Customer Discovery Series Part I: The Role of Product Management

What does a Product Manager do?  I've already posted about this, twice, but it's time for a refresh.  As Product Management gets more publicity as a discipline, people often ask me what the role of Product Management is all about.  Let's go through it in more detail...

 Product Managers wear many different hats - project managers, designers, strategic advisors, developers - all for the sake of being the voice of the customer.  No two days are alike for a Product Manager (although with the introduction of the Product Owner role with Agile, the days can sometimes feel like they have the same structure).  Sometimes she is meeting with the CEO to discuss where the company is going, other times she is meeting with sales to understand the latest crazy request that came through, and some days she is meeting with the development team to write user stories and prioritize.  

 Without Product Management, some truly devastating things can happen in an organization.  I've shared the comic strip before, it's one of my favorites.  Without Product Management, your company runs the risk of building products that customers don't want and event worse, don't solve the real problem.  Think of Segway and Blu-Ray technologies - great products, very innovative, but there wasn't a problem that either of them solved.  Both of those products quickly got replaced with other entrants into the market that addressed a challenge for their user.

The best example I've seen to describe Product Management is the Venn Diagram.  In this, it puts PM at the center of User Experience (or UX), Technology and Business.  The role really is a mix of all three.  The PM has to answer three questions - What does our solution do? What is the economic impact? How do people experience it?  Sitting at the center of these three areas asking these questions is where PM's can have a huge impact on the business.

Some people have said 'product managers are like mini-CEO's'.  The more time I spend in Product Management, the more I could not disagree with this statement.  I'll cover this in an upcoming post, but if I were the CEO for my product line, I'd be able to make decisions and rule with an 'iron fist'.  As a Product Manager, you typically don't have that much power and need to work with your team to justify why the problem you've chosen is the one the development team will address next.

All said and done, there's really nothing that relates to business that product managers don't get involved in. In simple terms a PRODUCT manager is responsible for the overall success of a product from its birth to its burial; the product lifecycle. "This position is at the intersection from where founder strategy, user feedback, development team management, and market awareness come together. From what’s been said, it certainly appears that this is not a role that you “fall” into, but rather could aspire to be in." - Ken Yeung

Customer Discovery Series: How to make something people love

I spoke at the State of Innovation conference in Boston on the importance of talking to your customers when building products.  The talk covered three things:

  • The role of the Product Manager
  • How to identify the problems your users are having
  • Leveraging the power of influencing without authority
I'm going to be posting a three-part blog series on each of these topics.

Stay tuned!

"Be a sponge"... and other advice for the first 30 days of a new job

Starting a new job can be tough.  I recently started a new job and some of the basic advice I learned years ago still applied.  I figured I'd share the information living in my head, and also all over the internet:

Your first day
  • Wake up early and have a great breakfast, and dress for success!
  • Arrive 10 minutes early, but no earlier than 20 minutes – play it cool
  • Give yourself some time to get settled
  • Take notes, say hello and smile!
  • Learn your co-workers names quickly
  • Ask questions and ask for help
  • Don’t be the first person to ask about lunch – see what everyone else does.  Take the opportunity to go to lunch with your boss and co-workers
  • If you’re asked out after work, try to say yes – you may be tired but it’ll be worth it in the long run
  • Update your LinkedIn and other Social Media, and connect with your new colleagues


Your first 90 days
  • Learn about your boss – how does she like to assign work? What’s her communication style (email, in person, phone)? What does she expect from you in the first 30-60-90 days?
  • Start showing the rest of the company why you got hired
  • Balance relationships and results – you want to make friends, make sure you establish yourself as a reliable team player who delivers results
  • Keep the past in the past – don’t reference your old job too much, it will get old fast
  • Avoid office politics and gossip
  • You have two ears and one mouth for a reason – listen more than you talk
  • Stay organized and set goals for your first 30-60-90 days
  • Find your go-to convenience store and lunch spot – just in case!
  • Exercise!  Not just in the first 30-60-90 days, but well into your career.  You’ll be fresh, more alert, less stressed and happier.  Take care of yourself first!


