I’m learning to be a product manager because I find it interesting. Here’s what I’ve learned so far

At my current company, we don’t have a product manager. As a result, I’ve found myself having to step up and take on tasks traditionally reserved for product managers. The most important of these are making sure that we’re keeping ourselves accountable to our road map. It also includes figuring out what  low-input, high-value activities we should be focusing our energy on.

To make sure I’m doing my best in this role, I’ve been doing some research on product management. This past weekend I probably read or skimmed in the neighborhood of 80 articles (true to the internet, many were short, ephemeral and not very valuable). I found a select few that I’m going use as a reference, however, and I wanted to share what I’ve found.

Here’s what the internet says makes a great product manager

  • Start with problems
  • Understand how users will pay, profit margins and feature ROI
  • Talk to customers every day
  • Understand that product usage is emotional, not logical. They’re keenly aware of anxieties that keep users from fully engaging with their product.
  • Careful about new features. They mostly just say ‘no.’
  • Focus on outcomes, not features
  • Measure the output of the team
  • Understand the ‘vertical’: the market, technology, users and the business
  • Know other great product managers, by name and reputation.
  • Win the trust of their team by the thought they put into the ideas they propose
  • Spend the bulk of their day speaking, emailing, calling and talking to customers, team members and stakeholders

Enough with the bullet points! Here are the articles:

Julie Zhou, VP of Product Design at Facebook shares her thoughts on building great products.

How the Google Docs team used conversations with users to help them prioritize new feature development (hint: they had to forget about new features and just make what they already had work like clockwork)

I love this one, via the team at Intercom: How to make data visualizations that produce insights (not mere analytics).

Also via Intercom, How Personas fail because we need to make real things for real people (and how to use ‘Jobs done’ in its place).

Mike Rivera wrote this post on Medium about the anxieties that hold us back from adopting products, and how our lust for novelty propels us to try new things (like apps).

Another Intercom post. If we all agreed to that too much complexity kills a team’s ability to gain momentum, then we need to make it really, really hard to approve new features. Here’s a new feature checklist that makes it much more difficult to build features (which is a good thing, truly).

How to decide which users to interview if you’re trying to grow your user base. This article is ostensibly about onboarding, but the real value of the article is when it talks about how to evaluate users as you’re interviewing. From the article:

Whenever possible, interview people who have just crossed the finish line to becoming highly-engaged users.

More from the article – Chris Spiek & Bob Moesta, Jobs-to-Be-Done practitioners and co-founders of the Re-Wired Group, refer to this as the “switching moment”…

Why is the timing important? If you’re approaching users before they’ve made the switch, you run the risk of interviewing a lot of people who won’t actually stick with your product. Approaching them too long afterward, though, means they’re likely to have already forgotten what drove them to change things up to begin with.

People who have recently switched are proven customers but still have the emotional memory of the whole process readily available for recall, which is exactly what you’re looking for.

Price vs. value, and how as product managers we need to focus on value for customers. This is what will keep them re-engaging long after the initial high of a new purchase has worn off.

Via Kenton Kivestu – the 3 skillsets of great PMs.

Ideas for future articles

There are a few gaps I’ve noticed – I just haven’t found articles for things I think are massively important but possibly not talked about. Good list of possible article ideas:

  • Great Product Managers have earned the trust of their team with their knowledge, leadership and communication style. How to gain the trust of your team.
  • The anti-pattern: a downloadable product checklist that makes it really hard to develop new features, integrating many of the above topics.
  • How to mix Product Management and User Experience Design (this is probably most relevant at startups, but all UX’ers should be baby Product Managers).
  • Why you should wake up at 4:30am to talk to the right users.
  • Your users can tell you what to go and build next, you just need to ask the right ones, the right way.

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