Last year, around this same time, I created a very popular post on the 5 things that Product Managers should be thankful for: Customers, Sales, Developers, the Cloud, and Our Peers. As we’re running up against another Thanksgiving here in the US, it’s time to revisit that post and provide a few new things that Product Managers should be thankful for this year!
1. The Product
I really can’t believe that I overlooked the most important thing that we work on every single day, but somehow I did last year!! So, the number one slot goes to the product itself, whatever it may be and whatever shape it may take for you. Without the product, we’d have nothing but ideas and a vision – it’s the execution that matters, after all. Managing a product that elegantly solves customer problems in a way that doesn’t get in the way of their goals but guides them gently from beginning to end is an amazing experience, and being the captain of that ship is a reward in and of itself.
2. Big Data
As our ability to collect massive amounts of data on our customers, our market, and our product increases, the technology to mine that data for pearls of wisdom and “Aha!” moments grows as well. Big data technologies allow us to not only store data, which we’ve been able to do in some form for decades, but also to analyze, pivot, and dig deeply into that data in ways that might have been improbable or impossible in previous storage and database technologies. While we still have to be certain that we’re measuring what matters, and that what matters is being measured – “Big Data” provides us with greater confidence in our insights and assurance that our inferences from the data are backed by a larger sample set.
3. User Experience and Design Teams
Inevitably, any list that’s self-limited to only five items has to leave someone (or something) out, and last year’s list left out many groups that contribute to the overall success of the product. One of these was the UX and Design teams that we all work with, and who provide the insight, instincts, and reasoned efforts to push us toward considering the user in everything that we do. Working with a great UX team is a thing of beauty – their influence is felt from the beginning of the project all the way through to the final polish and positioning of the solution. They remind us that we’re never building something for ourselves, but for others who have different problems, motivations, and experience – and that we should always design for the novice, but enable the expert. They keep our eye on the customer, when it can easily drift over to the technology, and for that we owe them all our thanks.
4. Service, Operations, and Support Teams
Another group that was left out last year are the front-line folks who interface and interact directly with both the customer and the technology that we create on a day-to-day basis. Having strong service teams who assist the customer in implementation, integration, or even in their daily use of technology solutions provides any Product Manager with a massive amount of in-house experience in the daily struggles that customers have. Engaging with the Operations team on a regular basis forces us to realize that our work doesn’t stop when the solution is built, but continues when it goes into production and that we must keep our eye on the ball when there are technical complications that cause both our internal and external customers pain – while these people keep the lights on. And working with an engaged, supported, and empowered team of customer service professionals provides us with daily direct feedback on the pains that our customers are experiencing, as well as the creative solutions that our support teams provide them. Ignore these teams at your peril, my fellow Product Managers – they have more to teach us about ourselves, our product, and our customer than many organizations give them credit for.
5. Our Mentors
Finally, this year I think it’s appropriate to think about our mentors and to extend our thanks to them for sharing their own experience, knowledge, and practices with us. Even if you haven’t had a formal mentor/mentee relationship, there’s someone in your career who’s taken the time and effort to give you feedback, support, and suggestions on how to become better at the things that you do on a daily basis, who’s been fearless in raising with you areas of improvement, and who’s happily provided praise to you when you’ve exceeded their expectations. I can think of at least three people I’d consider mentors, and I certainly wouldn’t be the successful Product Manager that I am without their influence, assistance, and guidance. If you’ve taken the time to bring a new Product Manager under your wing, you have my thanks this year – and hopefully theirs as well.
And, as with last year, I want to extend some specific thanks to a few folks who really made my 2015 a successful and prosperous year!
- General Assembly – This year I had the amazing opportunity to teach a 10-week, 40-hour intensive Product Management course with the Seattle branch of General Assembly. I cannot describe how awesome it was to share my experience and expertise with my class and to watch as they worked through the steps of creating a product idea and walking it through every step of the ideation process, ending in a final presentation before actual Product Management professionals.
- UserVoice – I was contacted earlier this year by a representative of UserVoice to join their team of Product Management professionals who create long-form content for their blog. It’s been a different experience writing 2500+ word posts for them, but it’s also stretched my research and writing talents forcing me to be a better and more thoughtful writer all around. I’m extremely thankful for that opportunity and look forward to continuing to provide great content well into 2016.
- My friends, family, and colleagues who supported me in all of my diverse efforts this year, with patience and kindness even when things were stressful and when time to spend with them might have been short.