9 tips from TED speakers on successful product management

BY STACEY MARONE ON MARCH 21, 2017

Being a product manager is not easy. After all, a product or a complete product line is under your full responsibility – from launch through to sales, and every milestone in its lifecycle included.

If you’re already a product manager and in search of new information, ideas, and insights on product management to help you improve your work performance, or if you aspire to become one, then TED Talks videos and the like can be great sources of inspiration and motivation. Here we’ve picked out some nuggets of product management wisdom from nine product managers and business leaders.

1.Be a Team Leader

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVKhoFcTpsI

Josh Elman, former Twitter product manager who has also worked with Facebook and LinkedIn, and currently a partner at Greylock, defines a product manager as someone who helps the team and company in shipping products to its users. Debunking the notion that product managers are CEOs of the product, he emphasizes that they are more of a team leader.

They help and guide the team in the ultimate goal of delivering the product to people who will actually use and benefit from the product.  He further notes that what makes product managers great is their ability to balance getting the products right and getting it out the doors.

2. Lead Through Inspiration

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNmOml4thdw

Former Wealthfront CEO and VP for Product at LinkedIn Adam Nash expounds on Elman’s image of product managers as team leaders when he commented in this Google Ventures hosted talk that good product managers understand the bigger picture and long-term goals.

Good product managers know that their accomplishment is achieved through holistic effort from the team, and not solely from individual performances. Craig Walker, founder of @dialpad that made UberConference and Dialpad, adds that product managers deal with a lot of people from engineers, designers, marketers.

As such, it is essential that a product manager inspires and motivates everyone involved in the product to be on the same page and get the product moving in the right direction.

3. Know Your Product by Heart

In the same talk with Nash and Walker, former Google Now VP and present Android VP Johanna Wright discusses the need for product managers to really understand their product, and its users.

It’s not about just knowing what makes up a product, its features, its specs, all those technical information. Product managers should know, appreciate, and understand their product by heart. It would be even better if they also are actual users, which would help them connect more with their target market.

4. Anchor Your Product on its Purpose

https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

In his TED Talk, marketing consultant and best-selling author Simon Sinek discusses his idea of the Golden Circle, a three-layered concept that deals with a company’s or business’ “why” at the center, followed by the “how” in the second layer, and lastly, “what”.

Sinek posits that what makes a company a cut above the rest is that it builds its business from the core out to the outer layer. The answer to its “why” becomes the company’s fundamental value.

As Sinek puts it: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” It is the raison d’etre–the purpose–of a company that sets everything about the business into its place.

Product managers, and aspiring ones, must keep this in mind when they deal with an assigned product. Know why your company and its product exist. Treat it as the heart and soul of your product, and let it shape how you manage your account.

5. Determine how Your Target Market Makes Choices

http://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing

Pepsi or Coke? Regular Coke or Coke Zero? Take your pick.

Psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar makes an interesting discussion on choices and how people arrive at them. She challenges three American notions regarding choice: that it is best to make your own choices in life; the more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice; and never say no to choice–by weaving in cultural specificities and examining the art of choosing under that perspective.

Product managers may find Iyengar’s insights valuable when it comes to consumer behavior. After all, your consumers come from a specific cultural background, and understanding those backgrounds gives you knowledge of why they buy your product or how likely they are to buy the service you offer.

An understanding of your consumer’s behavior and the impact it has on their decision-making can give you insights on how you can market your product. It enables you to analyze what approach you should use to convince your consumer that your product should be their pick.

6. See Limitations as Assets, and not Liabilities

https://www.ted.com/talks/navi_radjou_creative_problem_solving_in_the_face_of_extreme_limits

Innovation is often borne out of a need. But in his TED Talk entitled “Creative Problem-solving in the face of extreme limits,” innovation strategist Navi Radjou says innovation is borne out of a need coupled with limited resources. He talks about Jugaad, a Hindi concept of improvised fixes and clever solutions born in adversity.

There are three key points from Radjou’s lecture that product managers should take note of. First, keep it simple. Second, leverage off existing services, and lastly, think horizontally. These tips can drive you to create more value despite limited resources.

Frugal innovation pushes you to perceive limitations positively, treating them as opportunities rather than obstacles to overcome. Echoing Tim Harford’s talk at the last London #mtpcon, Radjou says: “Frugal innovation is not about making do; it’s about making things better.” His discussion stresses that there are always moments for value creation at lower costs, for doing more with less. At the end of the day, consumers consider the value they get from a product and service more than how it was created or what it is made of.

7. Be a Purple cow

https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_sliced_bread

No matter what your product is, or what added value it promises for consumers, if people don’t know about it, it does not exist.

Seth Godin, an influential entrepreneur and marketer, tells story of the sliced bread and how for 15 years since its invention, no one bought it because the market did not know it existed. He also points out that people today face too many choices, but have too little time, and this forces them to ignore these choices. So, in order to get noticed, you have to be a purple cow amid the ordinary cows.

Three nuggets to take away from Godin’s discussion, and deliver to your product management team are: create something remarkable; very good is boring; and sell to people who are listening. They all speak to the importance of spreading your ideas and reaching your target clients.

8. Handle Small Details Carefully

https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_gould_stewart_how_giant_websites_design_for_you_and_a_billion_others_too

When Facebook’s VP of product design Margaret Gould Stewart talks about designing for scale, she notes that there is no such thing as a small detail.

A case in point is the redesign of Facebook’s Like button, which took the designer over 280 hours to get right. Stewart also reminds designers that “it’s not about you or your portfolio, it’s about the people that you’re designing for, and how your work just might help them live better lives.”

9. Bridge the gap Between User and Product

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzNxs2vLK0s

Not a TED talk this one, but a really interesting talk from Intercom product manager Michelle Fitzpatrick about how different users perceive and understand a new product. Different users have different mental models of how a product works, and product designers, manufacturers, and product managers must take this into consideration when making or launching a new product. You need to guide your consumers in understanding your product’s system model, and what values it can provide them with. As a product manager, you have a hand in making sure that there are no gaps between your product and the user.

 

About STACEY MARONE

Stacey Marone. @marone_stacey is freelance writer and a marketer working part-time on contract for a large consultancy firm in the US. She creates magnetic content optimized for search. In her free time she also does volunteer work and organizes some activities for children.

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