As the clock turns past midnight, it’s officially a new year — out with 2014 and in with 2015! If you’re anything like me, 2014 was an interesting year, full of both challenges and opportunities, as is every year as a Product Manager. As we’re looking forward into 2015, I thought it was appropriate to provide a list of the top five New Year’s resolutions for Product Managers of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels.
1. Get out of the office!
It’s ironic to me that one of the fundamental needs of Product Management tends to be one of the hardest things to get in many organization — direct contact with the market, with customers, and with prospects. As we move into 2015, every single Product Manager out there should make it one of their New Year resolutions to get out of the office more often — to talk with your customers and prospects, and to engage actively with your market. Build that relationship with your sales people and your account managers, test the waters with a “safe” customer or prospect; demonstrate that you’re actually there to listen and not to sour the relationship or the sale. Recap the visit with your sales team or account manager to help them understand what you got from the meeting, and to demonstrate how your perspective is slightly different from theirs. The answers to your questions — and the questions that you need to ask — are not going to be found within the four walls of your office; they’re going to be found in the open-ended discussions that you observe and engage in outside the office.
2. Focus on the “whole product”!
In my last post, I talked about the importance of broadening our definition of what our “product” is, and how any good Product Manager needs to understand the totality of what your customers experience and derive value from — from the very beginning of their engagement with your company, all the way through to off-boarding and closing of accounts. You need to make sure that you at least understand the path that the customer goes through to start using your product, but ideally you need to be involved in those processes as well. Part of our job as Product Managers is to ensure that the customer is receiving the optimum experience possible, and a bad on-boarding experience is just as harmful to the overall success of the company as a bad user experience within the product itself. Broaden your exposure and influence as a Product Manager, and take a new look at the “whole product” that your company is offering.
3. Update your core competencies!
Twelve months is a long time in today’s markets. New products have come and gone, new competitors have launched, old competitors have folded or been acquired, and the overall market landscape has surely changed since the last time you critically assessed your own product’s (and company’s) strengths and weaknesses. As we kick off the New Year, it’s time again to take a new look at ourselves, at our products, and at our company and how it fits into the current market. What you relied on last year as the differentiating factor in the market may have changed, but you’ll only know by actively challenging what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and what you’re leveraging. The worst thing that any company or product can do is simply assume that what was differentiating last year, and what’s been a core competency for years, is still just as important now as it was then. A full review of your core competencies will ensure that you’re entering 2015 with the strongest positioning that you can, as well as offering the ability to plan out any necessary changes in focus or delivery that can renew existing competencies or to create entirely new ones.
4. Make friends from enemies!
It’s sometimes hard to remember that as Product Managers we lead through influence, not through our “position.” And nowhere is that more true than with the people whom we find difficult to work with, or whom we actively dislike within the work environment. But, the fact is, rarely are these situations one-way streets. Nearly always we ourselves have done or said something that either established a contentious relationship with someone in our workplace, or made it worse rather than better. As we’re kicking off a new year, it’s also time to try building some new relationships, and to gain some new perspectives on ourselves as well as our products. So, I challenge everyone who reads this article to find that one person who you really can’t stand to work with, and try to turn that relationship around. Take them out to coffee or a beer, and talk to them like a human being, who’s interested in finding out why your work relationship is so strained. Be humble, be open, and be honest with them — and perhaps you’ll start a path to someone whom you can rely on, rather than someone you dread.
As a Product Manager, we often wind up existing in our own little bubbles of product, technology, and strategy. With a new year, however, comes an entirely open book for you to start over with, and unlimited opportunities for learning new things and engaging on new endeavors. Maybe you want to dive a little more deeply into the technology your company uses for its product? Or maybe you want to learn more about the philosophy and techniques that your sales team uses in its efforts? Whatever it is that you’re curious about, set aside some time in 2015 to ensure that you learn something new, that you expand your horizons and your exposure to new ideas, concepts, and processes. And don’t limit it only to business – remember that in addition to being Product Managers, we’re all people too. And people need to be well-rounded as much as (if not more than) our professions do. Pick something new to experience and go for it — you might learn something applicable to your job, or you might just have some fun. Either way, you’ll be a better person for it, and better people make better Product Managers.