Are You a Naughty Or Nice Product Manager?

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It’s that time of year again – No, I don’t mean financial planning or strategy reviews – I mean it’s a chance to reflect on what we’ve achieved, how we’ve achieved it, and think about whether we’re being the best product person we can be. As the craft of product management evolves, and we learn more about how to build products that people love, we need to be able to adapt and evolve at the same time.

Sometimes practices that were crucial when we started our careers have been superseded, and sometimes we all fall victim to “business as usual” and we forget to step back and look at the bigger picture. Wherever you are in your journey as a product manager, and especially if you’re hoping your team might get you a little something to delight you this holiday season, it’s worth taking a moment to consider whether you’re on the “naughty” or “nice” list this year.

Signs you might be a Naughty Product Manager

It’s not always obvious, but you might be a Naughty Product Manager. If you’re not sure, here are some clear indicators that you might not be in Santa’s Good Books…

It’s PRDs all the way down

Product Requirement Documents made sense in the age of waterfall, and arguably still do make sense in certain, highly-specific niche cases. However, everything we’ve learned in the last few years points to leaner, agile, more experiment-based product development processes being more efficient and more effective. At worst, if you’re still using PRDs, you should accept that they are at least subject to change. But if you write PRDs, and expect them to be followed to the letter, then you might be a Naughty Product Manager.

Less talking, more shipping

You’ve done some initial research, or talked to a few key stakeholders, or even convinced yourself that you’re representative of your customers. You’re tired of all the stalling and hand-wringing and debating – you just want the team to do something! So you use your considerable powers of persuasion and rhetoric to convince everyone that you know exactly who your users are, and what’s driving their behaviour, so you don’t talk to bother talking to them anymore – let’s ship some product!

Except… the chances are that you don’t fully understand your customers, so if you’re convincing your team that you do and that you don’t need to talk to users anymore, then you’re probably a Naughty Product Manager.

If the client asks for it, we’ll build it

There’s listening to your customers, and then there’s building whatever they ask for. One is great, and the other… not so much. If every feature request and every urgent dev plea from a sales rep with a “huge deal on the line” ends up on your product backlog, then where is your product vision? How do you define your target audience? If this sounds familiar, then you’re not pruning out features to define your product focus and – congratulations – you’re no longer a product company. You’re a custom development agency. Which means you’re also a Naughty Product Manager.

“I love my stakeholders. From afar”

I know, I know… stakeholders can be a real pain. They keep pestering you for information and decisions, and they need so much attention and hand-holding before they get on board with your Grand Vision for the product!

Or maybe you’re just not working with them effectively? If you understand your stakeholders, and work with them to get everyone aligned towards a shared goal (i.e. not necessarily the goal you like the best), they’ll fight for you, support you, and help you get the information you need. In the world of agile, cross-functional teams and product design experiments, if you’re not working closely with your stakeholders, then you might be a Naughty product manager.

Tips on how to be a Nice Product Manager

Hopefully we all aspire to be a Nice Product Manager – to work well with our teams and customers to build the best products we can, to refine our craft, and to feel good about ourselves along the way. Here are a few things you should bear in mind along that journey.

Respect your users

As we’re all probably aware, there is plenty of well-understood science that tells us how to manipulate and direct our users’ attention. We may or may not be able to use that knowledge in our own products, but should we?

If you want to be a Nice Product Manager, you should recognise that your users do not exist solely to be your customers, design your product to respect their attention, and have an elegant UX that lets them achieve just what they need.

Say “no” (but do it well)

An essential part of being a great product person is being able to say “no”. You’ll have no shortage of feature requests, suggestions, ideas, possible development work, but to build the right thing you need to be able to pick the tiny selection of possible work that you should be focusing on. Of course, saying no, and the debate that inevitably comes before and after that, leads to conflict. Not all conflict is bad, but there is a lot we can all do to manage it more effectively, direct it towards positive outcomes, and focus on learning rather than winning.

Empower your team

If you lead a product team, then arguably your team is your product. But no matter where they sit in the hierarchy, a Nice Product Manager is keen to empower the people around them so that they can build great product. Whether you’re working in a cross-functional team, or just communicating with stakeholders from all across the business, the team you work with cannot act on your behalf if you haven’t empowered them.

Share your vision, share your knowledge, work with your team to build, learn and share the wins you all create.

Get out of the building

Remember when we said that assuming you completely understand your customer is a sign that you might be a Naughty Product Manager? Well, the only way to avoid that and get yourself on the list of Nice Product Managers is to Get Out Of The Building, go and talk to your customers, and listen to what they can teach you. You can learn a lot from analytics and surveys, but never kid yourself into thinking that you can build a product that people will love without actually talking to those people!

Share what you learn with the community

We’re all part of an awesome and growing community of people who are passionate about building great products, and we’re learning new lessons every day as we’re surprised by our users and work out hugely effective new ways to work. The Nicest Product Managers share what they know, get involved in the community to help their peers and, if they’re keen, get up on a stage to share their experiences and lessons.

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