It’s far too common in the world of Product Management for us to wind up being narrowly focused on the actual product development cycle – define, build, measure, repeat. But there’s far more to building, launching, and maintaining a successful product than just what goes on between Product Management and Development. The best and most successful Product Managers try to look at the “whole product” and not just one small (though essential) part like the development process. To get the whole picture, we need our eyes, ears, and fingers on the pulse of all the activities that go on around the product — development, sure, but also marketing, sales, support, implementation, services, and anything else that might be considered “product-adjacent”.
I’m often asked by in both formal and informal discussions whether I think that Product Managers are stuck in whatever industry they start in, and if not how to break into a new one. And through all the years of having these discussions I’ve determined that the vast majority of the skills that make someone a great Product Manager are entirely portable between companies, products, and industries. You can learn a new product pretty easily, assuming that you have an organization with a good onboarding process. You can learn the market pretty quickly, assuming that the company has some internal experts already there to learn from. And you can learn the politics of the organization by just paying a small iota of attention in your first 30-60 days in the organization. None of those things are directly determinative of success as a Product Manager — what is determinative is the soft skills that you bring along with you, your approaches to problem solving and consensus-building. To that end, here are three key skills that any Product Manager should leverage no matter where they are and no matter where they want to go.
This post comes courtesy of a direct request from one of my supporters over at Patreon, who asked me if I could give them a 10,000 foot-level overview of the Product Lifecycle from ideation to delivery. While nothing here should be terribly earth-shattering or world-changing, I think it’s important for us as Product Managers to stop on occasion and think about how things should work for us from the point of an idea to the days supporting a thriving product. So here’s my personal take on the subject — as always, if you have thoughts or comments, feel free to drop them here or hit me up on Twitter!
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:
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 was called into a meeting with a team here in the office a couple weeks ago because they told me they had a “question” about the estimations that they were doing. As we started talking, it became immediately apparent what the problem was, they were getting into arguments about whether their estimates were “too big!” Apparently, someone had told them that they “couldn’t” have any stories that were above a certain value, or at least that’s how they took the directions they were given. I stopped them for a minute and had a quick discussion about the reasons why we estimate stories, and why it’s incredibly important for the story points to reflect the size the team thinks the work is, regardless of what other people “want” them to do. I walked away to leave them to their work, and was entirely unsurprised when I saw some 20-pointers land on the backlog. Far too many teams suffer from some malady similar to that of this team — they forget why we’re asking them to estimate, so they start to engage in anti-patterns that undercut the very purpose for which estimation exists. In a follow-up conversation with another member of our Product Team, I started to think about how to describe Story Points as something other than “estimates” — and I came up with the idea of them as a “signalling tool”…