2 Ears, 1 Mouth … Use Proportionately

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Understanding the markets you serve is one of the fundamental expectations of a Product Management leader.  And yet more often than not, the tactical nature of our jobs (fire drills, meetings, delivering against commitments, etc) prevent us from focusing on the strategic nature of our roles.

I posted about being intentional with your planning time last week.  This week, let’s expand upon one aspect of what we should be thinking about during this time … understanding our markets/customers.  How well can you answer three simple questions about what you do and why?

  • Who am I serving?
  • What do they need/want, and are ready to buy?
  • How can I reach them and persuade them?

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Have Brain, Will Travel

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Several months ago, I had the opportunity to watch the A&E series about the life of Albert Einstein.  It was a fascinating view into the mind of a brilliant man.  Make no mistake, he had his flaws from both a social & relational perspective.  But when you look at his curiosity and insatiable desire to understand why things behaved the way they did, you can’t help but think there might be something to be learned from him.

Coincidentally, I starting seeing articles/posts pop up in various places about Albert Einstein … and as I’ve stated, pay attention when coincidences converge.  Here are a few thoughts related to Einstein, leadership, and other random topics.

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When Might it be OK to not Listen to the Customer?

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What if, despite your best intentions with what you think you know at any given point in  time, and despite doing everything right based upon your current knowledge, you still failed?  It is highly likely you have faced this situation, or know somebody in your close circle of friends who has.  Not convinced?  How about these examples:

  1. Sports context – you laid out a strategy for an upcoming game, and executed on that strategy to what appears to be near perfection … but still lost the game.
  2. Driving context – you followed the speed limit and any other traffic rules … but still got in an accident.
  3. Health context – you followed a healthy diet, and worked out regularly … but still got sick.

I’m sure there are others from a non-work perspective, but what happens when this scenario presents itself at work?  What happens when you capture a dominant market share because you solved a specific market problem; when you responded to customers’ needs in a timely fashion; when you proactively and re-actively reacted to competitive threats to neutralize them quickly; when you consistently delivered a positive P&L for the business year after year?   Doesn’t this type of performance describe what good Product Management leaders should be doing?  And wouldn’t these results equate to success?

The answer is not always!

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People Don’t Care What You Know …

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Every once in a while, we are reminded people matter and relationships should be prioritized over tasks.  That we even need to be reminded of this is an unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless.  I received just such a reminder when I stumbled across this article/interview about Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert a few days ago.

7b908b_49752c63883d4949ac243a4970dc8118And in the midst of a very busy season, it was just the rude awakening I needed. In particular, this quote captures the essence of what good leaders should be striving for …

Building a team that brings you solutions instead of challenges, listening to and collaborating with them—that ultimately prioritizes your focus on issues where you can have the most impact, not just scratch items off the to do list … to me, productivity is directly related to the personal relationships you are able to build.

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The Gold Cup & Leadership

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Admittedly, I am a huge soccer fan.  I guess that is to be expected having spent the first 10 years of my life growing up in Germany as a pseudo-military brat.  And this morning as I was reflecs-l225ting on the USA’s victory over Jamaica last night in the Gold Cup, it occurred to me there were a few leadership lessons to be gleaned.

1 – Building the bench

2 – Understanding your role

3 – Perseverance & Redemption
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Strategy, Quality, & the Product Manager

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Every year organizations are called upon to put forth their views on the 3 year horizon, and part of the Product Management role includes participation in this planning process. While many of the strategic decisions get made at an executive level, it is your role as a Product Management leader to covey the importance of your product(s) with respect to solving for the market needs such that it is clear how it supports (and is integral to) the overall strategy.

strategy_1000x600An interesting component (and expectation) of any strategic plan is an emphasis on quality. Without it, customer satisfaction will suffer, customer attrition could become an issue, and/or customer references will be hard to come by.  But should quality be considered a strategic initiative, or is it more tactical?  And as Product Management leaders, what is our role in ensuring quality?

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As Business Models Evolve, So Too Should the Thinking of Product Managers

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“As more companies … set out to build software capabilities for success in the digital era, it’s critical that they get the product-management role right.”

Over the past several years, I’ve had many posts focusing on digital transformation, API-first approaches, the need for a bi-modal mentality and the like.  The discussions point to the rapid evolution of business models, and more importantly why Product Management leaders need to understand the implications of these changes.

This morning I reread an article I came across last week from McKinsey titled Product Managers for the Digital World, and it not only echoes these sentiments around digital transformation, but also the analogy of the Product Manager to the mini-CEO.

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… product-management rotational programs are the new leadership-development programs for many technology companies …

… before becoming the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and Marissa Mayer were product managers … 

This is a really good read, with so many salient points within the article itself, as well as topic-branches exploring several other important conversations.  I highly recommend digging into the content yourself, but here are some of my thoughts around just a few of the topics that captured my attention this morning.

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True Leaders Produce More Leaders …

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I was recently reminded of this quote, and I’ve seen variations from several well known leadership gurus … Tom Peters, Ralph Nader, John Maxwell and others … true leaders produce more leaders, not more followers.  And with a long holiday weekend recently, I had some time for introspection on the topic.

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There are certainly times in our roles as Product Manager Leaders where you may question the true impact of what you are doing.  Or at least I have.  Partially with the products I’ve led and their impact … but more so from the perspective of impact with people. This is just something that isn’t easy to gauge unfortunately, and it can often leave you wondering. Continue reading

Perspectives on Product Leadership

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Excellent article from Rich Mironov titled 7 Ways to Know That You Need a Head of Product.  Over the course of my career, I’ve seen each symptom and they can certainly be painful and frustrating to work through.  But the last paragraph brings the point home!

Like other functional specialties, product management needs leaders who recognize and reward great product work; who know how to hire/mentor/grow product folks; and who build executive-level support for doing the right things. Without seasoned product leaders, each individual product manager has to go it alone.

Check out the article for yourself … but here are a few additional favorite comments:

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Tools of the Trade

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Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading survey results specific to various aspects of Product Management.  From how much time we spend in meetings, to what skills are most important and rewarded, to a day in the life of a Product Manager (and there have been many others) … it is always interesting to hear what my peers think and how they go about their jobs.

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This morning I was reading another survey findings document focusing on What Tools Are Product Managers Using?  If you’ve ever done any home improvement projects, you know first hand it’s all about having the right tools!  There are some really good perspectives in the findings, even a few surprising ones … for example, 70% of Product Managers are using new applications within the last year.

Admittedly, I’ve not kept up with all of the latest & greatest out there … but it did make me stop and think about what tools have been central in me being productive in my role?  Not from the perspective of a specific product per-se… but more around what “tools” have been essential to my success in the Product Management role.

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