It’s become an annual exercise here at The Clever PM to create a list every year of the five things that Product Managers should be thankful for — it started the first year, continued into the second year, and is now rolling into the third year as your go-to source for tips, tricks, and hacks to become a better Product Manager. So, without further ado, the 2017 list:
1. Tools & Technology
Back in the day, most of my Product Management work revolved around three tools: Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Now, I find myself seamlessly popping in and out of such a variety of tools and technologies that it’s almost insane. But each of these technologies has evolved over time into its best fit role in the entire Product Management world. Whether you’re managing your roadmap using Aha!, prioritizing your user stories in Jira, or tracking down and triaging bugs filed in Visual Studio, there are so many tools out there from which to choose that it’s now more a matter of finding the tool that best fits your process than bending your process to fit the available tools.
2. Online Courses & Live Instruction
Product Management has become such a hot commodity that there are now so very, very many ways for those interested to become acclimated with the basics of the profession — something that in my mind has been sorely lacking for years. Whether you’re taking advantage of online courses like those provided by Coursera or taking live courses like the ones I teach in collaboration with General Assembly, you have a ton more available to you as a modern-day Product Manager than I and my brethren did so many years ago. And it’s not just Product Management that has great resources — it’s so easy now to pick up a quick and easy guide to Agile, iOS or Android development, or really almost any technical info that you want to dive into. If you haven’t picked up some new skill this year, 2017 is your opportunity!
3. Quality Assurance & Testing Teams
If there’s one team in most organizations that often doesn’t get the respect or attention that they deserve, it’s the QA or Testing teams. Of course, when your primary job is to find fault with the work of others and to break things in the most creative ways possible, that kind of goes along with the job description. But here’s the thing — without a diligent, dedicated, and creative testing team working on your product, you won’t find out all the worst ways your product can break until after your customers are using your product. And I think we can all agree that’s just simply too late — not to mention too expensive — a proposition. So, three cheers to those whose job it is to break things!! You have my undying respect and support.
Okay, so that sounds a little weird, but the increasing acceptance of agility as a cultural value and not just a cargo cult practice is something that every Product Manager should be extremely thankful for. As someone who once worked for a massive international conglomerate that not only engaged in 5-step stage/gate approval for projects, but which had a 20+ page empty template for product requirements, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to just write user stories and engage actively with your customers, stakeholders, developers, testers, and marketing teams to come to a mutual understanding about the problems you’re solving, the priorities of the things that you’re working on, and the general direction that everyone expects the market to move toward. More and more companies of all sizes are realizing that the idea of predicting the future 9-12 months into the future is just wrong-headed, and that short-term, rapid iteration not only delivers quality product faster, but allows for the company to adjust to constantly-changing market conditions without trying to turn the Titanic. Agility, we love you.
Really, this should go without saying — vacations are an essential component of maintaining our work/life balance — getting away from everything for even a few days allows us to rest, recharge, and come back with new experiences under our belt that we can use to view our work problems through a different lens. Going too long without a break leads to burnout, lack of focus, and general malaise — even in the best of circumstances. While there may be many cultures out there where breaks from work are not valued, I think they’re an essential component of managing your own sanity, especially in a role like Product Management that often winds up taking hits from all sides. Take some time for yourself, your family, and/or your friends — remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and come back with a renewed vigor and focus on the future.