One of Amazon’s prized leadership principles is “Be right, a lot.” And we should certainly strive for that as Product Managers, no matter what company we work for, or what product we’re working on. But there’s a corollary to that statement that’s equally important — that you’re not going to be right all the time. And that’s a good thing, believe it or not. Making mistakes is part of the game that we play on a daily basis, and it’s only through making these mistakes that we learn, we grow, and we understand that we’re willing to take the chances needed to truly innovate! If you’re not wrong at least part of the time, you’re either a certifiable genius who outranks even the Elon Musks and Bill Gates of the world — or you’re not truly taking chances.
A few weeks ago, I was perusing Quora as I often do, and came across a really great and insightful answer describing the differences between a “good” and “bad” roadmap by Greg Hartrell. The answer was so good that I couldn’t help but reach out him, and invite him to share some of his insights here on my blog. Here’s a bit about Greg in his own words…
Greg Hartrell is a product leader with a 15 year history helping large teams build high performing software products and businesses. At Google, he heads product for Google Play Books and previously led the creation of their mobile game services. Before that, he was VP of Product Development at Capcom/Beeline, and a product leader for 8 years at Microsoft for Xbox Live/360 and Windows.
One of the many challenges that Product Managers face in trying to move organizations toward a more agile approach to product development is that some stakeholders simply don’t see the value in the shift. They believe that, since their way has worked for them for so long that there’s no need to change — after all, it can’t be broken if it works, right? But the simple fact is, the bad old ways of product development are dying, as markets and customers move faster and have more options available to them to solve their problems every single day. There’s not a single industry that isn’t facing high-investment newcomers who are able to move fast and adjust — and leave they’re slow-moving, waterfall-based competition in the dust.
In many organizations, conflict is part and parcel of the culture — some conflict can be constructive, some destructive, but most of it can just be downright annoying. And, because we often sit right in the middle of all of the random agendas, battles of ego, and emotional storms that can rage throughout the company, Product Managers often wind up dealing with the outcome of these conflicts if we’re not pulled deeply into them by one or more of our stakeholders. And while it can often be tempting to take on all comers, to defend your territory and your teams to the bitter end, the sad truth is that all too often, these conflicts simply aren’t set up in a way for us to “win” — and seeking that extra mark in our “W” column can often be counterproductive rather than helpful in the long run. All of the best Product Managers know that sometimes when there’s a fight that you’re not going to win, it’s far more important to lose gracefully than it is to die on a hill for something that ultimately didn’t really matter much.
There’s a well-known theory in psychology known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, named after its creator Abraham Maslow. The concept behind this theory is that as human beings there are certain needs and interests that we seek to fulfill in a predictable priority — from physiological needs for food, water, and sleep up to social needs of belonging to a group, all the way to becoming independent, self-actualized creatures — the “best that we can be.” It’s a very interesting concept, and one that immediately came to mind in a recent Twitter discussion that I had with a fellow Product Manager named Gasca. Gasca proposed that the “intersection of business, development, and design” wasn’t really sufficient to describe what makes a Product Manager excel, and added a circular diagram to the discussion which immediately prompted me to think of the whole idea more in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy — just what is it that makes a good Product Manager better, and how can we structure our approach to building skills and refining talent to “level up” our co-workers and peers to make the me most self-actualized Product Managers we can? I don’t pretend to have the full answer, but here are some thoughts, using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a model…
One of the things that I love about the Product Management community here in Seattle is how close-knit we are, so when I reached out to Tricia Cervenan, a fellow Product Manager and General Assembly instructor, for her thoughts on the industry, the role, and what it means to her, I was not disappointed. I met Tricia a few years back at a panel discussion for General Assembly’s and have worked closely with her during our classes to help mold and modify the curriculum to best fit the needs of our students. I’m happy to have her as a returning judge for each of my courses, and more happy to mark her among my very close colleagues in the business!
In her own words:
Tricia Cervenan is a product manager at L4 Digital and part-time instructor at General Assembly. She has shipped over 15 digital products and is most proud of the teams she’s help to build while doing so. Tricia is a co-organizer for App Camp for Girls Seattle where she teaches 8th and 9th grade girls confidence and coding while taking them through the process of building iOS apps in a week. When she’s not building software or working with those new to the industry, Tricia finds joy in long distance cycling, world travel and a good cup of coffee.
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.