One of the ongoing challenges that we face as Product Managers is that we’re primarily charged with predicting customer and user behavior. We’re constantly asked to come up with new ideas, new features, and new designs that we “know” will delight our users, or at the very least satisfy them. But the fact is, predicting human behavior is incredibly difficult — there are many thousands of people who have spent hundreds of years trying to figure out why people do what they do (they’re called psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists), and we’re still making educated guesses at best. So, what are some of the challenges that we face?
A couple years ago, shortly after I launched the blog, I posted my first New Year’s Resolutions for Product Managers, which was a big hit. Somehow it slipped my mind to update it for 2016, but here I am with an update as we roll into the new year…one as full of uncertainties as it is full of opportunities! Without further ado, here are five new resolutions for Product Managers moving into 2017…
Never have I heard a better description of the challenge that faces Product Managers than a quote that I overheard at this year’s ProductCamp Seattle — “Humans are hard…” spoken by none other than my fellow General Assembly Product Management instructor Tricia Cervenan, as part of a panel discussion. Those simple words struck a chord with me, as it made me think about all of the different ways in which we as Product Managers attempt to understand, document, and predict human behavior. Every single day I can come up with some variation on the idea that “humans are hard” impacts us in some way. [Read more…]
While Product Management might be my career of choice, my primary hobby of choice has to be gaming. I’ve been playing games in one form or another for as long as I can remember — tabletop games, video games, role-playing games…you name it, I’ve played some permutation of it in my life. As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, I’ve begun to see the benefits that come to people who play such games on a regular basis. The best games, after all, are based in some fundamental way on reality — and the lessons that we learn from gaming can easily translate into skills, knowledge, and talents that you can use in your everyday life as a Product Manager…
Note: The links below go to Steam where the game is available online or Amazon for the board games mentioned; The Clever PM makes no commission on any purchases through these links.
I was working with a future mentee last week and we noticed a recurring theme to some of our discussions — that a large part of good Product Management results from limiting the number of choices that our teams and our executives have to choose from, so that they make decisions that reflect the actual priorities that should be driving our next moves. In most organizations, there is an almost unlimited number of ideas, concepts, directions, and motivations from which to choose — and trying to manage all of them at once is certain to drive any Product Manager insane in very short order. Rather, in order to ensure that we’re doing the right things at the right times, we need to be constantly limiting the possible permutations upon which we drive decisions so that we can be sure that we’re moving in the right direction while being open to new ideas and concepts!
Due to the vagaries of how different companies and industries define the role of Product Manager, it’s often a struggle to determine what skills and abilities one must have in order to separate themselves from the crowd. But while the roles may differ, I’m a strong believer that there is a core set of capabilities and competencies that any Product Manager can leverage in order to break from the pack. I’ve captured three of these here for your reading pleasure – if you focus on these areas in your personal and professional development, they will certainly give you the tools that you need to advance as a Product Manager.
The number one thing that separates a “great” Product Manager from a “good” one is likely to surprise a lot of people, because it’s something that we only have indirect control over. But that’s the primary source of a Product Manager’s ability to influence the direction of our product and our strategic direction – we manage through influence, which means that in order to be a truly great Product Manager, we’re going to need to excel at creating and managing our relationships with others in the company.
Having a strong network of relationships both inside and outside the organization is critical to the success of every Product Manager – it is only through these relationships that we can drive things forward. There is almost no Product manager in the entire world who can cover the entire breadth of a product with any level of mastery – from finances to strategy to marketing to sales to development to support to operations to implementation to services…it’s simply too much for any one person to tackle in an organization of any real size and a product of any real complexity. Thus, we build relationships with those people who are actually charged with managing these things, so that we can gain their insights, leverage their strengths, and bolster the weaknesses that they and their teams may have.
The better we are at establishing, maintaining, and growing our relationships with others in our organizations, the better we will all be as Product Managers.
Second to relationships is a natural and honest curiosity, not only about our product and our customers, but about the world around us in general. The absolute best Product Managers that I’ve seen don’t limit themselves to what they see every day, and certainly not to their immediate daily surroundings. They’re open to learning anything and everything they can, about whatever they may encounter that interests them. This is absolutely not about being curious about technology, though technology is certainly one area that it helps to be curious about. The concepts, ideas, and new directions that we come up with can only ever be truly different if they’re informed from different contexts and experiences.
What we do at work is greatly influenced by what we do elsewhere; if we want to change the approaches that we take at work and in our products, we have to start elsewhere first. New concepts, new ideas, and even new problems to solve don’t just appear magically within the four walls of our office – they exist outside our daily context. They exist in new and different experiences. The more you try, the more you test, the more exposure you have, the more interesting and different the ideas you’ll come up with.
Innovation is the result of thinking outside the box – but you can only think outside the box if you take time to exist outside the box.
A lot of people think that Product Managers should have a singular focus – on the customer. While I agree that’s a very important part of being a Product Manager, I think that the reality is that Product Managers need to not only be focused but also to bring focus to whatever they do; and this focus that you bring may or may not be solely focused on the customer. For example, when things are going sideways, and people are responding in an emotionally-charged fashion, Product Managers bring focus to the table by obtaining objective data with which they can drive the organization to focus on the rational circumstances rather than the irrational reactions that can make us randomized and lose track of what’s really important.
When bringing focus, it’s also important to make sure that we’re bringing the right focus to the table – and this is where the customer must always come first. And that will make you a pretty good Product Manager, focusing on the customer. What makes a great Product Manager is knowing which customer to focus on and when it’s more appropriate to focus on an aggregate view of the customer and when it’s important to focus on the needs of an individual customer. This is where the ability to balance out your short-term needs and long-term goals allows you to separate yourself from the pack.
It’s not enough just to be focused as a Product Manager, we need to have the ability to bring focus to our organization and our teams when they need it most.
There are a lot of potential pitfalls that threaten our success as Product Manager — but by far the worst, in my opinion, is falling too much in love with your own ideas, whether those are problems, solutions, or even assumptions about the market and our customers. While I think they take it a bit to the extreme, Pragmatic Marketing does have a point when they say, “Your opinions, while interesting, are irrelevant.” It’s in our nature to make assumptions and inferences from what we see going on around us — to create plans in the face of uncertainty and to identify potential opportunities that others are missing. But we do so at the very real danger of drinking our own product’s Kool-Aid and thinking that we have the one true solution and the one truth in the market. But in reality, that’s never the truth, and we need to check ourselves every single day against this danger.