A successful product manager is an avid networker. Every successful product is a direct result of a team or teams working together to develop and deliver the product. At IBM, I would network with development teams within other product brands to learn more about their products and mission. I would network with customers, business partners, and field engineers. They often gave me the best view of customer pain points. I would network with sales teams and solution specialists to understand why customers were buying my product. I would network with key individuals in different countries and geographies around the world as they would provide insight to local product acceptance. I would network with executives and directors in my organization and others to find out key business strategies and pain points. I would network with other product managers to learn about best practices. I would network with key architects and IBM research to learn about new technologies that could be leveraged.
A product manager must collect all this data from the people he or she interacts with and lead the product to success. Through networking and key partnerships, we were able to have the code embedded in AIX and i5/OS. Through networking, we were able to implement features that would increase adoption in Europe. Through networking, we found win-win situations where we could partner together to reduce long development costs by creating a common client that would work across platforms. Through networking we eliminated duplication of resources and network services within our infrastructure.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” -Henry Ford
I realize your company may not be as big as IBM, but the importance of networking is still the same. As a product manager, it’s important for you to be a master networker and have excellent listening skills while being articulate in your own speech. This will enable you to find those win-win-win opportunities for the company, customers, and partners.
“What happened and what are we going to do so it doesn’t happen again?” With a new development team and a new project manager, I seemed to always repeat myself. They would often come to me with the latest bug or issue that would need resolving. Delays would hit the schedule, requirements pushed out to later releases and release functionality would get smaller and smaller.
After a while, things began to improve. Their estimates were getting better. They would no longer just come to me with the issue or delay, but would let me know about the new testing process or design they put in place so it wouldn’t happen again.
As a product manager, we want perfection from the development team, but I would recommend simply asking for continuous improvement. We all know they are not always going to be able to handle the tough requirements you send their way, but over time they will feel better when they know they can come to you and share what they learned.
I always expect a lot from development and usually they deliver, but when they don’t, just remember. “What happened and what are we going to do so it doesn’t happen again?”
As a product manager, it’s important to recognize the most important person on the project. When you notice and recognize him or her, they will put more effort into the product. The key point is that everyone on the project is the most important person on the project. Everyone needs to understand their importance and the value they bring to the team.
I am currently rereading an old classic. “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. In his principle #6 “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely”. I have found that making the team members feel important by valuing their contributions to the team has created an environment where each and every team member is valued. In that environment, you will be amazed the contribution you will get from each and every team member.
“Life wants you to know that people are more important than things.”
― Bryant McGill
As a product manager, it’s important to recognize each and every team members strengths. When people realize that you recognize their strengths, it also opens the door in the relationship to also gently and privately voice opportunities for improvement.
Most people know how good it feels to be valued. That feeling you get when you are recognized for your specific skills and strengths. It makes you feel like you have purpose, like you have significance, and makes everything seem right.
I learned this lesson at a very young age. I was playing high school basketball and sitting on the bench. My coach came along side me one day and said I should be starting. He said I was the quickest, the fastest, and could jump the highest. All those were true, but my play didn’t reflect it. Over the next several weeks my play began to reflect it and soon I was in the starting line-up. Having a coach come along side me and remind me of my strengths encouraged me to put the effort and leverage my strengths. I will never forget how my coach made me feel and the results it produced. I remember scoring 13 points in the 2nd half of the district championship game that allowed our team to pull away with a victory and win the championship.
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
As a product manager, it’s your responsibility to not only provide the vision of the product for the team, but to also help the team understand how important their role is in seeing that vision come to life. Be sure you let every team member know how important they are to the project.
I recently attended a Scaled Agile Training as well as I have been listening to CD’s by Orrin Woodward. A common theme was this idea of PDCA.
PDCA was made popular by Edward Demming. His lean thinking has had a huge impact on the world.
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No matter what you’re doing, have a plan. Whether you’re planning a party, your next career move, or your vacation, it’s important to have a plan.
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Execute your plan. No matter what it is, follow the decisions you made earlier. Your actions speak louder than words. Be a doer.
