strong PM will likely already know what processes and tools they want to deploy and what metrics they need to track.
One more thing: I would encourage Product Marketing to maintain its own product release calendar so that it can coordinate and execute on training, PR, education, campaigns, and all other aspects of product marketing. Also make sure to keep the product prioritization meetings SEPARATE from your regular cross-functional leadership team meetings. Now that we’ve defined the terms of product management, talked through the basic scaling tactics, and answered the most pressing questions, let me share a case study with you that should help to bring it all together. For the past several years, Max was anticipating that the adoption of the Health Care Affordability Act by the US Government would unleash huge market demand from large employers and insurers to track quality of care (He was right).
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Gamification applies game thinking and mechanics to non-game contexts, and the results are typically very positive.
The fundamental idea behind the very large umbrella of gamification is to apply game thinking and strategies to everyday, ho hum activities. The concept, despite not having the name “gamification” (which wasn’t coined until 2002) applied to it, has been around probably as long as modern humans. The airlines quickly realized the system had to evolve to better reflect true gamification: they added additional rewards (electronics, spa packages, jewelry, and so on), they created several tiers of membership that were only reached after certain achievements, and they included additional methods for obtaining points. Use gamification in marketing by gifting your customers with virtual rewards (points, miles, tokens, coins, etc.) for specific behavior. At its best, gamification is invaluable for driving conversions, improving ROI, and measuring and motivating your customer base. Distribute achievement badges for specific actions that can be displayed on their account profile.
McDonald’s Monopoly promotion very effectively encourages consumers to a) frequently visit the restaurant (the main goal for the campaign), b) compete against others, c) instant win game pieces, and d) collect game pieces on their way to various cash and prizes.
Spin-To-Win or Scratch-and-Win digital campaigns that virtually allow customers to “earn” a dollar or percentage discount off their total purchase at time of checkout. Whether its wrangling children, collecting consumer data, learning a new skill, or increasing sales and revenue, gamification has shown itself remarkably successful and reliable. Discover the Money in the Cloud.Get more information on how a White Label Cloud solution can increase your revenue. Those were really good as a reference, but I found, personally, that the thing I was most attracted to was using Google Earth and Google Street View to go anywhere in the world and look down on real cities. Did you storyboard narratives for possible cities and urban forms that you might want to include in the game?
What I mean by that is that you could play it so many different ways that it’s basically impossible to storyboard or have a defined set of narratives for how the player will play it.
In that scenario, you’re not educating them; you’re just using them as slave labor to make money for your city.
A real player will do a thousand things that fall somewhere in between those extremes and create all sorts of weird combinations. If you have one city—one path—that always fails, and one that always succeeds, in a video game, that’s really bad design. But—and this seems particularly surprising, given that one of your bookend cities was nicknamed Berkeley—the food system doesn’t come into the game at all. The early design actually did call for agriculture and food systems, but, as part of the natural process of creating a video game, or any situation where you have deadlines and budgets that you have to meet, we had to make the decision that it was going to be one of the things that the Sims take care of on their own, and that the Mayor—that is, the player—has nothing to do with it. In SimCity, happiness is increased by wealth, good road connections, and public safety, and decreased by traffic jams and pollution. It’s hard to answer easily, though, because there are so many different ways players can play the game.
We can measure those things in the aggregate, but I don’t think they would say much about real city planning. Have you personally built cities that you would define as particularly successful within the game, and, if so, what made them “winners”?
If you come in with a certain goal in mind—perhaps, say, that you want a high approval rating and everyone should be happy all the time— then you would play very differently than if you went in wanting to make a million dollars or have a city with a million people in it. I’ve played the game so much, because early on I just had to play every system at least once to understand it. What are the major innovations or changes in this version of the game, and what kinds of things did you think were too iconic to get rid of? We just wanted to call it SimCity, because if we had a 5 on the box, everybody would think it had to be SimCity 4 with more stuff thrown in. All the previous SimCity games were literally built on spreadsheets where you would type a number into a grid cell, and then it propagated out into adjacent grid cells, and the whole city was a formula. There were no graphics—it was just a bunch of numbers—but you could type a code that represented a particular type of building and the formulae built into the spreadsheet would then decide how much power it had and how many people would work there. The largest part of the design work was to say: “Now that we know agents are going to run this, how do schools work with those agents?
