A lot of attention is paid (here, as well as elsewhere) on the “Agile Manifesto“, and while it’s an important component of the Agile way of thinking, it’s not the be-all, end-all statement that came out of the Snowbird conference around the turn of the century. Rather, there are twelve guiding principles in addition to the four core components of the manifesto. Let’s take a quick look at each of these, and see how they affect how we perceive and implement Agile practices…
As Product Managers, we often talk about agility and Agile methodologies from the perspective of how we prioritize and execute the work that needs to be done, but how do we as Product Managers actually make ourselves more agile and responsive to change? As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, Agile methods and agility in general are more than just development values and processes – they are indications of a kind of culture that accepts the unknown and is willing and able to respond as new information is discovered. And we as Product Managers are often a key part of that culture, so we should strive to be as agile in our own practices as possible — to demonstrate and model this behavior for others to learn from!
In the first part of this series, I focused on two of the primary causes for failure in the implementation and use of Agile methodologies — cultural failure and lack of training. While these are probably the primary things that cause issues with Agile processes, they’re far from the only things that can (and do) go wrong. In this second part of the series, we will explore the need for continual (or continuous) improvement and lack of evangelism and how they relate to the success or failure of an Agile methodology.
The single most powerful tool that Product Managers have to make products that amaze and delight their users is to figure out what problems their customers have that they don’t even realize are causing them pain. Most people didn’t understand the benefits of 1,000 songs in their pocket when Apple first introduced the iPod back in the day, but MP3 players have now merged with our cell-phones and morphed into online streaming services to provide an ever-present library of whatever music strikes our fancy at the time. Sure, they weren’t the first, nor were they the fanciest, but Jobs and Co. tapped into something important — the latent need for us to have our music with us, wherever we were, in a package small enough to slip into our pocket.
There’s a lot of truth to be found in the classic mis-attributed (and possibly entirely fabricated) “Henry Ford” quote, “If I’d asked people what they’d wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” People know what their obvious pains are, what the problems are that they experience every day — but most people only examine those pains at a very superficial layer. Someone who tells you they want a better way to manage the password on their work computer, for example, might never consider how much simpler it could be to simply add a biometric fingerprint scanner to their desk that would save them both time and effort. Customers focus on their current pain, and want that solved immediately — and they’re satisfied when you do so for them. But they’re amazed when you discover a problem that they didn’t even know they had, and deliver that solution from the word “go”.
It’s the difference between evolution and revolution, between iteration and innovation.
There seem to be tons of books out there that claim to be “perfect” for the Product Manager and those wanting to move into a role in Product Management. There are also reading lists across the Internet — some better, some worse. I’ve found the following 18 books to be essential reading for anyone who is or wants to be a Product Manager; the list is in no way a complete list of all the great books, but a shortlist of those that I think are absolute must-reads.
Note: The Clever PM may make a small commission on purchases made through links on this page.
As with any vocation, there are many “tricks of the trade” that on develops as a Product Manager over time. Most of these tricks are pretty basic, and seem entirely too obvious on reflection, but before you come to the realization that they’re important, they elude you. One of the common problems that we run into as Product Managers is that our day-to-day jobs are so results-oriented and interrupt-driven that we often fail to take that very important time to reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it.
The thing is, that kind of introspection and reflection really doesn’t take a whole lot of time or effort. In fact, it’s something that every Product Manager should do as a brief exercise either before they start their day, when/if they’re taking a break for lunch, or when you’re just about to pack everything up and head home at the end of the day (or even on your commute in to or away from work!). Call it meditation, call it preparation, call it whatever you’d like, but every PM worth their salt should be asking themselves these three questions every single day!
As a Product Manager, we all have very close ties to our product — in some ways it’s our metaphorical baby. And like any parent, we tend to focus on the good parts of our product — the problems it solves, the efficiency that it provides, the benefits that everyone who uses it gets to avail themselves of. Unfortunately, the inverse of that is also true — we also tend to overlook the areas in which our product doesn’t quite meet our customers’ needs, where it barely misses the mark in competitive comparisons, and where it marginally loses out when compared side-by-side with other offerings.
And when these things are pointed out, some product managers immediately turn defensive — saying things like “they just don’t understand” or “they’re not getting the right training” or even “sales doesn’t know how to position”. Unfortunately, all of those things are actually your problem to solve, and sometimes you’ve got to accept some lumps in order to figure out where your biggest opportunities to improve actually lie.