A few years ago I read Tony Hsieh’s book on Zappos, a company that has been lauded for its amazing culture. In the book he shares his view on the four pillars for happiness: progress, purpose, control, and connection.
Although various people have made lists of this type, this particular list has resonated the most with me because throughout my life – when I’ve seen happiness or a lack thereof – I can always trace it to a healthy amount or lack in one of these areas.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about product management is because I believe good product practice significantly underpins happiness in organisations. This is, of course, a subjective observation which comes from interacting with many organisations as a product consultant. In the ones that I consider to have good product practice, people are busy but calm, there is alignment, teamwork, agreement, smiles, intensity, and laughter. In the organisations that I would classify as not having good product practice there is often a hectic feeling, reactivity, too much quiet, and a look of stress on people’s faces.
While I am the voice of the customer as a product manager, what really motivates me is how much impact I have in creating a healthy environment and culture for my coworkers. In this article I want to go through these four pillars for happiness and share my thoughts on how good product management contributes to these factors in any organisation.
Progress is a feeling that your time and effort is actually moving you towards positive goals. This may be the largest area of impact for product manager in an organisation. Consider the name of a key artefact that product managers own: the roadmap. The roadmap literally explains “we are here” and “next we will be there, and then there”. As the organisation delivers these milestones the entire team gets to see and feel progress. Furthermore, a good product manager will illustrate the metrics the organisation should be monitoring to ascertain the success of these large deliverables. Without a roadmap and metrics to measure success the organisation has no way of knowing if it is progressing or not, or even if everyone is headed in the same direction or not.
Purpose is simply knowing why you do something. A good product team will ensure strategic artefacts are in place that help the organisation understand its purpose. Strategy is knowing what battles you’re fighting, how you’ll win, and what to say “no” to. By providing frameworks that clarify purpose, a product manager helps the organisation more easily answer the question “why on earth are we doing this thing?” and also “that is something we would say ‘no’ to”. The core job of prioritisation begs the answer to the question of “why” – day in and day out. Product managers put in the thinking ahead of time and lay the groundwork to ensure the organisation is aware of the answers.
Control is the feeling that you have the power to change your situation. There’s nothing worse than observing the efforts of those in an organisation who want to look busy but are actually unsure if they are contributing to objectives because it’s unclear what the objectives are. Everyone is doing their best to cover and justify their actions. Product management clarifies and exposes the most valuable problems to solve, and it engages not only engineering and design in solving these problems, but also the extended organisation. While the product manager doesn’t necessarily design or code or promote, the good ones empower and inspire everyone around them. This provides team members with that essential feeling of control over their ability to contribute.
Brene Brown has a great definition of connection: “The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Connection is my favourite and most essential attribute that good product management provides in an organisation. Product managers are so central. They sit in the middle of the business function leads, engineering and design, and the customer. Due to this amazing platform, a good product manager has the ability to unite, appreciate, and form meaning around the voice of all of the members in the organisation. Some of the best product managers I’ve observed have this “Mary Poppins-like” bag of collaborative tools (mind mapping, affinity mapping, fist or five, story mapping, etc) all of which are great at helping to form collective meaning among diverse groups.
If you’re considering a job in product management, I’d have to say it’s a heavy load but it can also make a huge difference and give you good fast-track training in essential leadership skills. I’d encourage you to both take advantage of all materials available to upskill (for example, every MTP video) as well as to share your knowledge with your local product communities (go to your local ProductTank) so we can continue to infuse more positive culture in the organisations where we work.