― Amit Kalantri
Most people plan and do, but do not check and adjust. Reflect on your plan and its results. If you take time to reflect, you will notice areas that need to be improved. Continuos improvement each and every day is what makes the difference.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
– Peter Drucker
Now that you learned from checking your results, update your plan and your actions.
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
This principle is powerful. Once you grasp the concept and you’ll see many opportunities to apply PDCA. You are on the road to continuous improvement. After living in China, I realized that American’s tend to be too impatient to take the time for continuos improvement. Instead, we tend to focus more on instant gratification. Once you understand this principle and begin to apply it to other areas of your life, you will begin to see better results.
Balance as a product manager
Starting a job and establishing a reputation in a new company can be tiring. Keeping balance as a product manager was not a high priority when I started my new position. I have always tried to guard against burn out, but I also believe it’s vital to get a few key wins and establish yourself when starting a new role.
As a product manager, it’s important to keep balance in your life. Here are 5 things to consider:
1. Let others do what they are responsible for doing
Sometimes product managers try to do everything. They think they can do it better and at times they can. They became a product manager by doing things well, but to be effective, you can’t do everything. Maybe your background is engineering or technical support and your most comfortable doing those types of activities.
But now you’re a product manager, you need to be sure your doing activities that will make your product successful. Let the engineers figure out how to build your product and let support figure out how best to support your product. It’s your job to understand the “what” and “why” of your product and your activities should be spent doing that. Your key role is leading everyone toward a common vision.
2. Add margins to your routine
One way to keep balance as a product manager is to add margins to your routine. By argins I mean don’t try to schedule too much into a day. Be sure to block periods of time on your calendar to catch up.
Lately, I have been doing quite a bit of travel and I have learned to use that time to catch up. I avoid early and late flights so that I don’t run my body down too much. I put all key activities on my calendar such as travel to the airport or doing my weekly review so that new meetings don’t interfere with my margins.
3. Make sure your productivity system is working for you
One of the best books I’ve ever read was “Getting things done” by David Allen. This book has helped me create a system over the years. It helps me make sure I capture all my projects and actions so that my mind can be at ease knowing that nothing will fall through the cracks. I regularly reflect on my performance and look for productivity enhancements in my routine. By capturing all my tasks my mind can be clear to focus on the task at hand. It makes it especially easy to be present in meetings.
Developing your own productivity system allows you to be a more effective listener because you’re not thinking about a task that you should do or some event later in the day.
4. Go for a walk
One of my favorite ways to keep balance in my life is walking with my wife. It gives us time to talk. I get to hear about the activities of her day and talk about our plans for the future. It allows us to connect and most importantly get my mind off of work. We usually take walks after dinner. Not only is it good for my mind, it’s also good for my body.
My brain works best when I’m walking. There are times when I face an especially difficult problem and think it through while on a walk. If there are roadblocks to development or I have a big presentation, I take a walk to sort out my thoughts.
5. Take a break
It’s been about 6 months since I started in my new role and I haven’t taken any time off. We’re on our way to Maui to relax, renew and recharge. I have colleagues who never take time off and I’ve seen how it impacts their effectiveness. I know when I get a break; I’m more effective when I return to work. It gives me a renewed focus and energy.
The job of a product manager is very demanding. People pull you in different directions. It’s vital that you take a break from work to keep balance in your life.
Keeping balance in today’s workplace is not easy. The global competition for jobs and high unemployment rates add pressure to perform well so that you can keep your job. Many people do this by working an insane number of hours and not taking any breaks. Being a product manager is hard and being a good one requires balance in your life to meet the demands placed upon you. Be sure to reflect on your life balance and continue to strive to achieve it.
Now that I have completed my first 100 days balance is becoming a higher priority. For more information about my first 100 days, see my blog post.
There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment. -Norman Vincent Peale
As a product manager, it’s easy to get caught in the grind and lose your enthusiasm. After all, there are so many things on your plate. I remember a few times in my product management career, when my enthusiasm for the product changed the game. I vividly remember meeting with the development team and asked them to get ready for one million machines “calling home.” Everyone was buzzing as they began to imagine that much customer adoption. They began talking about performance and load balancing. They also got excited about the new challenges. There was a clear energy in the team and everyone was walking just a little faster that day. Our performance numbers continued to rise and the product continued to get better and better. It reminds me of one of my favorite books, “Enthusiasm Makes The Difference” by Norman Vincent Peale.