But make sure you don't... 
  • Ignore the culture – come in early and stay a little late just to observe how people behave.  When do they get coffee? What time is lunch? How do they wrap up their day?
  • Act arrogant – take time to understand the company and how things work
  • Hide out – Take time to network with your new co-workers, what do they do outside of work?
  • Rock the boat – get buy-in from others before you implement changes, and make sure you fully understand the current processes and procedures before suggesting your changes

Learn more:

The Value of Networking

It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.  Boston is a “small” city - everyone knows each other.  And when you limit it to the product space, it becomes even smaller.


There are several keys to success when networking.  After a bit of research, there are three areas that are important: understanding why you should network, evaluating the value of a network and a few tips for good networking.




Reasons for Networking
  • Networking is about making connections and building enduring, mutually beneficial relationships.  The relationships are the catalysts for success and typically lead to career advancement and growth.
  • Networking is free, most of the time!  Events can be found in Boston for free or at very little cost.
  • Events tend to be full of like-minded individuals - and if you find the right network, they can support you not only when you’re job-searching, but when you’re trying to tackle a big problem at work and need an outsider's opinion.
  • People need people - there are friendship benefits to networking.  Consider finding someone in your network that you can reach out to.  Sometimes a different perspective or a set of eyes on a problem can help find the right solution.
  • By helping each other and by mentoring others you can give each other an unfair advantage in that two heads are better than one.


Evaluating the Value of a Network
  • This Harvard Business Review article is a great framework for evaluating your network.  It covers the four questions to ask when assessing the value of a network.  https://hbr.org/2012/06/assess-the-value-of-your-network
    • Who is in the network?
    • How well does the network connect?
    • Is there functional communication?
    • Who are you talking to?


Tips for Good Networking
  • There are three people that you want to be sure to speak with at an event: the speaker; the event host/organizer; and the person doing registration and sign-in. The person at the front door sees everybody, and knows their name, and also is usually aware where the host is and can point you in their direction.
  • Be yourself!  No one wants to have an awkward conversation with someone.  You’re at the same event, talk about things you have in common
  • Carry business cards at all time - this one is huge.  I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had a business card on me when I’ve needed one.  And - you can get such nice personal ones on sites like moo.com
  • You have two ears and one mouth - talk to people about what you're doing. Ask questions about what people are doing and working on, and be genuinely interested in the answer.
  • Ask for help!  If you find someone who seems to have faced similar challenges, ask for advice.
  • Create value.  Look for opportunities to be of service to the person you’ve just met. A good network is a give and take relationship, remember you should give more than you take.
  • Don’t forget to follow up!  How many times do you say you’re going to get coffee with someone and never email them?  

Even if you feel you’re too busy to attend these events, the benefits far outweigh the (negatives - another word?).  These types of events are a nice break from being stuck in front of a computer (something we all spend too much time doing!).  Try and find networking events inside of work hours that connect you with folks in similar roles or industries.

Product Management at General Assembly

I just wrapped up teaching a 10-week Product Management course at General Assembly in Boston, and it was an amazing experience.  When I graduated from high school, I planned to be a math teacher – I didn’t follow that path, but have dreamed of teaching ever since.  The 24-student class had people in Product Management roles, people launching products of their own and people hoping to get into Product Management.  It was the most rewarding 10-weeks of my life. 

The course covers the most important aspects of Product Management, and I encourage those of you looking for a foundation in Product Management to enroll in a course like this. 
  • Basics of Product Management
    • What is a Product Manager?
    • Introduction to the Product Development Process
  • Getting to Product/Market Fit
    • Customer Development
    • MVP’s – Minimum Viable Products + Product Management
    • Business Models
    • Market Research
  • UX Design
    • Personas + Customer Journey Maps
    • Features + User Stories
    • Wireframing + Storyboarding
  • Metrics + Pricing
  • Roadmaps + Communication
    • How to create a roadmap
    • Project Management for Product Managers
    • Technology for Product Managers
The course combines the Product Management basics with hands-on activities, which students found to be the most beneficial.  This is the first course that I’ve seen that applies directly to the role of Product Management. While we covered a lot of material, it’s very similar to the role of Product Management.  I always tell people that for Product Managers, no two days are alike.  Depending on where you are in the life-cycle of a product or feature, you could be doing market research, writing user stories or testing features before they head out into production.  The art of Product Management is figuring out how to balance all of the different streams of work that should be managed.


Please reach out to me if you’re interested in taking the course or learning more! I’d love to share my thoughts and answer your questions.