Thursday, April 4, 2019

The tech product manager is a new role and brings with it a modern mindset that can help in all kinds of situations. When I learned to focus on the customer(1), define success(2), and lead without authority(3), I realized the skills of thinking like a product manager could be valuable in any job.

Focus on the customer
Every job has a customer. In some jobs it’s obvious who the customer is, for a lawyer it’s the client, for a chef it’s the person scarfing down that soup. In other jobs it might be harder to figure out — if I work in recruiting my customer might be the hiring manager, if I work as an admin, my customer might be my boss, but also her customers.

As a product manager, I need to focus on my customer, to make sure I’m really building something that will be valuable. The cardinal sin of product management is to assume my customer is just like myself. Instead, I take the time to research what my customers are really like. Why did they come to me? How busy are they? What’s the bigger goal they’re trying to accomplish? What do they value?

Once I understand my customer, I can make smart decisions in my work about what they’d like and what will matter to them.
For example, if I own a restaurant and people are always in a rush for their lunch break, I can help them by marking on the menu a few dishes that can be prepared quickly.

This applies to any job: take a second to think about who the customer is. What’s their biggest pain point? Is there any way I can ease that pain for them?

Let’s say I work in a doctor’s office and patients keep arriving late. When I talk to a few of them I find out that they had trouble finding parking. I could start telling people the location of the nearest parking garage when I call to confirm their appointments. My patients are happier because they don’t have the stress of finding parking, and I’m happier because I’m not losing time waiting for patients to arrive.

Read more about how to focus on the customer here:

Define Success

It shocks me that so many people rush through their work without thinking about their ultimate goal — what success means to them. This is especially pernicious because many people unthinkingly work towards climbing the career ladder without considering if it’s what they really want.

At a smaller scale, people start projects without considering success as anything more than completing the project. But one project might be done in many different ways depending on the goals. Maybe I started exercising for my health, or to look better, or to be a good role model. Each of those goals would change how I approach those sit-ups.

Great PMs are constantly defining success. Some projects are going after revenue, some after reduced costs, some after user acquisition, some after user delight. By getting agreement at the beginning on what success means, the whole team can keep their eye on the prize.

One way I apply this is in the meetings I run. I think about what I’d consider a successful meeting, share that goal, then gently redirect conversations that are getting off track.

Another great time to think about success is if I were applying to a new job. Would I just be going for the highest salary I can get, or would I be more interested in how creative the job is, how fun the culture is, how much impact it has, or what the work-life balance is like?

And for every day work, let’s say I’m in charge of delivering a report to my client, I’ll think about what success means. Am I trying to build credibility with the client, set them up for success implementing my proposal, or surface important questions that need more research? It’s okay to go for a combination of these, but if I have too many, I’ll need to prioritize them when they come into conflict.

Lead without Authority

Despite the name, product managers don’t actually manage anyone. We’re responsible for making our team success, but without being anyone’s boss. Since we can’t get by with saying “Just do what I tell you”, we instead need to learn how to lead without authority.

Even when I *am* the boss at my job, I’ve really benefited from learning how to lead without authority.

First, I learn about the goals of all the people on my team. Some of them might want to learn a new skill, others might want to get public recognition, others like to work on hard problems, others really believe in the company mission and want to make progress towards it. Then, I match my goals and the team’s opportunities to their goals — I frame my requests as things that will help them on their path to their goals.

If this sounds tricky, it’s actually easier than it sounds in work life. We’ve all chosen to work for the same company, so we already have many goals in common already.

Let’s say I work for a non-profit and I want to get my team to come in on Saturday for an event. I can share my ideas on how much the event will help the people we serve and get people bought into the idea that they’ll be helping a greater mission.

Focus on the customer, define success, and lead without authority. Master these three practices and you can start harnessing the power of product management too.

From Jackie Bavaro, Head of PM at Asana


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