Enthusiasm speaks volumes. Have you seen a conference room full of people enthusiastically focused on solving a problem? As an enthusiastic product manager, your enthusiasm speaks volumes to the rest of the team.
Enthusiasm is persuasive. Remember the last time you heard an enthusiastic speaker? When armed with the facts and enthusiasm, you become very persuasive. You can confidently stand in front of the product team and bring everyone together behind a common vision for your product. With the entire team working together you will be amazing how quickly things get done. As a product manager, it’s vital to use your enthusiasm to persuade and motivate the product team.
Enthusiasm breaks problems. Have you ever seen an enthusiastic team give up on problems? The ones I have witnessed find creative ways to solve even the most difficult of problems. As with any product, you will face a lot of problems that your enthusiasm can fuel the team to find creative ways to solve those problems. Always bring your enthusiasm to the table.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Have you ever seen someone catch enthusiasm? It’s contagious. It spreads from one person to another and onto the entire team. As a product manager, you can help spread the enthusiasm. It changes you, the team, and most importantly, the product.
Enthusiasm makes the difference. Given two teams with the same talent, the team with enthusiasm will make the difference. Henry Chester says, “Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money and power and influence.” This quote speaks highly of the importance of enthusiasm, yet I’ll take the team with talent over the team with no talent any day. As a product manager you can infuse the enthusiasm that makes the difference.
I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win. -Michael Jordan
I was at a Product Manager meetup the other day and was asked the question how often do I get the executives together. A young product manager looked somewhat confused when I said, “it depends”. Startups here in Silicon Valley can move so quickly sometimes daily is not enough. Things change quickly around here. In most cases, you can look at your product release cycle and know how often the stakeholders need to meet. The most important aspect is that you keep the stakeholders informed and engaged.
Most of the products I have managed have had a fairly predictable release cycle. Web and mobile products can release more frequently, but Enterprise software products tend to move slowly to keep the installed base from creating too much churn. I have met with executives on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, and on a quarterly basis.
I have always found that it’s important to bring data to the meeting. Not just raw data, but data they can use to make business decisions. And not only data, but recommendations based on the data. Never be afraid to ask for something you need. If you are presenting a problem, always have 2-3 options for ways to solve the problem and be sure to have a recommended option when pressed. Always have the “why” in your back pocket. When pressed why you would solve a problem in a particular way, think through the questions you will be asked and be sure you can defend your answer.
Make sure you can answer the questions and if you can’t answer a question don’t panic, just let them know you’ll have to get back to them on that. Try to anticipate the questions and do your homework. You will find patterns in the questions that you are asked to help you continually improve your preparation. Now is a good time to plug Toastmasters Tabletopics. Typically a 2-3 minute answer with an opening, body, and conclusion is best. Some questions can be answered with a simple yes or no, but often the supporting data should be shared as to why you answered the way you did.
Stakeholder management is a significant key to success as a Product Manager. Do it right and your product will have a better chance of success.
A product manager must be a big thinker. Instead of asking can we do this, be sure to ask why can’t we do this? When managing “call home” for IBM, I continued to ask why can’t we create a common cross-platform solution?
We faced plenty of architectural challenges trying to run across multiple operating systems from the largest of mainframes all the way down to PC servers, but in the end, we were able to solve them. In fact, I think engineering loved the challenge. I used to tell them that only the best engineers can solve the biggest problems.
By thinking big, we standardized on a secure protocol, a common back-end infrastructure, and a common client. We increased the portability of our software and significantly reduced future development costs.
For the next big idea for your product, be sure to ask how can we make this happen? You might just be pleasantly surprised with the results. The best engineers love to tackle the big problems.
I read many books about the first 100 days at your new position. I now reflect on my first 100 days at Symantec. I’ve put a lot of energy into building momentum, casting vision and building my network. I have had a few key successes and continue to build on my success.
As I reflect on my time, there are a few key thoughts that I want to share.
