Product Managers sit in a very unique position in most companies — they have their hands in almost every cookie jar in the whole organization. From Sales to Marketing to Services to Development to Finance, at some point the Product Manager will directly impact each and every single function within the organization (assuming it’s being done right). While many people take this as an indication of the classic belief that a “jack of all trades” must be a “master of none,” the “trade” of a Product Manager is leading through influence, and in building and trading in social capital.
By virtue of these contacts, however, there’s another opportunity that Product Managers often have which is not generally available to those in tightly siloed, functional positions. Because Product Managers become masters of communication and translation, they also learn a little bit about a lot of things. And, in doing so, they become not only a hub around which the product itself turns, but also a valuable resource for teams to learn more about the product, the process, and other teams’ interests. All it takes is a little personal interest and willing participant, and suddenly you’re a mentor!
Be a Product Mentor
Obviously, as a Product Manager, you should be the primary expert on every aspect of your product, from top to bottom, inside and out. Whenever you work with a member of another team, it’s an opportunity to provide them with insight into how the product works, why the product works the way that it does, and to give them an opportunity to reflect that information and provide useful feedback. You have an opportunity not just to look better because of your deep knowledge, but also the opportunity to share that knowledge with others in the organization, to leave them with more information about the product than they had when you first engaged with them. This could be a known workaround for some issue they’re encountering, a better way to do what they’re trying to do, or even insight into future work that’s going to make their job a little easier.
By sharing our Product knowledge, we establish ourselves as experts while encouraging an open, collaborative environment.
Be a Process Mentor
Most people don’t like process; and most people like process that they don’t understand even less. It’s often a perception from outside our teams that our processes exist merely to slow things down, to obfuscate the work that we’re doing, or to just fill time, space, and headcount. Of course, from within the process, we often only see the value in the things that we do, the artifacts that we create, and the meetings that we have. It’s critical that, when we engage with other departments and other employees within our organization, that we work to explain the process and its reasons for existence. It’s also important to listen to others who are working on similar processes, so that we can share our own challenges and successes in using those processes in the past. Because development teams are often very interested in lean processes, and the interest in Agile practices grows throughout organizations, it’s important that we, as Product Managers who are often closest to the day-to-day effects of these processes, share our knowledge, understanding, and advice.
By sharing our Process knowledge, we enable other teams to learn from our own successes, failures, and challenges, so that they can be more successful from the word “GO!”
Be a Cross-Team Mentor
While it’s pretty obvious why we benefit from sharing our own knowledge with other teams — it gives them confidence and context for the things we’re inevitably asking them to do — it may not be immediately obvious that sharing other team’s information, process, and resources with others can be equally rewarding. Now, obviously, you can’t share information that’s confidential, nor should you just drop a reference to another team’s process without facilitating discussions or engagement on them. But, being that hub around which all the other teams rotate, Product Managers have a unique perspective on what synergies exist within the organization and where one team may be able to rely on the expertise or experience of the others, where absent our interaction they’d be blind to these benefits.
By sharing information, processes, and resources across teams, we allow everyone to benefit from experience and knowledge that’s often obfuscated by internal boundaries.
Be a Product Management Mentor
Last, but certainly not least, if you yourself have become a Product Manager, it’s likely that you’re in that role because someone who was already in Product Management took a chance on you and encouraged your curiosity with regard to the role. I’m sure you showed promise, had confidence and knowledge, and demonstrated both a willingness to learn and a willingness to lead — but I know very few good Product Managers who just jumped into the deep end without some form of mentorship. As such, we owe it to the future of Product Management and future Product Managers to engage in direct mentorship, and to encourage the same curiosity that we had when we were starting. Always keep an eye out for that interested co-worker or the teammate who’s always wanting to sit in on meetings, and give them the benefit of your own knowledge and experience, to allow them to grow into the role if they so choose.
By becoming a Product Management mentor, we help the next generation of Product Managers to hit the ground running and to innovate and create in ways we cannot.