Because everything has to be in motion, we had to have good calculations about how distance and time are tied together. We worked with the animators, and followed our intuition, and tried to mimic the motion and flow of crowds. For example, if we made the airport runways actual size, they would cover up the entire city. I found it quite intriguing that there are different speeds that you can choose to play at, but then there’s also a distinct sense of the phases of building a city and how many days and nights have to pass for certain changes to occur.
But there’s nothing really built into the game to do that; it’s just the cumulative effect of more moving parts, I guess. We spent a lot of time trying to make the game clock tick, to pull you forward into the experience. For example, I anticipated a lot of the story-telling and a lot of the creativity—people making movies in the cities, and so on—and we’re already seeing that. I mean, I don’t have to teach you that putting a garbage dump next to people’s houses is going to piss them off or that you need to dump sewage somewhere. My sense is that there is some confusion out there about the distinction between Account Management and Customer Success. Technically I would start to think through your organizational design and role segmentations in the mid- to late Nail It stage of business development.
This is the role that’s creating all the buzz (and I think some confusion) — how do you actually structure that? They are meant to illustrate how a scalable organizational design will keep Account Management under Sales and treat Customer Success as its own major function. Keep Account Management under Sales and elevate Customer Success to its own major function. The answer is that Account Management is a revenue-driving relationship role and Customer Success is a revenue-driving systems role. Specifically what I mean by Account Management is Key or Strategic Account Management focused on building relationships, being the voice of key customer needs, and driving recurring and upsell revenues from your largest and most important accounts. Customer Success is a systems role that needs to focus on the needs, aspirations, and renewals of all accounts.
While we’re looking for a high drive to Produce and win new accounts from the other sales roles, we want a more Unifying approach from Account Managers who build relationships and create empathy with important clients. The Customer Success leader excels at designing systems, analyzing data, finding efficiencies and, generally, making the entire system work better at scale. Customer Success must design and optimize systems and processes to onboard new clients, train all clients elegantly so they understand and engage with the product, and optimize the overall client experience for all clients.
Account Management will always be under tremendous short-range pressure to meet key account needs and drive new revenues from their portfolio of accounts. We also want Customer Success to put a different pressure on the company for the needs of the overall product experience and for renewals. While every structure is unique, it generally makes more sense to keep Account Management under Sales and make Customer Success into its own major function. It’s always a total company effort that requires constant engagement, effort, and reinforcement from all roles in the company.
One of the advantages of my position is that I get a deep, inside look into different industries and businesses.
You will also have a much easier time increasing revenue growth, execution speed, agility, and profits. To scale successfully, you’ll need to rethink and redesign Product Management between the late Nail It and early Scale It stages of business development.
There are actually five primary product management-related functions that every business performs but are distinct functions that should be treated as such. You can learn more about PSIU here and take the World’s Fastest Personality Test to get a basic sense of it before proceeding.
This means that they excel at seeing and articulating the product vision or strategy and how it should actually show up in end-user hands. The titles will be different but the function the same — to translate Product Strategy into an elegantly functional user experience. The Product Developer is constantly thinking about how to translate the concept and requirements of a product design into something that actually works and getting it produced or launched — fast! Whatever it’s called, it is valued for its ability and capacity to produce high-quality and innovative products quickly. A great Product Marketer is adept at using their intuition and data to artfully answer questions like, “What makes this product unique? One popular example of a classic Product Marketer is Peggy Olson from AMC’s hit TV show Mad Men. An outstanding PM keeps the customer needs forefront in their decisions while coordinating and allocating resources to delight those customers and achieving business objectives.
For instance, a classic PM style who is now in the public limelight is Sundar Pichai who was recently promoted to be the CEO of all of Google when it made the recent shift to its new Alphabet structure. If yours is a service or contract business, then perhaps it’s called Project Management or Program Management. It is a very critical, high-leverage function that, when executed correctly, greatly facilitates the leap past start-up into scale-up and beyond.