1. I’m living my passion.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” -Confucius
While I’ve had success at product management in my career, I left product management for a couple years to live in China and experience everything that comes with living in another country. I was consulting and providing key leadership on an important project within a large Chinese company. While there is reward in seeing a program progress, there is simply nothing in the world like seeing a product succeed and knowing your thoughts, ideas and leadership contributed to its success. Due to the fact that my product resides in the datacenter, I realize most of change in the product will be in the future, but I am seeing the impact on my colleagues and it’s exciting. To put it simply, I really enjoy my work. I have a great manager and I excited for the future. It seems like the time is flying by and my mind is always working on the next best action.
2. I have momentum, but I need to keep it going.
Now that I have momentum, I’ve been thinking about how to best keep it going.
“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.“ -Michael Korda
I’m basically an impatient person, yet I realize it takes time for seeds of thought to reap. It’s so important to let people process the information you are giving them. So, as I let people process this information, I continually think about what actions are next.
Is there another group that needs to understand the what and why of your vision? Have you followed up with them to strengthen the relationship? Are the stakeholders engaged and seeing your vision?
3. I’m adding value to others.
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” -Albert Einstein
It’s important to give back. I’ve narrowed down my life purpose to “add value to others.” Every day I want to add value to others. I have really enjoyed meeting new people and contributing to their lives. My wife and I recently went to dinner with a colleague and his new fiancé. There is something special about meeting a young couple with a bright future. I recently met up a few colleagues from previous jobs. It was great catching up on their lives and reminiscing over past successes and discussing current work challenges.
4. I’m a product of my thoughts.
I am a firm believer that we become what we think about. See my article about thinking big.
“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state…Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” -James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
My twitter feed @bobhaa continues to grow and I realize people follow me because of the quotes I post. As a product manager, I believe your thoughts and your leadership define how successful you will be in product management.
We are molded by our thoughts and many times the best thoughts are articulated in the form of quotes. If you are on twitter and follow my quotes, you know what I’m thinking.
Now I am well into my next 100 days and I’m as excited as ever to see the impact I have on the business. I like to challenge myself and continue to grow.
5. I must keep growing my skills.
“Don’t wish it was easier wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge wish for more wisdom” -Jim Rohn
As a Product Manager, it’s vital to always be adding to your skills. See my article about growing your skills.
I was the guest of honor. I had traveled 27 hours to reach China, spent 2 days training the local team, and I was tired! The people from work were taking me to dinner. We sat in a big circle with a lazy suzan in the center. I didn’t understand a word when my colleague was placing the order for all of us. In typical Chinese fashion, as each dish was brought out, they made sure I had the first bite. The only problem was I had no idea what I was eating! I faced the question, “To eat or not to eat?”
My uncomfortableness hit an all time high when this dish came around and I could see the eyes of the animal staring at me while I was trying to take a bite. The popular thinking in America is you aren’t supposed to serve the head of the animal you are eating. Can you imagine it if you got a cow’s head with every hamburger you ordered from McDonalds? Or imagine ordering your chicken breast sandwich with a head of a chicken on the plate. There I was in China and I could tell I was eating a chicken and it was staring right back at me!
That question, “To eat or not to eat?” is when I began to question what I call popular thinking. What is popular thinking? It’s what we all grow up with. It’s what your parents thought, what your teachers thought, and probably what you’re thinking right now. You grow up thinking there is a way of doing things and it’s the way that most people think. Especially in America we are taught from an early age, the people who run our country are elected based on the popular thinking. In other words, the candidate with the most popular ideas is who gets elected.
As I stared at the head of the animal I was about to eat, strange questions began to run through my mind: “What was his name? Where did he grow up? Did he live a good life? Was he a part of a big family? Where are his brothers and sisters? I started to look around to see if any of his family members were watching me.
Not to offend my local countrymen, I at least took one bite of everything that came around to me. I made a decision then and there to question the thinking that I should not eat food served with the head still in the plate. It got me thinking about other decisions I have made in my life where I failed to question popular thinking. Was I a person who simply accepted the thoughts of those around me without even questioning if they were right for me?
In my blog post Sochi Fails: Why Product Managers Need to Travel Abroad I go into more detail about popular thinking. As a product manager it is so important to examine problems from every different angle and question your own popular thinking. You will be amazed at the new ideas that flow when you break beyond your own barriers and decide to take the bite.