Product Stuff

A Collection of Resources For Building Product Management Knowledge and Skills

In this post I’ll provide some links, and my own additions to, a pretty comprehensive list of Product Management Knowledge & Skills resources.  As I mentioned in a previous posting, ProductBC is working hard on developing an ecosystem intended to help develop brilliant product management professionals.  We need product people to become expert in the areas of being business saavy, developing market intimacy, having technical appreciation and understanding customer value. The following collection of blogs, podcasts, books, courses, workshops, conferences and other product management resources is assembled from the product community in Vancouver (many thanks to Product of Vancouver Slack group, ProductCamp Vancouver LinkedIn group and others).  

Product Management Bloggers, Tweets and Podcasts

Blogs, prolific product tweeters and podcasters all offer nuggets of product wisdom that you can apply to your product, company or market situation.  The great thing about this type of media is that you can access it on your schedule (as long as you allocate the appropriate time to focus, be present and actually absorb it).  There is a lot of material to choose from, but be selective and try a few over the course of about a month to see what works best for you.  Sara Aboulafia (of UserVoice) offers this list of bloggers: https://community.uservoice.com/blog/top-10-product-management-blogs; also have a look at https://blog.leanstack.com from Ash Maurya.

Here is Matt Anderson’s list of product managers to follow on twitter: https://www.mattanderson.org/blog/2014/02/17/150-product-managers-to-follow-on-twitter/

Alex Mitchell publishes this list of product podcasts (I believe it is updated annually): :https://medium.com/startup-study-group/top-10-podcasts-for-product-managers-in-2017-1c45709f9e55 , and check out this link from Suzanne Abate https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/100-pm/id1141601653?mt=2

Recommended Books

As you have discovered by now, there is a ton of great material on product management, product marketing, agile, lean yada yada yada.  Face-to-face networking with other product professionals (or subscribing to an on-line community) is a really good way to get honest reviews and exchange physical materials.  Here are a couple of decent lists of books on product to get started:

You should also have a look at these resources:

  • User Story Mapping (Jeff Patton)
  • Running Lean (Ash Maurya)
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Chip and Dan Heath)
  • Creativity Inc (Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace)
  • The Advantage (Patrick M. Lencioni)
  • The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company (John Rossman)

Courses, Workshops, Seminars

Once again on the topic of courses and such, these are high investment (time and money) and may (or may not) be perfect to kick-start or refresh your product management learning.  Here is a comprehensive list of resources compiled by Francois Le Nguyen (needs to be updated, and some links need to be updated, but in most cases you can Google the description to find the current resource link):

https://productcoalition.com/a-comprehensive-list-of-product-management-courses-522ad0b96b75

In addition there is a product boot camp offered by UBC Sauder School of Business (here is the link to the April 2018 course → www.sauder.ubc.ca/Programs/Executive_Education/Open_Enrollment_Programs/All_Courses/Product_and_Service_Management_Boot_Camp )

Conferences

Teresa Torres keeps a good list of product management conferences and offers an opinion on which ones are worth attending https://www.producttalk.org/2017/11/product-conferences-2018/

In Closing

As with most things in life, you will get out what you put in.  You should approach any of these resources prepared to invest an appropriate amount of time and focus, and try to apply what you have learned to real-world situations.

To maximize the benefit of any of these resources, you should be making notes, discussing with your product teams and figuring out how to apply learning in the context of your product, company or market to build the four key areas (business saavy, market intimacy, technical appreciation and customer value).  

Please consider any investment in courses, workshops and conferences very carefully - they could require a large amount of time and money.  My advice is that you first have some very clear goals and expectations as learning outcomes and update them in sync with the changing needs of your career (at least annually).  Don’t expect one of the multi-day immersive courses or workshops to magically transform you into a product manager if you don’t already have the right foundations in place.  You should practise ruthless prioritization in all of your professional development choices and seek advice from your mentor and community peers.

