Going beyond brown bag lunches for next-level product manager professional development.
This discussion is focused on another tool to help you become a product master and accelerate your career. It is a study group approach you can facilitate with a group of product people in your organization. My guest calls them Group Directed Learning experiences. He has been using them for years and found them to be a very effective way to learn and apply new concepts.
It is also a tool I have been using for many years with groups. It results in personal ownership of what is being learned and real behavior change that increases performance. It is actually how I met my guest. He participated in a public study group I facilitated for product managers and then brought the approach to his organization. He uses it each year as part of the training for new product managers.
My guest is John Spero, a chemical engineer who has worked in research and development, operations, and business management for several companies and in several industries. He is now at Praxair. He is a certified New Product Development Professional (NPDP) from PDMA and a certified scrum master from Scrum Alliance.
This discussion is very important because John shares simple things you can do to facilitate a study group, helping you and other product people improve your skills and making you stand out and get noticed by senior leadership for the value you create.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:55] What is a self-directed learning group?
This is also known as group-directed learning or GDL. It’s a group of people who share a common interest and a desire to learn about it. Program organizers design their own learning tracks and the team has the final call about whether or not the learning track is appropriate. This approach encourages exploration rather than sticking to a set curriculum.
[7:00] How are you using these groups?
We start by sending out a survey to gauge what people want to learn about. We then try to create groups of 6-8 people based on like interests and identify a facilitator to co-develop the learning track. It’s important that the members of the group trust each other and trust the facilitator. The team should also be able to collaborate. We’ve used GDLs for innovation theory and product development, business acumen, and technical skills development. We had engineers go through a training to simulate what the operators at our plants do to help them gain that perspective.
[14:22] Why do these groups work?
This is not a lunch and learn, which are good for awareness but not for long-term learning. Rather, GDL is an extension of standard training methods. We found that our associates needed more training and gave them the opportunity to create it. In order to have good project work, you need to have associates who are fully involved in the process and can see how the training fits into their career development path. We have so many subject matter experts who are good at relating what they know to others.
[17:55] How can someone start a self-directed learning group?
Look at your employees and determine what topics they would like to cover. Select topics quickly once the surveys come back. A good time to start is around performance review time since that’s when people are setting their professional development plans for the year. Avoid holidays or other busy times. Make it part of the work day; don’t do it over lunch or after hours. Have a good system in place to bring in remote team members. Try to vary the level of experience in the group so that everyone can have their assumptions challenged. Senior leadership should also be involved so they can see what people are learning and to show the people in the group that it has buy-in from the top of the organization. There are many good free training options online, but they might not meet all of your needs. Don’t be afraid to leverage subject matter experts in your company. Try to approach this process in waves to encourage continuous learning.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – credited to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker
“Making the planet more productive.” -Praxair’s tag line
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 a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social media network.