You are not alone as a product manager or innovator if you have had to explain your job to people you work with. It’s not uncommon. While your role is vital to the creation of successful products, it is not always understood by others. It can also be a lonely role because of that. Even though product managers frequently collaborate with others, they don’t often interact with other product managers – people who actually understand their job along with the joys, frustrations, and pains it brings.
What is a product manager or innovator to do? My guest has the answer, and it is one I have experienced and valued myself – participating in communities of practice.
My guest is a co-author of the book, Product Leadership, which was the topic of episode 121 with one of the other co-authors. He started his career as a web designer and developer but found his real talent was translating between design, development, and business people. After several startups in his native Stockholm, he has led product teams at Monster, the Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor in London and Boston. You may recognize him as the founder of ProductTank, a meetup for product managers, and co-founder of Mind the Product, a blog and training resource for product managers. His name is Martin Eriksson. Our discussion covers why product managers need to be part of a community of practice and, if you are not already, how to join or start one.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- Please share an update on your Product Leadership book. It’s being released next week, at the end of May. Details are available at Productleadershipbook.com. We interviewed 75-100 product leaders to understand the challenges with product leadership and how to overcome them. We are discussing the book at some upcoming meetups as well as the Mind the Product annual conference in June in San Francisco.
- What is a community of practice? If you look at established professions like Law, Engineering, or Project Management, you find strong professional groups where people come together to learn from each other and explore what is new. That is a community of practice. It may take the form of a meetup, professional association, or another form of group.
- Why do product managers need to be part of a community of practice? Product managers can feel a bit alone on the job. We may be the only product manager on a team. You don’t have anyone to complain to about the work and bounce ideas off of that also understands the role. You can feel like Engineering is ganging up on you, Business Leadership is putting undue pressure on you, or Sales is ignoring you. You need get out of that environment at times and talk to peers in similar situations and know that you really are not alone. You need a tribe of your own to be part of.
- What should product managers expect from a productive community of practice? Product managers need to be curious and always learning. The pace of change in industries and technologies requires product managers to be learning and striving to stay in front of the meaningful changes. The ability to learn from your peers is the most important aspect of a community of practice. You also get to hear about the challenges others are facing. It’s important to know that you are not alone and that others encounter similar issues.
- What are opportunities for product managers? One group that has been around is Product Camp. It’s a one-day unconference, generally with no set agenda that self-organizes shortly before the conference or even the morning of the conference by the attendees. Product Tank that I started has more than a 100 locations around the world. It is a fairly standardized format, with meetings taking place in the evenings after work with speakers, Q&A, and networking. The focus is to get people talking and asking questions. Over time people start to come together outside of the scheduled meetup times to help each other.
- How could product managers start their own community of practice? Meetups and professional groups are not available in every city. For product managers that don’t have a community of practice near them, they still have options, including creating their own. Product Tank actually provides resources to help anyone start a new Product Tank meetup in their area. To get help, just email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also online options for a community. Product Tank has a slack channel where product managers can ask questions or discuss various solutions, which is at: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/slack. Consider the options you have regardless of where you live.
- What advice would you give a new product manager? Being a product manager is about being a coach that brings together the best solution from the team. The best product managers don’t let their ego get in the way. The product manager’s job is to focus on the customers’ problem and bring the whole team together to create the best solutions.
- Product Tank meetup
- Mind the Product blog
- Slack channel for product managers.
- Help staring a Product Tank meetup in your city – email email@example.com.
“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” –Peter Drucker
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.