Posted 45 weeks ago

An Ecosystem To Build Brilliant Product Managers

I asked my wife to proofread this for me and the first thing she did was redefine product management for me:  product managers are the folks who take the great ideas of developers and engineers and make them usable by normal people.  I was trying to explain to her how better product management would ultimately make the world a better place and she brought me back to down to reality, stating that people just want things that work and bring them value.  Granted that as a society, we anticipate that economic prosperity will come from applying technology to make people’s lives easier and make productive work more efficient (hence the need for more rockstar developers and engineers).  So, why do we need brilliant product managers?  I believe that product management is needed to make sure that engineers and developers are making the right stuff - that they are making things that have value.  I work with an organization that has a vision of creating an ecosystem which encourages and nurtures product management excellence.   A few years ago I attended ProductCamp Seattle and was fortunate enough to catch Rich Mironov’s inspirational presentation titled “product management: good, better, best” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8qrhGp9qAk).  The essence of his message was that he has observed product managers evolving through progressive levels of development:  basic (minimum viable), competence, mastery and brilliance.  From my own experience, working for several decades in the technology sector as a product manager and progressing to senior executive positions, I believe there are four elements that have a symbiotic relationship with  the progression to building “brilliance” as a product manager: foundations, product management knowledge & skills and leadership, supported by networking, mentorship & coaching …

My hypothesis is that more, and better product professionals can be produced by creating an ecosystem that encourages, supports and provides learning opportunities to product managers on their professional development journey.

Foundations

It takes a certain kind of person with innate personal characteristics and qualities to really excel as a product manager.   Foundations are the personal traits and attributes in a product manager’s DNA - things that may be difficult to learn (though not impossible).  Of course there is no silver bullet or perfect formula for the traits and attributes that are foundational for building great product managers.  The common traits that I see in brilliant product managers are empathy, curiosity, passion, humility, creativity, discipline, focus and persistence (which seems to be supported by many of the current blogs and articles on the topic).  

In addition to having these personal traits and attributes, product managers need to learn and refine an important set of soft-skills.  Product managers need to be great communicators - able to summarize and communicate to others in concise words and images.  They also need to be highly effective listeners. Great product managers are interpreter/translators or “market whisperers”, with seemingly magical powers to understand the market and to communicate that understanding back to all levels of their company.  

Other skills that comprise a solid foundation are the art of persuasion, numeracy (including analytics), prioritization, negotiation, market research, critical thinking and storytelling.  These skills are things that should be practised to continuously improve over a lifetime - no matter how competent one becomes there is always room for improvement.

Take a moment to analyze your own traits and attributes.  Do you think that you have the foundations to flourish as a product manager?

Networking, Mentoring & Coaching

An essential element of building a brilliant product manager is an active and engaged networking environment.  There is more to networking than just walking into a crowded room of new people with a pocket-full of business cards and a go-get-em attitude.  High quality networking includes cultivating relationships that align with your strategic career goals.  It is your effective use of social media, personal messaging and the events that you attend (and contribute to) in your local professional ecosystem.

Being a good networker is important for your growth in any professional discipline.  It is also an essential element in finding a mentor.  If you are starting out as a product manager and you do not yet have a mentor, you need to get one!  Becoming a brilliant product manager is a really, really hard path to take but no one needs to make the journey alone.  As you set out to seek a mentor, take the time to do your homework on yourself and your professional development needs.  Prepare your pitch and know what you are looking for - it will put you miles ahead to have a clear message of what you are seeking from from a mentor.  Good places to find a mentor are through local product management organizations and meetups.  If you live in British Columbia, for example, you could become a member of the Product Management Association of BC (http://productbc.ca), also known as ProductBC.  As one of its core initiatives, ProductBC has created a mentor program specifically for product managers.  The Toronto Product Management Association (https://tpma.ca) has a similar mentor program.

Finding your networking “groove” is an important step in your professional development.  Interaction with a mentor can help to identify foundations that need to be worked on and guide you where to start with developing other skills you need to become a brilliant product professional.

Product Management Knowledge & Skills

There are a lot of courses, books, blogs, workshops, conferences and general wisdom on all topics relevant to product management knowledge & skills.  There is more that I can cover in a few paragraphs (I will, however, endeavor to provide connections to good sources in subsequent posts).  A point that I do want to make here is that we all have finite resources available to us, and must choose wisely how to spend those resources.  Given enough time and money, anyone with good foundations can gain all the knowledge and develop the skills to become a brilliant product manager.  Your immediate challenge though, is to be as efficient as possible to maximize the impact of your product brilliance on the world.  You must consider where you are in your personal and professional development, but also consider the needs and trends in the markets you are working in and the lifecycle stage of your company and product.  What you need for professional development may vary depending on the context.

With regard to the knowledge and skills you should develop, some of my favourite experts in the field have some wisdom on that: Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley Product Group) states that product managers need to focus on product risk, in four particular areas: value risk, usability risk, feasibility risk and business risk.  Steve Johnson puts it a little differently, proposing that product managers need to have product technical, market, business and domain skills and knowledge.  From my own experience I believe that all of these are valid but I’d like to frame them a little differently and add another dimension.  The areas that I believe a product manager needs to excel in are:  business saavy, market intimacy, technical appreciation and customer value.  In addition to these major skills the brilliant product manager needs to understand the rules for product development and successful delivery in the context of a framework or model (cradle-to-grave product life cycle model).

