So, another year is starting up, and we’re just now starting to unpack ourselves from the holiday break that so many of us take time to enjoy with our families and friends. The best thing about a new year is that the future really is a blank slate, 365 days to make of them what we will. Sure, there’s carry over from last year, but there’s far more to look forward to than to look back on. It’s the perfect time to stop for a moment and take stock of what happened last year, what you want to do this year, and how you’re going to make 2018 more successful than 2017!
I’ve been working on B2B solutions for a very long time (dating almost all the way back to the turn of the millennia), and in that time I’ve come to realize that far too many applications try to be everything to everyone, and as a result really wind up serving nobody at all. You can see this in many product designs that try to capture all of the possible things that you could do at a given point in time, rather than leading you through a logical path, or showing you the most likely things that you may want to do. As much heat as I give the “ribbon” change that Microsoft introduced in Office a few (many) years back — conceptually, it was the right thing. It focuses you on the specific things that you need to do in some contextual space, without requiring you to remember which specific menu item someone decided to hide that option under. While the rollout was challenging, in my opinion, the approach really encapsulates a concept that I like to call “build for the novice, enable the expert”.
There are a great many company cultures in the world that go out of their way to avoid conflict of any kind. And, while the intent is good — nobody wants to work in a combative workplace — the common practice of lumping all conflict together into a single bucket and trying to toss it out the window winds up being counterproductive in many ways. You see, conflict isn’t always a bad thing; certain types of conflict actually make us better at what we do. When we engage in constructive conflict, we hone our ideas, challenge our own assumptions and biases, and push others to do the same. In an environment completely absent all conflict, we might as well all just be “yes men” and simply rubber-stamp every idea that comes around. Successful businesses are not built that way. Here are some things to think about when it comes to engaging in constructive conflict.
While Product Managers have a great many tools in their belt to use when working internally with stakeholders or externally with customers, there’s one tool that seems to elude so many of us. That tool is silence. When you’re talking with someone and trying to get them to say what’s really on their mind, what’s underlying the things that they’re telling you overtly, silence can be one of your best tools for figuring out what they’re really thinking, what problems they really have, and what’s really motivating them. Silence can be an amazing tool when used properly and in the right circumstance — it essentially forces the other person to fill in the gaps of conversation, and when they do it’s usually with something that comes from the subliminal thought processes rather than the conscious ones. In my constant effort to empower Product Managers everywhere, here are some thoughts on using silence effectively…
There are a great many different corporate cultures to be found in the world, but one consistency among far too many of them is decision-making processes that rely more on gut-level instinct and whomever yells the loudest rather than on hard data. For some companies, this has served the CEO well — a small, nimble startup can’t always waste time doing detailed validation or data-gathering in a “stop moving forward and you’ll die” environment. In other companies, it’s become the de facto standard due to strong personalities who may prefer authoritarian leadership styles over more democratic and empowering styles. Regardless of the reason, though — companies like this eventually wind up struggling because they make the wrong choice one time too many, based on the leaderships “market instinct”. And it’s our job as Product Managers to shepherd these companies into a more modern-day, data- and hypothesis-driven approach. Here are three major reasons why data-driven management is far more effective than management by gut or personality.
It’s time for the next installment of my ongoing series of “Ten Questions” for thought-leaders and colleagues from the Product Management world! This month I’ve reached out to Paul Jackson, a longtime Product Manager from the UK who showed up on my radar a few years ago when he started to feature some of my posts in his articles and in his newsletter. Since then, we’ve exchanged thoughts on a wide variety of topics, and he was high on my list when I started up this ongoing series.
As Paul describes himself:
Paul is the publisher of Pivot Product Hits, a monthly newsletter on product strategy and a regular writer on all things product.
As a Product Manager and user-centred design practitioner, Paul has been building digital products and services for over 15 years. Currently Managing Director of Castle in the UK, he was Head of Product Management for The Times and The Sunday Times and Director of Product at Newsmart, an edtech SaaS that leverages premium news content from the Wall Street Journal.
There’s always a fine balance to be found between making sure that your product is as buttoned-up as possible when it ships and the small (sometimes large) sacrifices that we have to ask our technical teams to make in order to just get the damn thing out the door. Within this gap lies the dreaded concept of “technical debt” – the ever-growing list of things that you know you probably shouldn’t have done or that you should have done, but that have way to the reality of getting product out to market. The good news? It’s not always bad. The bad news? Play too fast and loose with it and it will come back to bite you in the ass.