December 20

A Product Manager’s New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions can be a bit cliche.  It’s at the beginning of each year when everybody seemingly decides to get back into shape, learn a new language, or quit smoking.  Despite the sometimes shallow aspirations that people take on and often set to the side just weeks later, the New Year does bring along potential and new possibilities.  As a “product person”, it’s a great opportunity to take a look back at the past 12 months and reflect — as well as set the stage for what’s to come in the future.

While everybody’s situation is different, the following are resolutions that might just help you turn the corner as a Product Manager:

Interact with at least one real customer each day.

This might sound impossible.  And to be fair, every business is different.  An enterprise-focused organization has far fewer customers than a consumer internet app, thus providing fewer opportunities for interaction.  But it doesn’t matter.  Challenge yourself to find opportunities to interact.  It’s so important, as the farther away you are from your customers — the higher the chance that you may be building something that they actually don’t want or need.

Not sure how you could possibly interact with a customer each day?  Think hard.  You might quickly realize that there are quite a few ways to make that happen:  Mine Twitter for people talking about your product.  Sit with the Customer Success team and respond to an inquiry.  Send a note to a longtime customer who you don’t often get a chance to interact with.  No matter how you do it, do it.

Show product progress internally.

You might think that you’re already doing this.  Perhaps you invite key executives to product team meetings every once in a while.  Or maybe you even started to have Demo Day sessions, but not all the time, as you might not ship every week.

Well, guess what.  Most people in your organization probably have zero visibility into what’s really going on.  While you think you’re doing a pretty good job on being transparent, there may be others who actually feel like they have no clue how product decisions are being made, and what’s actually coming in the pipeline.

So be creative in how you can communicate product strategy and progress.  Maybe it’s recording a short video each summarizing progress (whether it’s visible product they can experience or not) and posting it to Slack.  Or maybe it’s sticking to those Demo Day meetings even if you think there’s not much to show.  Remember, anything is better than nothing when it comes to keeping your team informed.

Go on a sales call at least once every month.

Yes, I’m serious.  It’s critical to get customer feedback engrained into your product development process, but it’s great to get a mix of that feedback.  As the product manager/owner, you’re often driving the process.  But it’s also great to take in some feedback in the context of sales as well.  After all, it’s your sales team that’s in front of customers most.  Perhaps it will give you more of an appreciation for why that random request that seems so trivial keeps coming up.  Or, it might make you think of a feature request that you thought was important in a whole new way, realizing that the customer is asking about it to drive another need they have.

And let’s not ever forget:  Your company exists to sell product, not just make product.  There’s no better way to remind yourself of this than putting yourself squarely in front of the people that ultimately are deciding whether or not the product your team is building is worth enough to buy.

Remember that you’re building product for a real person.

You might be very data-driven.  That’s great.  Yet, while data should certainly be influencing the product decisions you’re making, you’re not developing your product to a nameless cohort or segment.  You’re designing it for Samantha Lewis, a Benefits Manager at a mid-sized athletics apparel company who has recently been tasked to focus on wellness initiatives even though wellness wasn’t even a topic covered when she was studying HR at her state university ten years ago.

There are plenty of other “Samantha’s”.  You and your marketing team may have even gone through a persona-building exercise at one point.  But how often have those persona’s been revisited?  How often does your team talk about what “Samantha” wants and needs?  If some of that persona talk has gone to the wayside, it’s time to revive it.  Because while data is important, your product affects real people.  And sometimes, numbers can hide the hidden human motivations that exist.

Start with “why” when launching new products and features.

I get it, there are thousands of new features to launch — and time is of the essence.  But remember that your Engineering team is not a factory line that can simply be turned on and off.  They’re a creative bunch.  They want to know why the success of your company is dependent on this new feature.  And they actually have good reason to be so inquisitive.

Consider this:  You’re asking for brand new Feature X, because you know it will help accomplish Goal Y.  But you’re just one person.  What if Goal Y could actually be accomplished in some other way — that, by the way, takes half the time?  This can only happen if you give your entire Engineering team the benefit of knowing why requests are being made, and what appreciable benefit you’re trying to achieve.

Bring donuts.

As Ken Norton puts it, always bring the donuts.  Whether you’re meeting with Sales, your Executive Team, or holding a product session… be the one to always bring the donuts.  Always.


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