As 2019 gets underway, I’ve been enjoying taking stock of what we saw at Mind the Product Training over 2018. As a product manager I’m always looking for signals and patterns, and evaluating what early trends could mean for my products, and now for product practice. Noticing early indications of patterns of behavior can help product managers to plan ahead and work specific questions into their learning roadmaps.
We ended up writing and then completely trashing two entire versions of the full-day workshop. This was wasteful, maddening, and completely avoidable. Luckily, we kept learning, and kept iterating, and in October 2018, rolled out our full-day workshop, titled A Product Mindset on Metrics, which received extremely positive feedback from a group of product managers at our London conference. I’d like to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned over the past year, in the hope that these will help other product managers to identify and rejig their experimentation process
Over the past year I’ve worked with hundreds of product managers in dozens of companies, and there’s been one question that has sounded like a persistent drum beat: “What is the difference between the role of a product owner and a product manager?”.
So, how can departments who are not building software “mirror” the approach of product teams? By viewing their outputs as products, and taking the same approach to evaluation, communication and optimisation as best-practice product teams. Until my current job, my products were all software projects, so it was an eye-opener for me that, even though I’ve shifted to building a service model, nothing about the process I run has materially changed.
Maybe we don’t often make resolutions for work because it’s too much to think about, and too much feels outside our control. In myself I’ve found that to be a bit of a cop-out. So this year I thought I would make a framework to help kick-start my thoughts.
The career (and job) of a product manager is one of finding commonalities, patterns and lessons. The stories that we hear from product leaders from around the world is that diversity of perspective and experience are what drive us to build better things and be better managers. Our world continues to shrink, and change continues to happen faster than ever. Getting an edge means collecting as many valuable experiences as you can from as many places as possible.
Being a product manager encompasses many things; vision, organization, analysis, and communication, to name a few. But in my experience there is one universal trait that permeates almost everything a product manager does – curiosity. In the context of product management, I see curiosity as a desire to fully understand a problem from all angles, to want to gather information from a diverse range of sources, and additionally to understand how outcomes would have an impact on success.
Stakeholder communication was the biggest challenge – by 12%. But this answer took many forms, some respondents simply stated stakeholder communication or stakeholder management. Others called it “problems with alignment”, “difficulty getting buy-in from higher-ups”, “keeping all the teams on the page”. So I expected to see training on communication, alignment and presentation skills rise to the top of desired skills list, based on this data. But the most requested training topics were user research, conducting user interviews and metrics and KPIs.
Here are some of the first books I read after getting into product management. They are also the books that I keep with me wherever I am, and I return to each of them every few months or years. These books capture fundamental theory as well as basic practices. I have written in the margins of my copies and the pages are dog-eared, but I still use them and regularly quote from them.
This blog is about the oft-overlooked need to ensure that the primary stakeholders for your product within the organization are involved in D+F activities and collaborate on the developing vision. Stakeholder involvement in Discovery and Framing are flip sides of the same coin. Heads: missing out on crucial knowledge and perspective, and Tails: knowing that you have buy-in from people whose support you need.