When these leaders can focus on what they’re best at, they have the time, energy, focus, and skills to thrive at the next level. These roles are much easier to fill once you have set up these other five elements and have clarity on the real accountabilities of their respective roles.
If the Product Management (PM) role is not its own major function, a business will struggle to make the leap from start up to scale up. I.e, there is a lot of product planning being done but a lack of actual live, high-quality, working products shipped to customers on time.
Product Marketing and Strategy must maintain that long-range focus to be effective while the PM role must have a short-range focus and deliver results efficiently. It translates upstream requirements from clients, sales, marketing, and strategy into clear, short-range priorities.
Imagine a fast-growing start up where the visionary founder plays the role of head of company and also wears that hats of head of Marketing, head of Product Strategy, head of Product Management, and head of Team and Culture. Instead, they’ll be continually sucked into making product prioritization decisions that are really in the realm and accountability of the PM role who needs the authority to do his job. It’s much more realistic for this role to make prioritization decisions based on the constraints of quarterly profit targets (whatever they may be), rather than just the strong opinion of Sales, Marketing, or Operations.
The head of Finance needs to support the PM role with clear budgets, analysis, and advice but the actual authority to make decisions within those budgets needs to reside with the PM. Basically, in the budget process, the head of Company and head of Finance collaborate with the head of Sales to set annual and quarterly revenue targets and with the other functional heads to set expense budgets. For instance, in a software company, the PM would decide what percentage of development resources to put on different products or features in a given quarter.
When conflicts arise (and they will), then the quarterly P&L target is the ultimate arbitrator. Well, if you were to centralize the PM function in Chicago, then you can imagine the discord, complaints, and manufacturing breakdowns happening in Tokyo and Frankfurt, can’t you? That is, you’re not trying to create a bottleneck where every decision must flow to one central person or team to make PM decisions.
And each site may have multiple product managers, depending on the company size and complexity of its products and services. Many struggling growth organizations make the mistake of attempting to fill their PM roles with a high Producer or a high Innovator style. While it might create some new energy and excitement in the short run, it will come at a huge cost of poor coordination, communication, and prioritization and will slow down overall execution speed soon after.
But there are already probably a ton of new breakthrough product ideas residing across your organization, including from within Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Strategy, and R&D. Sure, it might look fresh for a month or two but the house is still falling apart and it’s still hard to live in it. The best practice I’ve seen here is for the PM to host an open product roadmap meeting once or twice a month. If you are in a setting that requires more frequent adjustments to priorities, then you may have to have that prioritization meeting every week. You don’t have to invest in a million-dollar ERP system just to figure out the exact profit margin to-the-penny of your various products. This case study is based on one of my coaching client companies and I’ve changed the names to protect any proprietary information.
His vision was to transform Acme into a Quality of Care and Benefits provider – one with higher margins and faster growth potential, and a lot more exciting to manage than a low-growth, low-margin, pure benefits administrator. As a bonus, site members have access to a banner-ad-free version of the site, with print-friendly pages.Click here to learn more.
Companies across far-ranging industries are using it to engage, teach, entertain, measure, and improve their overall user experience. Turn something into a game or competition, and people both young and old are more likely to engage, participate, and do what we ask them to do. It might, but it just as often means using gaming mechanics like points, levels, status, and rewards. This encourages a) frequent visits during the campaign period, and b) upselling, as consumers want the biggest “bang for their buck” and tend to spend more to save more. Stars are used to advance to the next level, which allows even greater discounts and benefits. The company bestows badges and status to its uses based on their various achievements, actions, check-ins, and engagement. If you can distribute a reward tied in some relevant way to your product or service, you can gamify. I found it to be an extremely powerful way to understand the differences between cities and small towns in different regions.


I’d bring up San Francisco and measure the parks and the streets, and then I’d go to my home town and measure it, to figure out how it differed and so on.
That opened up a whole series of documentaries that I would watch almost every night after dinner.
