It’s commonly accepted nowadays that we use user stories or some variation on them to communicate our “product requirements” to development teams (job stories, jobs to be done, scenarios, etc). And while this is certainly an improvement over some of the bad, old Big Up-Front Requirements (BUFR) methods that were used many moons ago, they’re still not perfect, for a wide variety of reasons. All too often, they assume that certain considerations have already been made, that certain work has already been done — when in fact it often hasn’t. Not every development team has a UX and UI member dedicated to help them achieve a story; not every product can afford to have user-story level architecture decisions being made — and every User Story has to be the result of some amount of planning and forethought, both from a business and a technical perspective. While user stories are a great tool, they’re far from the only tool that we need in our drawer to be effective. Here are some things to consider when you’re relying on User Stories as your primary method of relaying work to be done to your development teams.
We’ve all been there — that sudden call from one of your Sales team with a customer “on the hook” but they only need this one more thing to close the deal. Or maybe it’s an escalated issue from your biggest customer that lands in your mailbox with gigantic ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!! Or worse yet, it’s your CEO who “stops by for a quick chat” about something that he overheard at an industry event last night. Regardless of where these things come from, they all have one thing in common — they’re urgent. They require your time now. They simply cannot be ignored.
Or can they? Or more accurately, should they be ignored? If you ask me, the answer is absolutely. Things that are “urgent” are thrust upon us by others with some expectation that we’ll drop everything and deal with them — not on our terms, but on the terms of someone else. Here’s why you should beware of the urgent and instead focus on what’s important…
When most people talk about “vision” they’re evoking a concept of long-term planning, setting big and brash goals that you might or might not achieve, but which set a “north star” by which you can plot the course of your product and company. And while that’s an extremely valuable use of the term, I’ve recently been thinking that having a “vision” doesn’t always have to be a 5-year plan, but can be a 5-minute plan and be equally effective. In recent discussions with some fellow product managers, I’ve come to believe that we actually do use shorter-term visions regularly, but we talk about it in a variety of different terms. And when we do, we provide a similar “north star” effect to the people with whom we work on a daily basis — we allow them to chart the course to do more than they might have if we just told them what to do, and not where to go.
Let’s face it, technical debt is something that every Product Manager has to deal with on a constant basis — whether it’s making snap decisions that unblock your team so that they can keep working, short-cutting an ideal architectural solution because you have time-to-market pressures, or deciding to put off working on bugs found after a story’s been closed. While the common wisdom may be that you should never take on technical debt, the real world intrudes on such a fantasy each and every day, and if we don’t want to wind up in a death march that never sees the light of day, sometimes we have to make the choice to sacrifice some long-term stability in exchange for short-term gains. But how do you determine when there’s too much technical debt, or when the specific item of debt is too much to bear? That’s what we’re going to discuss today…
As Product Managers, we’re often deeply and intimately involved in the processes that our companies use in their everyday business. Issue tracking systems, customer feedback systems, email and IM systems — there’s a neverending list of tools that we use on a daily basis to further our own (and others’) professional productivity. Having such a laser focus on the things that we do at work sometimes means that we forget that some of these very same tools (or tools like them) can be used to help ourselves on a daily basis in our personal lives. As I’ve taken on this blog, and written paid posts for other companies, I’ve come to value several tools for both professional and personal productivity that I thought it would be fun to share.
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.