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.
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.
During this year’s ProductCamp Seattle, I sat in on a great presentation by Dave Manningsmith where he discussed several dysfunctions of the daily standup ceremony (or “ritual” as he referred to it) that so many of us participate in on a daily basis. And it really made me think a lot about just how badly so many of us actually do in our standups — whether it’s because we’re used to status reporting in authoritarian cultures, because we’re really just teams in name only but still executing as individuals, or (most likely) because the organization has never really taken the time to understand why we do standups, so they don’t even understand that they might be doing them wrong. Here are some common anti-patterns and resolutions that will help you ensure that you’re at least closer to doing a standup “right” in the future…
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.
Sometimes an idea just strikes me out of the blue and sounds interesting enough to sit down and write a little bit about. This is one of those posts, spurred on by a discussion I had today with a newly-hired Product Manager with almost as much experience as me. As we were talking about our past experiences, where the current company is at, and how we can work together to improve some of the practices and procedures throughout the organization, I started to think about all the different things it is that we actually do as Product Managers, and all of the hats that I’ve worn in the past. These are some thoughts on a few of these hats…
A common theme in online discussions and forums around Product Management lies in how to level up our skills and be a better Product Manager. While there are a lot of different options available, just as there are as many different aspects of Product Management to focus on, there are some very specific areas that any given Product Manager can assess themselves in and decide what next steps they want to take to become a better Product Manager.
There are a great many different corporate cultures to be found in the world, but one consistency among far too many of them is decision-making processes that rely more on gut-level instinct and whomever yells the loudest rather than on hard data. For some companies, this has served the CEO well — a small, nimble startup can’t always waste time doing detailed validation or data-gathering in a “stop moving forward and you’ll die” environment. In other companies, it’s become the de facto standard due to strong personalities who may prefer authoritarian leadership styles over more democratic and empowering styles. Regardless of the reason, though — companies like this eventually wind up struggling because they make the wrong choice one time too many, based on the leaderships “market instinct”. And it’s our job as Product Managers to shepherd these companies into a more modern-day, data- and hypothesis-driven approach. Here are three major reasons why data-driven management is far more effective than management by gut or personality.