When I started measuring out our local grocery store, which I don’t think of as being that big, I was blown away by how much more space was parking lot rather than actual store. We do have parking lots in the game, and we do try to scale them—so, if you have a little grocery store, we’ll put six or seven parking spots on the side, and, if you have a big convention center or a big pro stadium, they’ll have what seem like really big lots—but they’re nowhere near what a real grocery store or pro stadium would have.
You put coal power plants in, you put dumps everywhere, and you don’t care about their health. Are you mining it to see what kinds of mistakes people routinely make, or what sorts of urban forms are most popular? The game was designed to cover as many different play patterns as we could think of, because our goal was to try to entertain as many of the different player demographics as we could. Or there might be a competition to get the most rich people in your city, which requires a different strategy than just having the most people. For instance, when my wife plays, she wants lots of schools and parks and she’s not at all concerned with trying to make the most money or have the most people.
I tried to build a power city, a casino city, a mining city—I tried to build one of everything.
That had the potential to be quite alienating, because SimCity 4 was already too complicated for a lot of people. I can’t look at anybody’s city as a screenshot and tell you what’s going on; I have to see it live and moving before I can fully understand if your roads are OK, if your power is flowing, if your water is flowing, if your sewage is getting dumped out, if your garbage is getting picked up, and so on. We had to do a lot of measurements about how long it would really take for one guy to walk from one side of the city to the other, in real time, and then what that should be in game time—including how fast the cars needed to move in relationship to the people walking in order to make it look right, compared to how fast would they really be moving, both in game time and real time. Those are the kinds of things where we just had to make a compromise and hope that it looked good.
Did you do any research into how fast cities change and even how the pace of city life is different in different places? In cities like New York, people walk faster, and in medium-sized or small towns, they walk a lot slower. In kind of a counter-intuitive way, when you start getting big traffic jams, it feels like a bigger, busier city even though nothing is moving—it’s just to do with the way we imagine rush-hour gridlock as being a characteristic of a really big city. I find myself not doing anything but just watching in this mesmerized state—almost hypnotized—where I just want to watch people drive and move around in these flows. We hear this all the time—people will say, “I sat down to play, and three hours had passed, and I thought, wait, how did that happen?” Part of that is the flow that comes from focusing, but another part of it is the success of our game in pulling you into its time frame and away from the real-world time frame of your desk.
YouTube is already filled with how-to videos and people putting up all these filters, like film noir cities, and it’s just really beautiful. It was like a spectator sport, with twenty thousand people cheering their favorite on, and, basically, backseat city planning. I think the reason that the audience got so into it is that everyone intuitively knows the rules of the game when it comes to cities. In this article, I’m going to show you how to use the principles of Organizational Physics to actually structure the Customer Success role so that your own SAAS business has the greatest probability of realizing its potential.
In fact, you should define and segment all of the major roles and most of the minor roles in your entire business — not just sales. You will create more clarity, focus, and role fit and scale more easily by keeping these roles separate.
If not, then it will start acting more like an Account Manager being whip-sawed by the needs of key accounts and less like the head of Customer Success for all accounts. The role of Product Management is to to make the hard decisions that balance out those competing needs and move the business forward now and over time.
While no two situations are exactly alike, I have seen a consistent yet under-reported issue out there that keeps 9 out of 10 companies from getting out of start-up mode to the next level. If you don’t get Product Management right, scaling to your potential will be much harder or even impossible. That’s because at its core, Product Management is a translation, prioritization, and coordination function. Notice how Musk continually underestimates the true delivery time frame for all of his ventures – SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, etc.?
The better the Product Designer holds the Product Vision, understands the back-end technology or manufacturing process, and tunes her empathy to what the end-user desires, the better she will perform in that role. Notice that he holds the product vision (Innovator) and also gets his hands dirty writing code and getting products shipped (Producer) or a PsIu style that is common to many product savvy entrepreneurs. When watching the show, pay attention to the fact that Peggy works long and hard (Producing) into the night responding to client projects. By most accounts, Sundar is highly respected for his ability to translate the emerging products vision, manage the gap between technical product details and user experience, and coordinate across other Google functions (Stabilizer) and also to empathize and communicate with a wide range of different and often competing interests within Google to keep things moving forward (Unifier). Regardless of the title, the purpose of this role is to translate requirements, set short-run priorities, and coordinate releases. I’ve helped to deploy them and seen them create significant breakthroughs in revenue growth, profits, and execution speed in multiple different industries, including high tech, clean energy, healthcare, finance, services, and manufacturing.