Leadership

Once you have attained product brilliance you have a responsibility to give back to the product community.  Keep signing up for ProductCamps, but plan to impart some pearls of wisdom either as a presenter or as an engaged participant.  Network with the intention of finding a mentee.  Give good advice and be authentic.  Push your boundaries and write thought provoking blogs and articles. If you are not already a member of a product management community, join one.

As part of the “circle of life” in a thriving product community it is up to leaders to have a compelling vision.  Once you have achieved brilliance it is up to you to help develop the next cohort of product brilliance.  Seek out Meetups and special interest groups in your community and help organize their professional development programs.  Reach out to post-secondary institutions (especially engineering, computer science, life science and design schools) and offer to participate on advisory boards and intellectual property commercialization initiatives.  It ought to be your mission to make the world a better place than when you arrived.  What better way to do that than creating and feeding a growing community of brilliant product managers.

Posted 47 weeks ago

Communication Skills

Of all the skills that a product manager needs to develop I believe that communication is the most important. Consider the raw amount of communicating that any product manager needs to accomplish on a regular basis: listening to customers, interviewing support staff, talking to channel partners, evangelizing to sales teams, updating senior executives and board members, tuning-in to market trends … it is overwhelming.

The importance of communication in the role of product manager cannot be over stressed. Product management touches every single part of an organization and its customers. Product managers are expected to be the “go to” person for a product – the product visionary and leader. In many respects effective communication is key to leading and persuading. Here are three things which may help you to improve your communication skills.

Listen to understand, then speak to be understood (ref. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, 1989); listening is a learned skill – it takes a lot of work and practise. Getting to the point where you no longer listen to respond is a long hard road. Depending on the situation, you may find it helps to get in the “listening zone” and clear your head of any noise that may keep you from really hearing and understanding what someone is trying to tell you. Make a conscious decision to listen with an open mind, without judgement or biases.

Speak with confidence. Be concise and clear in what you have to say – use vocal variety and make eye contact to engage your audience. Write down what you want to communicate and practise out loud. A great way to improve your spoken communication skill is to join a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters is a great learning organization and the best place to learn how to be an engaging speaker and tell compelling stories.

Get a critic and make changes in the way that you communicate. As part of your continuous improvement as a communicator you should have someone on your team who will provide a constructive critique of your performance in formal or informal communications. Make sure that you both understand what needs to be achieved and de-brief afterward to get their notes on how you did. If you needed to find out something from a customer, do a checkpoint to make sure you heard the same thing. If you were communicating a product idea, your critic should be honest but constructive with feedback that will get you to the next level. Accountability to another person is often what drives us to make real change in the way we do things.

Posted 158 weeks ago

Humilty

It is important to realize that you are not always right, and to be open to the ideas and perspectives of others. Humility is accepting that things are not always black-and-white (that sometimes gray is ok). Humility facilitates ideation - it is important to leave your ego at the door if you are going to get the most benefit from any collaboration. You are driven to put the needs of the many (or the market) ahead of the needs of the few (or the one). Humility also gives one a healthy sense of humour and a clear self-aware perspective and context.

Humility is foundational to all of our positive traits, and is the building block of great leadership – to quote Rick Warren: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”.

Posted 158 weeks ago

Empathy

This is such an important trait for product managers that it is, arguably, impossible to be a good product manager without some degree of empathy. Indispensable, yet very difficult to teach if someone does not have a shred of empathy in them. Defined as “identification with another’s situation, feelings and motives”, it comes naturally to some, and can be nurtured and developed as a personal characteristic in most people. The ability to identify with others (users, customers, buyers) is important for product managers to have in order to really understand a problem. Once the problem, and its impact on someone, is understood and digested a product manager can then truly appreciate the emotions, product experience and value from the point-of-view of someone who will benefit from a product or solution to a particular problem.  This helps product managers to authentically fulfill the unique role of the “voice of the customer” within the product development team.  On its own, empathy does not make a great product manager, however when this trait is coupled with keen active listening and communication skills, exceptional products are born.

There is a great animated short based around a Ted-x talk which was delivered by Dr. Brené Brown, which explains the power of vulnerability and the difference between sympathy and empathy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Posted 158 weeks ago