NYA Product Management

Landing on Both Feet: The Parallels of Skateboarding and Product Ownership

Josh Beaudry

A lot of people consider a skateboard a toy.

To Josh Beaudry, it’s a tool for transforming lives.

Josh has been skateboarding for more than 30 years, and started a skateboard brand, Lipstick Skateboards, which he recently converted into a nonprofit organization. He also serves as a product owner at Daugherty, where he’s at a client site, “owning” a legacy application that’s in the middle of a transformation.

So how did he get here?

Well, he started skating in the late ’80s, when skateboarders didn’t know what was possible. He and his friends would experiment with different tricks.

“I call it the progression years,” Josh said. “It was about learning, progressing and inventing tricks — kind of molding what skateboarding looks like today.”

At a young age, Josh was sponsored, and he turned pro at 19 — traveling, entering contests and taking photos for catalogues, magazines and even billboards.

During many of his travels, he met kids who lived in extreme poverty: kids living with food insecurity, five kids sharing a skateboard that hardly rolled. It broke his heart. He and the other skaters would leave clothes and skateboards for the kids, but that only went so far. And so he transitioned his brand to a nonprofit.

In the meantime, he serves at Daugherty as a product owner — which actually has many parallels to the skateboarding world.

As a product owner, Josh is ultimately responsible for what happens to the application he oversees. He needs to understand its every component. But it’s massive, and would take years to understand fully. As a result, Josh fits in where he contributes the most value — generating user stories, streamlining tasks in Jira — and grows his knowledge about the application as he works with it.

It’s not something that can be learned overnight.

Similarly, when Josh was growing up, he learned and mastered as many tricks as he could, adding them to his toolbelt. Now, 30 years later, he can draw from them readily.

It’s like the Agile concept of Shu Ha Ri — adopted from Japanese martial arts, particularly Aikido. The concept begins with Shu, in which you follow the rules, learn the basics and are mentored. Stage 2 is Ha, in which you’ve attained the basic knowledge and are encouraged to break the rules and be coached. The final stage is Ri, in which you bethe rule and advise others.

Josh’s latest skateboarding effort has been a combination of three tricks in one fluid motion. He’s working on flipping the board, hitting a particular obstacle, then flipping the board out of the same motion, and landing it while going backwards.

To achieve this, he first had to study the conditions — the environment, the terrain, the nuances of the trick, the circumstances surrounding it — and then he assembled the right team: a videographer, a photographer, somebody to keep an eye on traffic conditions.

It’s the exactly same thing with the application he’s working on. He’s ultimately responsible for it, but he’s working with software engineers who are transforming it. And he’s drawing for his years of experience with previous products for a basic concept of how the application works.

For his latest skateboarding trick, it will probably take him hundreds of tries, several slams and hopefully no broken bones to achieve three to four seconds of perfection.

“It teaches you so much to actually get to that three or four seconds,” Josh said.

Overall, it’s about reaching a state where you can apply all your tools fluidly, versus rigidly, Josh said. To him, true Agile means you’re adapting, not just following a process.

It’s good to have guidelines. For example, in skateboarding, Josh isn’t going to jump 30 stairs, because he doesn’t want to break his neck. But he has extreme liberty in how he fits within the basic rules and structure.

And why does he do it?

Because those three to four seconds of perfection are a huge release, an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders.

“It’s one of the best feelings ever,” Josh said.

With his nonprofit, Josh wants to provide a vehicle for less-fortunate kids — and no, not just getting from point A to B. Skateboarding, to Josh, is a vehicle to grow, and can give you the power to dream. He hopes a skateboard can take these kids places, keep them out of trouble and transform their lives.

“Skateboarding can bridge lives and people,” Josh said. “There are really no boundaries. I want to give back that opportunity to these kids. If it grabs hold of them the way it did me, it will teach them all about life.”

To see Josh demonstrate some tricks, go here!

Do you have any unique quirks you’d like to share with the enterprise? Email us at Jake.Russell@daugherty.com.