I’ve designed it using the 5 Laws of Structure but intentionally left out the PM role to make a point. If you have a technically strong head of Product Development or Design who also oversees the PM function, then you’ll likely have a fairly strong technical product that ends up being miscommunicated and that few are trained on. It should be clear that Product Development and Design roles and the PM role are different functions that require different accountabilities, skills, and leadership styles. If so, how do you think Sales Operations, Customer Service, and Manufacturing would view the PM role? Obviously, this isn’t going to scale up and this founder will quickly find themselves overwhelmed, unable to delegate effectively, and a bottleneck to growth. For instance, can you get a sense for how much conflict the PM role must continually manage?
For example, let’s say that Sales really wants a feature in the next release but it would mean bumping out some other critical features in the roadmap in order to deliver it. And will the PM be able to resolve all of them without help and influence from the head of Company or head of Division? Instead, you’re pushing accountability down into the organization so that those closest to the customer can conduct their own product management.
They simply have an intuitive knack for understanding where the market is going, where the opportunities lie, what customers truly desire, and how to delight them.
They should be able to steward the product vision but not have a need to control the product vision.
They emanate a sense of respect for themselves and they give and receive respect with others. So put resources and investment into finding and filling it with the right leader, with the right structure and accountabilities, and then support it with the right processes, metrics, and tools.
This means that whoever wants to influence the product roadmap can show up to that meeting and make their case. Focus on having a regular and open product prioritization meeting as well as the regular communication of the short-range product roadmap and to pay attention to the metrics that really matter. This eight-year-old company had about $6M in annual sales but its growth had been stagnant for the past several years and it was losing money.
The challenge was that the company seemed to keep tripping over its own two feet during execution. A common problem was that new features for the next-generation portal would get built but were usually a surprise to everyone outside of product development and weren’t communicated well to clients or to support staff.
If you can create an online community to foster engagement and competition, you can gamify. My inspiration wasn’t really drawn from urban planning books; it was more from deconstructing the existing world. There were videos on water problems, oil problems, the food industry, manufacturing, sewage systems, and on and on—all sorts of things. That was kind of a problem, because we were originally just going to model real cities, but we quickly realized there were way too many parking lots in the real world and that our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots. If so, is the audience for that information only in-house, for developing future versions of SimCity, or could you imagine sharing it with urban planners or real-life Mayors to offer an insight into popular urbanism? She just wants to build that idealized little town that she thinks would be the perfect place to live.
All that stuff depends on trucks actually getting to the garbage cans, for example, and there’s no way to tell that through a snapshot. How do time systems work?” All the previous editions of SimCity never had to deal with that question—they could just make a little table of crimes per capita and run those equations. We had all these issues where the cars would be moving at eighty miles an hour in real time, but they looked really slow in the game, or where the people were walking way, way too fast, but actually they were only walking at two miles an hour. At one point, we had Sims walking faster as the city gets bigger, but we didn’t take it that far in the final version. In our game, there is a rush hour in the morning and one at night, there are school hours, and there are shopping hours. At that point, you’re not looking at any one person; you’re looking at the aggregate of them all.
From my experience, Account Management and Customer Success should not be thought of as one but as two distinct roles.
If you are unfamiliar with the PSIU code, it’s really helpful in designing your own organization to scale and making smarter hires. While the titles may be different in your own business, the core functions will be familiar to you. When their vision is tracking well and showing visible, measurable results, they are really excited, fun to be around, and charismatic.
