Prioritization & Time Management
Whether it is choosing which features need to be part of the MVP, analyzing the results of A/B testing or attending a customer meeting with the sales team – each day you deal with multiple stakeholders as a product manager, both within and outside the organization with limited time to handle all the tasks on your list. There are multiple books and seminars out there (if only one can find the time) and a plethora of tools (Evernote etc) to better manage all these tasks.
One of the things which helps is to have recurring meeting schedules with the teams rather than adhoc ones. A well run 20 minute meeting is much better than a poorly run 90 minute one. It is better to run a weekly sales call every week for 20 mins than handle all the requests that come from the sales team in an adhoc manner.
It is important to remember that as Product Manager you are always in the ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ cycle till the product is accepted by the customers. Any effort which does not steer the team in that direction in a significant way is not utilizing your time efficiently.
Be its design, engineering, sales or customer service, product managers regularly deal with a large number of teams as part of their daily work. And most often none of these teams directly report to the product team. It is the job of the product manager to rally all these teams towards a common goal.
Building relationships based on trust not only makes the job easier, it also makes everything much smoother during product execution. To build trust takes time and effort on part of the product managers. Engineering, Sales, Design and everyone else in the company have shipped products before and have a point of view on the current product as well. Acknowledging their contributions and ensuring that the relevant ideas become part of the product roadmap lets people know that everyone’s input is considered seriously. At the same time the team also should be made aware that the prioritization is based on a well defined scoring system which is in line with the overall company strategy and customer centricity. This goes a long way in building transparency into the decision making process and cohesiveness within the team .
When the product ships and is appreciated by the customers, the product manager starts earning more influence in the future interactions with the team and the team in turn starts placing more confidence on the decision making capabilities of the product manager. It is also imperative on part of the product managers to admit to their mistakes and create a culture, where it is understood by all, that until the product is accepted by the customer everyone irrespective of their previous experience is in a learning phase for that specific product.
Another important place where people skills come into picture is during negotiations. As a product manager, you are in charge of the product, but you rarely are in charge of the people who build the product. That means you should convince the team regarding the important decisions you take utilizing earned mutual respect, facts, logic and empathy. It will be very helpful if you approach these negotiations not as a zero-sum game but with the belief that at the end of the negotiation both the parties involved in it will be better off then when they started out, thus aiming for a win-win outcome. Few people are born expert negotiators but it is a skill that can be learned with some effort and practise.
Given the fact that a product manager spends a significant amount of time training, negotiating and persuading, he/she needs to be an excellent communicator. Being able to write clearly and concisely is a skill a product manager uses day in and day out. Product managers need to be able to communicate repeatedly and consistently using facts, logic and reason. It’s natural to feel ridiculous saying the same things to the team day after day and week after week with the same level of enthusiasm, but you must realize that as the only person who has all the information regarding the product, and having mulled over the strategy based on all the facts at your disposal, you are also the best person to educate the team on the product. To the team it continues to stay novel well beyond the very first time they hear it and continuous reinforcement will only make the facts more easily accepted.
In a routine day at work there a lot of things competing for people’s attention – be it email, instant messaging or phone calls. At the same time teams tend to be lost under huge amount of workload. A few people who are out of sync with the agreed strategy can create a lag in delivering a quality product. It is worth the effort to be repetitive in communication in order to have the team aligned with the strategy.
Focus & Execution
If you are a product manager in a startup, nothing is more important than shipping the product to the users, learning from the feedback and re-shipping till such time that the product is accepted by the users. No product will be perfect and no product will be right the first time. Shipping a product and ensuring the business outcome is a core skill for product managers. The longer you take to ship a product, the more time the customer has to choose a substitute product. Then to win them over you would have to compete with the features of the the customer’s chosen product. When there is an abundance of competition the product roadmap gets hijacked by the cumulative sum of features of all the competing products which your product does not have.
Josh Elman in his article on “A product managers job” (Read the full article here) says
Great product managers understand the very tricky balance between getting it right and getting it out the door
Product managers are the voice of the users and represent them in every discussion when making decisions about the product. Doing this requires a deep understanding of the users, their challenges and issues, and how the product will deliver the value and delight that the users are looking for.
But till the product is shipped all the inputs that went into building the product are just assumptions. And in order to find the product-market fit these assumptions need to be validated both quantitatively (to answer the what) and qualitatively (to answer the why). Product managers should always have access to raw data and not just the canned reports and metrics that get generated. You should always be checking all the assumptions and how they have panned out in reality with the data from real user behaviour. This will help you in quickly reaching the conclusion of whether to pivot or to persevere.