VP of Product
9 top tips for surviving Product Management (and for being a better Product Manager in the process) that I wish people had told me when I started.
Oh, how I wish someone had prepared me for the intense frustration endured by Product Managers across the land. Engineering timelines will slip. Features will be cut from releases. Customers won’t reply to your emails. Learn to deal with frustration by mentally preparing for slippages and changes of plan — be agile about keeping all parties informed of release date changes and be cautious when relaying information to customers, it’s far better to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the other way around.
2. Accept that your baby is ugly
It’s natural to feel a sense of attachment to your product. After all, a lot of your input has shaped the final outcome. But don’t get too attached — you need to be able to take criticism on board and sympathize with it, don’t reject it. Criticism is good, it means people are using the product and want to see it continue to get better. If you don’t hear any criticism, well…. there’s a chance that you have a usage problem amongst your customer base and customers just aren’t using it. Hearing about the good is great, but hearing about the bad is better.
3. Reject every non-critical meeting
Between all the Engineering stand-ups, marketing events, sales calls with prospects and internal product training it can be tough to find time to get your daily tasks done. Understand people will want your time. As much time as they can get. If I accepted every meeting scheduled in my calendar, I would be in back-to-back meetings for 12 hours a day across 3 continental time zones. Not every meeting is critical. If something can be discussed and resolved by email, do so. Reject unnecessary meetings: they are a time suck and prevent you from getting your task list done.
4. Do. Your. Freaking. Research.
Your engineers will ask you questions and it’s nice to have succinct, confident, well-articulated answers ready when required rather than have to umm, err and defer to another person or time. Explore every angle. Preempt every question. You want to make sure you understand your data and have it memorized. Usage stats, pricing models, competitive packaging, NPS scores by cohort — make sure you know them intimately. If your CEO asks you a question about your data, make sure you know all the details. You don’t want to look foolish in the executive meeting, do you?
5. Get good at being the bad guy
People will ask you to do things. Saying yes to all of them leaves you investing precious time into areas that prevent you from getting your real work done. For the first few years at MongoDB, I said “yes” to everything and did my actual work in evenings or weekends. That approach doesn’t scale well and eventually, you have to get good at saying “no” and/or delegating efficiently.
6. Get good at organizing your inbox
You’ll get a lot of email. I get email coming in faster than I can reply. It’s a nightmare to keep track of who owes you a reply. Get good at organizing your inbox to stay on top of things. Use labels liberally, archive items that are no longer relevant, and filter emails into different folders of varying subject or importance. You can then prioritize what to reply to, or stay focused on a particular topic without getting distracted by emails flooding a single inbox folder.
7. Make a launch plan
It’s easy to side tracked by the countless distractions that will occur on a daily basis. Undoubtedly you won’t just be focused on a single product either. You’ll need to get good at prioritizing things that are the most important each day. Make a detailed plan that outlines all the activities that must be accomplished leading up to a launch and make sure you give yourself plenty of lead time to execute them.
8. Keep your motivation high
It can be hard to hear how your product could be better and not start to get demotivated. Stay positive, it’s your job to turn feedback into action and ensure the product evolves positively with every release.
9. Don’t forget: You’re part of a wider team
Don’t forget that you are part of a wider team who want to release an amazing product for your customers. Make sure you are in sync with everyone who has a touch point to the customer, from the sales team to the marketing team. At the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction of the customer that really counts.
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