Don’t let your calendar get in the way of doing what’s important as a product manager.
Experienced product managers benefit from what they learned from previous successes and failures. That experience is valuable. However, they can also pick up some bad habits along the way. Some bad habits may be from a lack of knowing better but others come from routine and a “this is how we do it”-sort of mentality that too often develops over time in many organizations.
The first step to correcting bad habits is recognizing them and my guest is helping us with that. She is Alicia Dixon, senior product manager at Hilton. Alicia is involved with mobile and digital product innovation. Further, she volunteers for ProductCamp DC and shared aspects of our topic at recently at ProductCamp Silicon Valley.
Also, both Alicia and I have found value in product management training and certification. I began the interview asking her about this, as she currently has five product management certifications, which is more than anyone else I know. We both share the value we have found in earning certifications and why we encourage others to earn them as well. It has something to do with “ah ha” moments.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:15] How did you become a product manager?
My background is in marketing and brand management. I joined the product group at Dell supporting desktop sales. I went to graduate school, but it didn’t work out and I found my way into product management for mobile apps. I currently work for Hilton on digital payments.
[6:50] What value do you find in certifications?
I had to do a lot of self learning when I first became a product manager, so the certifications provided a lot of validation that I was on the right path and course correction when I wasn’t. I was working on very small teams so it was like the blind leading the blind; getting the certifications helped me feel secure that I was doing the right thing.
[11:03] How did you begin working with bad habits?
I referred about a dozen people to a job opening that a friend of mine sent me. I heard back from her that she didn’t want to hire them because they had developed bad habits. I was on my way to ProductCamp Silicon Valley at the time and thought I should pitch product management bad habits as a session. We ended up having a very engaging discussion.
[13:25] What are some of those bad habits product managers develop?
One is not talking to customers. As a seasoned product manager, you have a laundry list of things you want and you become so tied to it that you lose sight of keeping in touch with your customers. Another bad habit is building exactly what leadership asks for, which leads to becoming a feature factory instead of delivering what the customer wants. In a similar vein, don’t listen solely to sales and build what they are asking for. Salespeople are an important constituent group for product managers, but they should not be the only voices you are listening to. The last bad habit I see is a resistance to use new tools. I used Visio when I got into the field, but there are way better tools available now. I would miss all that if I stuck with Visio.
[19:55] How can people avoid forming those bad habits?
It comes back to time management. If you don’t plan the time into your schedule to meet with customers and learn new tools, you are never going to do it. The other thing that works well is peer groups, whether it’s an internal meet up or an external conference like ProductCamp. These groups help keep your skills sharp and provide an opportunity for you to receive feedback from others.
[26:37] Do managers and other senior product mangers still need to talk to customers and keep their skills sharp?
I’ve heard that people are split on this. I heard from some people that it’s not important for managers as long as the people reporting to them are doing those things. I think that in order to lead a team, the manager needs to be doing those things too. We also agreed that bad habits always matter, even if your company and your product are successful.
“Your mind is a tool you can choose to use any way you wish.” -Louise Hay
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.