30 things I have learned as a product manager
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Great product managers have become pundits at their craft through years of refinement. They crawled, ran, stumbled and picked themselves up time and time again and didnt take no for an answer. Just look at every product manager that you admire and recall their celebrations when they had success and remember their sighs and pain when things didnt go to plan
Here are 30 things I have learnt as a product manager across a dozen or so different roles in my last two decades in product management. Some are old school and some have come about over the last few years. Enjoy the read and leave me your thoughts on which ones you agree with.
Ask for help when you need it - the mistake we make early in our careers is that we think as a product manager we need to solve all problems on our own. Find people who can help you and lend you their expertise so that you can focus on the things which you are good at.
Acknowledge that you wont know everything - product, systems, processes are all getting more complex. Its impossible for anyone to have all the answers. Be confident, sound strong and say that you will find out and let the person know.
Identify your circles of influence - you have a circle of influence where people give you their time and will listen to you. They are kind to you, they give you respect and value your opinions. These are the people in your circle of influence. Expand your circle of influence progressively.
Find a sponsor who will be your champion - if you have a great idea or are able to solve a problem which your company is facing, then go find a sponsor who is a senior executive who will back you up all the way.
Know your product metrics, financials - always know you numbers, get familiar with them. You should be able to rely on these metrics to lay out your case when it comes to revenus, cost and profitability. The fact that you are tracking your numbers will make it evident that you are a proactive manager.
Have a product vision and a roadmap - lean into the future and articulate where your product will be in the future and how it will contribute to the growth of the business. Get your product vision together and get others to support that. Your roadmap should sync up with your product vision.
Communicate regularly - No news means bad news for a product manager. Always remember to communicate the good stuff and the boring stuff. Keep your visibility alive across the organisation through your product communication.
Celebrate the wins - you deserve the kudos every step of the way. Many a time no one is gonna pat you on the back and say job well done! Go ahead and define your own moments of success and celebrate it.
Check in with your teams regularly - catch up with co-workers regularly. Just say Hi! have a chat and see how the other person is going. Doesn't always have to be about work. It can be a casual catch up over coffee or over the phone. The personal touch goes a long way these days.
Try not be be perfect, let the small misses happen - product managers are the worst lot we have such high standards that anything less is often unacceptable. Don't cry over spilt milk. Move on, forgive, forget and move forward.
Dont micro manage - let people do their own thing. Let them come to you when they are ready to ask for help. Let them fail and learn. Micro managing is so dated, do it only if you need to.
Help others grow, encourage their voices to be heard - Be the boss that you always wanted to be and be that mentor and coach to up and coming product managers and to people who want to try out product management.
Protect your team when things go wrong - projects often dont go to plan. Requirements could be misinterpreted or the UX may have been off or some other hiccup could have come about. Its okay these are first world problems. Protect your team at all costs and dont be a snitch on them.
Build trust with whoever you work with - product management is not all numbers and technology. A huge part of a product managers success has to go with how they manage people and interact with others. The best way to get things done is to have healthy relationships with everyone.
Connect with customers regularly - your customers are going to be your biggest fans! Listen to them! They will inspire you to be more creative in solving problems and in designing great user journeys. Customers will be honest and will cheer you on.
Own the product narrative - make sure you own exactly how your products are paraphrased and communicated. Dont let it be misinterpreted. Check every media release before it goes out. Protect the reputation of your product all the time. Its your baby you own it!
Build relationships with the front line team - get the front line involved. Let them see the product, let them give you feedback. Tell them to be honest, ask them to tell you what works and doesnt work.
Be open to criticism, let others vent - we all need to blow some heat off now and again. If someones has given you an earfull because they have had a bad day then let it be. Dont take it personally, circle back and have coffee with them in a few days. Its easier for you to make the relationship back to normal than for the other person.
Create win-win outcomes - as a product manager you have to deal with different teams and everyone has an agenda. You dont need to concede, you just need to focus on the outcome that you want for your product and your customers. Create a win-win for every one.
Hit the reset button, fail fast - there is no point throwing good money after bad. If you know things are not working out. Pause and then pivot, try your Plan-B, if that too doesnt work and if you think its futile, then hit the reset button and call it quits. You tried out something which didnt work so dont beat yourself about it. Your still saving the company money by stopping.
Co-create complex products with the end user - when you need to build something new which you have no clue about then the best way to do it is to find a customer who is going to walk with you.
Learn to influence others - most of the success that you will achieve being a product manager is due to the fact that others have agreed to get things done for you (remember no one really reports to you organizationally in the working world) so your art of influcencing others will be your saviour.
Be decisive when deciding - if you need to make a decision you can take all the time that you want. The only thing i will say here is that dont go back on your decision! Many people on the project have their tasks lined up on based on your decision. We dont have time for collective decision making these days in the agile world - if your a product owner then you own that decision and will have to live with it until the next sprint.
Prioritise regularly and be clear - There is no escaping of your task list. You will have a lot of things to everyday and your inbox is never going to go down to Zero. So figure out a way to make sense of what your need to work on.
Demo your products regularly - the more you do demos' the better you will get and the more excited you will be to take your product to new customers. Keep at it and welcome the opportunity to do a demo when your asked.
Document decisions and meeting minutes - this one is a pain for sure. No matter how well intentioned you are there will always be a case where something slips between the cracks. If the topic is important then get it documented.
Always have a plan B - projects come with all sorts of issues at the most unexpected times. They range from budget, time, scope, resources and so on. Have a plan B when you have a hunch that things are not going to go to plan.
Be prepared to accept change - you may need to change things are you go on. Situations change, you may be given less budget, your company could ask you to work on another product, your customers may stop buying your product. Whatever it is, you should learn to adapt. Those who adapt will survive and grow.
Learn to say No - if you cant do something then just call it out at the beginning. Dont say YES and then not deliver. Better to be firm at the outset rather then loosing credibility in the end by being mr. niceguy.
Keep learning and ask questions - the role of the product manager keeps evolving. You have to learn new skills all the time, expand your domain knowledge and stay connected with customers and the external environment. Be open to new things and be guided by your interests.
Well that's my top 30! We are keen to hear your nuggets of wisdom. Join the community and share. You can start to help us grow by just subscribing to productcoach.net