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.
As an active member of the Seattle community of Product Managers, I’ve been fortunate enough to find many opportunities to engage with fellow Product Managers as well as those looking to make a break into the role. Between my work with General Assembly as a part-time instructor, my volunteer efforts as a board member of our local Pacific Northwest Product Management Community, or my presentations at ProductCamp every year, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with those who seek different perspectives on old problems or just want to hear a good old war story. The fact is, we all have something to impart on those around us, and we should take any opportunity we can to share with those around us.
I’m excited to kick off the new year with a new installment of my ongoing “10 Questions” series, surveying leaders in the Product Management world for their thoughts on the fundamentals of Product Management as well as questions related to their specific areas of expertise. For this January’s article, I reached out to Teresa Torres who is an amazing product discovery coach working out of Portland, Oregon — just a few hours south of me. She’s also the primary author of an amazing product blog at ProductTalk.org. I’ll let Teresa introduce herself to you in her own words:
Teresa is a product discovery coach who helps teams gain valuable insights from their customer interviews, run effective product experiments, and drive product outcomes that create value for their customers and their businesses. She teaches teams how to connect the dots between their research activities and their product decisions, inspiring confidence that they are on the right track. Recent clients include Allstate, Capital One, The Guardian, and Snagajob.
Before becoming a coach, Teresa spent the majority of her career leading product and design teams at early-stage internet companies. Most recently, Teresa was VP of Products at AfterCollege, an Internet startup that helps college students find their first job. She was CEO of Affinity Circles, an online community provider for university alumni associations and a social recruiting service used by Fortune 500 companies. She also held product and design roles at Become.com and HighWire Press.
Teresa has a BS in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University and an MS in Learning and Organizational Change from Northwestern University.
And, without further ado, Teresa’s 10 Questions:
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…
For the past three years, I’ve posted a list of five things that every PM should be thankful for (you can see the other installments here: 2014, 2015, 2016). It started as a bit of a lark, something to fit in with the holiday, but each year’s list has been more popular than the last, so it’s become something of an annual tradition here at the Clever PM. Just as in prior years, consider this an unranked list of five things to be thankful for — not an exclusive list, certainly, but without these things our jobs would be incredibly more difficult than they already are. If you have other things you’re thankful for, feel free to note them in the comments!
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 lot of different hats we wear as Product Managers, which means that there are a great many opportunities for us to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right people. But the inverse of that is also true — by virtue of wearing so many hats, there are a lot of opportunities for us to do the wrong thing, at the wrong time, for the wrong people. These anti-patterns have a tendency to sneak up on us and bite us when we’re least expecting it, and therefore least prepared for them. But by being aware of them, we can keep our eyes open and try to avoid them if we spy them sneaking up on us in our rear-view mirror. This is far from an exhaustive list, but I’ve compiled five mistakes that Product Managers often make that set us up for almost inevitable failure.