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How Being a Product Manager helped me become an Award-Winning TV Magician

As a Product Manager at Apple, Beats, CBS, and About.com, I’ve worked on building some INSANELY COOL products with Agile Methodologies and Scrum, including Beats Music (now Apple Music) and GameSpot.com (still GameSpot.com). 

It might surprise you, but I use those same tools when crafting magic & mentalism.

In fact, using a Product Manager’s toolbox, in the last three years, I’ve….

  • Won “Close-Up Magician of the Year” from the world’s largest magician’s association. It was a huge honor.
  • Appeared on the legendary TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” — several times, if you count repeats.
  • Headlined at the world-famous Magic Castle for a dazzling 43 shows, performing alongside some of the world’s best magicians. 
  • Drawn rave reviews for hundreds of virtual magic shows at tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Salesforce.  

All of it, using Agile Methodology & Scrum.

Here’s how I did it:

1. I Work With Stakeholders to Maintain a Product Roadmap

On tech products, I’m typically working with multiple roadmaps that I’ve developed with myriad stakeholders, including the CEO, the CMO, sales, and external partners. 

In magic, I also have stakeholders. 

  • Clients, like managers at Google, want their groups to see a mind-blowing magic show, experience a renewed team spirit, and tell everyone how amazing their manager is for booking the event.
  • Producers from America’s Got Talent and Penn & Teller: Fool Us want to see memorable new personalities, and surprising new tricks. 
  • As the primary stakeholder, I want to become more skilled, perform more shows, win more awards.

So I track stakeholder needs, balance out estimated costs (time or money) and potential benefits (financial, skill-building, or brand-awareness), and develop a fluid, living product roadmap, prioritizing a limited number of features and enhancements.

This month, the roadmap is simple: “1. Create an all-new 45-minute virtual show” and “2. Create a new 18-minute show for the Magic Castle.” Everything that doesn’t fit into one of these epics goes right onto the backlog. Wait – did I mention the backlog?

2. I Meticulously Manage a Jira Backlog

Recently I performed at Atlassian’s Australia offices, blowing their (virtual) minds, and mentioned, “I use Jira for my magic.” It was met with painful, awkward, dead silence. My stomach tensed as I realized: they thought I was feigning some unlikely familiarity with their software. And yet, it wasn’t a lie… their software is essential.

Like any tech product lead, I’ve got hundreds of things I’d love to do. Some of it is practically identical to “Implement new flow to increase customer retention” or “Add this new feature” – it’s “modify ending of trick to increase shock” (I’m endlessly using the SDLC on my magic) or “learn some insane new sleight.” 

Tickets are tied to epics like “Marketing”, “Virtual Show”, and “Amazing Memory Test.” (By the way, ask me to do an amazing memory demonstration sometime. It’s mind-blowing. I also train teams to enhance their memories to mind-boggling extents!!)  

My magic backlog isn’t just for what’s critical – it’s amazing for everything that’s less than timely. You know, like that one high-cost, low-reward feature that Doug – and only Doug – has been asking for?  My magic backlog has those too. (One example, at the very bottom of the list: “Learn to throw playing cards, to pierce a watermelon.”)

3. I Work in Week-Long Sprints, with Sprint Planning

Every Friday night, I decide what magic I’m going to focus on in the next week. I estimate how much time I’ll have that week to work on the hobby, and use the roadmap, the backlog, and the time estimates, and literally plan a sprint

As a magician, I get daily emails about new tricks or courses or books. There are endless things to buy or learn. Amazing new trick? I add it to the backlog for a future sprint.

In tech, sprints allow devs to stay sane, and projects to be fluid and agile. It’s the same for a magician.

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