Yulia

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7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was a Younger Product Manager

(Smart on Unsplash)

Who is that stranger?” Do you ask this question remembering yourself a few years ago? I think you do. To me, it happens all the time and I like to consider it as a proof of continuous growth.

Just recently I‘ve been remembering the start of my PM way. Oh God, how many things I did wrong! So in order of learning, I sat and wrote down my thoughts about that time. In the end, I got 7 pieces of advice for a younger version of myself. She’ll never be able to read this, but maybe my experience helps you.

1. Separate your feelings from working on products.

Which means: the product is not you.

This guy just got bad product feedback (by Channey on Unsplash)

In the beginning, I took any bad product feedback personally. Because it was my product, I worked so hard to make it great, they don’t understand it!

Feeling bad because no one appreciates the new feature we put the blame on customers, colleague, boss, anyone. And that’s a mistake. A good product needs time and effort of many people involved. If someone “doesn’t understand” — avoid explaining and complaining. Every bad feedback, any bug report it’s the point of growth.

So, calm down, younger me! Make, test, improve, don’t cry.

2. Fall in love with the problem, not solution.

Which means: 95% of the time think about the problem and 5% about the solution.

The problem is the root of everything. If your product doesn’t solve any problems it’s useless. If it does, you need is to focus on it rather than the solution. Because almost all possible (of course within existing technologies) software products were already created (check Product Hunt, if you think, it’s not). Which doesn’t mean all problems are solved.

Think about Rubic cube. There are more than 43 quintillion ways to get the same result.

(by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash)

The product success is a similar thing. You have almost infinite ways to succeed, to arrange the cube. From this point, the product manager should not blindly follow well-known methods and copy competitors (they’ve already gone far from you), but dig deeper and think about the problem. Ask yourself:

  • What can I come up with?
  • What insight makes me better than competitors?
  • Do I know enough to handle this challenge?

The point is you should not build new Spotify or Twitter. But you can create something solving the same problems different ways.

4. Work on small, think of big.

Which means: every action should have a goal.

Maybe the hardest thing for young PM it’s to stop doing small changes. To change the button colour in order of experiment, to move elements on the page, to rewrite texts. I did it all. And it didn’t make any sense, because pointless actions are worse than no action at all. Every change, every new feature should be meaningful and bring us closer to the problem’s solution.

If the product goal is to help people get food delivered, we need to know how exactly the new colour of a button will improve the experience of getting dinner.

So, dear young me, if you want to make that button red instead of orange, please make sure you ask yourself “Why” before that.

4. Don’t focus on technical things too much.

Which means: no one cares about the back of the product except developers and you.

My favourite one. It’s about the tech tasks we all love. Imagine you work at relatively old and a bit obsolete product. The backlog includes so much feature requests that it seems easier to rewrite everything. The whole product. And developers are very keen to do that, and customers would be happy. So you plan to set aside work on new features and use all team source to rewrite everything for a couple of months.

Customers don’t care what stack you use. But they want to see their problems heard and solved.

Replace “rewriting” with “migration” or “new database” and you get the same output.

I promise:

  1. It’s gonna took longer.
  2. You can find unsolvable problems that ruin all plans.

It doesn’t mean you won’t handle it. Probably you will, but no one returns spent time.

So before doing something:

  • conduct the research,
  • find out pain points,
  • analyze potential problems,
  • discuss it with the team,
  • think again,
  • plan a step-by-step rewrite.

Let part of a development team to work on new features, because your customers don’t care what stack you use. But they want to see their problems heard and solved.

Dear younger me, think twice before starting big technical tasks.

5. The doubt has much impact than confidence.

Which means: the confidence based only on intuition leads to failing, while doubt makes us think.

The start of the product management career is usually overwhelming. Whatever background we have, whatever degree we completed, this work crushes the way we think, make decisions, talk with people. After a while, we become mature and very confident. We make assumptions the way experience suggest us. It’s the first step to failing.

The main question in product management (by Ken Treloar on Unsplash)
Imagine the situation. The PM of productivity tool had discovered that customers don’t use notes despite research showed they need it. Customer interviews revealed the cause — bad UI. After a while, this situation repeated with a staticstic tool and the cause was the same. What problem do you think would biased PM try to solve for the third time?

There are hundreds of ways to create a successful product, but all of them start with the questions and no one with ready-made answers. Doubts make us dig deeper. But becoming confident we can lose the ability to see things clearly. Our intuition, our experience, our brain persuade us we have enough information to make the decision. The biases are so powerful that we left no space to other options.

Confidence is great if it’s based on reliable information, not on assumption. Otherwise, start from questions.

6. Your colleagues aren’t like you.

Which means: sometimes you feel like you’re talking with aliens, which is not a reason to stop the conversation.

We all different, all right? It sounds trite, but please take it seriously. Your colleagues can think slower, work faster, do more, understand less than you, anything! And that’s absolutely normal. It doesn’t make you or them stupid, it’s just it.

The product manager’s goal is to convey information by any means necessary. All the life you will be talking to people with different background, skills, mindset. And no matter how do you feel about them, find a way to connect. Ask questions, listen to answers. Great communication is the key to product success.

Please, be patient. You’re not perfect, younger me.

7. Learn from other people.

Which means: every person is a teacher for you. Yes, even if they’re an antipattern.

Books, blogs, podcasts, talks, whatever. Every person can teach you something new and it’s not necessary product knowledge. It doesn’t have to be about work at all. Casual talk can give a new perspective or a different point of view. Someone’s blog may answer to an important question you have in mind or inspire you to move forward.

For sure to be better Product Manager we need to read a lot about Product management as well. I won’t list the best sources to learn from, because smart people have already done it.

  1. Must reads by Ken Norton.
  2. Amazing collection of blogs and book by Noah Weiss.
  3. Podcasts for product people by Alex Mitchell.
“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”
Eric Ries

Well, I hope these pieces of advice can help you to avoid the mistakes I made. If so, I would be happy. After all, it’s more effective to learn from the experience of others.

What things you would say a younger version of yourself? Share in comments!

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