It should go to the person most suited to holding, articulating and selling the vision and strategy. What is the optimal design for the best user experience?” Technically, they are well-versed in key elements of the user interface and how the product can or should interact with back-end technical systems and processes. Apple would not have been Apple without a Jonny Ives — who is a Product Designer style — to complement the Product Vision of Steve Jobs. Even after Facebook became a $1B+ business, Zuckerberg still preferred to spend most of his time head down coding on the product while others took care of the business and coordination stuff. She is also able to analyze and intuit the larger product strategy for breakthrough positioning (Innovating) and manage the details of the pitch with attention to detail, stability, and support (Stabilizing) to her boss Don Draper, who is a classic Creative Director type or a big Innovator.
Note that the major business functions are in grey and each has a blue section with basic Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help explain its accountabilities. But none of these locations in the structure are ideal and, in fact, can cause a lot of harm when attempting to scale up.
You will also have poor communication and coordination with marketing, sales, and operations on releases.
That’s right, as a biased (if not useless) marketing function not pertinent to the operational demands of today.
It coordinates between sales, prototype engineering, manufacturing, and marketing so that downstream product releases are well-prepared and communicated, adopted, and impactful.
As a company gets into scale mode, the founder and CEO (as well as other members of the leadership team) need to start taking off the multiple hats they’ve been wearing so they can focus on fulfilling the individual roles they are best suited for. A high Producer style has a lot of energy and drive to step in and get things done but, in this new role, they can’t step in and actually get things done themselves.
Frankly, there is no product development process that can come close to duplicating this innate sense.
It also allows the PM to have some sanity because they’re not being whipped this way and that way every day trying to accommodate an ever-changing array of feature requests. Its main product offering was providing benefits administration services to large employers. If you can appeal in some way to our human nature and desire for socializing, achievement, learning, and status, you can gamify.
Factories are open twenty-four hours a day, but stores close down at night, so different agents are all working on different schedules.
All three of these roles are about being effective in the short term and building and managing revenue-driving relationships. If you structure with this in mind, you’ll have a much easier time filling both roles and getting to scale. They also need to drive revenue by ensuring that all clients are activating the product, understanding and using it, and finding insights in usage analytics that help drive overall product improvements that increase usage and renewals. Product Development seems confident in its own product and projections but everyone else isn’t.
And critically, Product Development, Design, Marketing, and Strategy are freed up to focus on what they do best. Rather, the PM is deciding what percentage of total product development resources to invest this period – as in 30% to Product A, 20% to Product B, and 50% to Refactoring, etc. But asking the PM role to provide that high Producing force is like asking the guy who quickly changes tires in a NASCAR pit crew to take that same approach and manage the entire racing operation.
They need to listen, ask smart questions, empathize, coordinate, think things through, understand the details, communicate, influence, etc.
It’s a lack of assessing those innovative ideas, prioritizing them, resourcing them, and launching them.
And if they miss that meeting, then they shouldn’t be allowed to jump in and sway those short-range prioritization decisions on the next release cycle. The spirit is for accountability on prioritization decisions to reside with the PM role and for it to have enough teeth behind its decisions to follow through and execute quickly. If you can picture 10,000 employees at Honda logging into a web portal to track and update their benefits, then you have an idea of their basic business model.
You’ve likely used this idea in competition against yourself, too…especially while trying to master a new skill or develop a new habit (flashcards in a set period of time, then trying to beat that, or increased number of pushups from one day to the next).
It should also be clear that I am not designing for silos, but for unarguable accountability and cross-functional transparency.
Everyone would be frustrated with this arrangement, especially the PM who wouldn’t seem to be executing on their charter.
If the PM can’t resolve prioritization conflicts with their peers, then that key decision will need to roll up to the next level in the organization. One needs to produce lighting fast on incremental tasks and the other needs to think, orchestrate, prioritize, and coordinate across an entire team, race, and season.
Acme had invested heavily in its technology platform so that it could provide personalized information and benefits education to thousands of employees at scale. What campaigns will be effective?” And then driving forward the execution of the campaigns that bring that brand to life. How is all of this conflict supposed to be managed without the authority to set short-range priorities?
Words: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, year, month, hour, minute, second, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.




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