Insights for new product managers and people who want to be product managers.
Being a good product manager requires a diverse set of skills, including communicating, influencing, design, technology, product process, and business acumen. New product managers and not-so new product managers have lots of opportunities to make mistakes. When you can, it is better to learn from the mistakes of others. That is why I invited Cole Mercer to join us and discuss common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Cole has a very popular course on Udemy for people wanting to get into product management or who are brand new to it. He also is creating training on LinkedIn Learning for new product managers.
I also want to tell you about the fastest growing conference for software product management. It is coming up soon, Oct 2-3, 2018 and you still have time to register. It’s called INDUSTRY and they have several product experts (many you will know from listening to this podcast) lined up to share their experience. Everyday Innovators can register for the conference for 30% off. Just use the code EverydayInnovator when you register. Find all the details at www.INDUSTRYconference.com.
Now to the discussion for avoiding product management mistakes.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:35] How did your Udemy course come about and what does it cover?
I taught product management part-time while working at General Assembly, but then moved to Berlin to work for Soundcloud and no longer had the opportunity to teach. I really missed it and at the same time, it was becoming a hot topic without a lot of information about the profession. I wanted to make a soup to nuts online course that included interviews with product managers. We’ve had about 43,000 students in two years — everyone from people who already are product managers to HR people who want to learn more about what product managers do. The course covers a day in the life of a product manager, how a resume should look, and what to do during your ramp-up time.
[6:31] What should a product manager’s role be?
For someone who is brand new to product management, there’s a much longer ramp-up time than other fields. You’re not going to jump in and be effective on your first day or even in your first week. You need to first build your social capital and get to know everyone on the team and what the pain points are. Once you have that backing, you can begin making improvements. New product managers often feel like they are not doing much in their first few weeks, but that’s okay.
[8:55] How do you build that social capital?
One easy way is to eat lunch with people from other departments to understand their roles. You will be building your social capital and understanding places where you can help others in the organization.
[9:50] What misconceptions do people have about product managers?
People often think that product management is a management position where you are managing people. Before I had the course, I used to get emails from people who just got their MBAs and thought they could get a job managing engineers or designers. The reality is that product managers don’t manage anyone in most cases. The whole point of the role is that you want to be able to pitch an idea to your team and have them tell you if it’s bad. They’re not going to feel comfortable doing that to their boss. The only exception is when you are managing other product managers. Social capital becomes even more important when you don’t have any authority on the organizational chart.
[14:06] What mistakes do people make working with others in the organization?
One of the biggest things is not taking input from others or not thinking that other people’s input is valid. You should be open to talking with everyone, no matter what their role. If the janitor has an opinion, you need to take it into consideration. Product managers are not idea people. We do come up with ideas, but they should be driven by data and user feedback. People should feel open coming up to you with feedback at any time, good or bad.
[20:12] How do you handle people who confuse product management and project management?
If you come to work and you get a list of tasks from other departments (marketing, legal, etc.), that’s project management, not product management. If you are in an organization like that, I suggest finding another job that will allow you to be a true product manager. It’s also important at the interview stage for you to make sure that the company really understands what product managers do and how they can add value. Product managers should have autonomy, with the exception of a few times like the launch of a new product or a new version. You should not be handed tasks, which is why product managers are often known as the “no” people.
[24:34] What are the mistakes to avoid when it comes to interacting with customers?
There are so many product managers who will rely on feedback or data from sales, marketing, or customer service instead of getting direct customer feedback. Getting out of the building is the biggest thing you can do as a product manager. You might not need to physically leave the building, but you should be talking one-on-one with users or customers as much as possible. One way to do that is to volunteer to help the customer service team so you can see what the customer is saying. If you are in a B2B company, you need to go on trips with the sales people and listen to what the clients were saying rather than relying on second-hand information from sales. Talking to a few people a week in a user feedback session is not enough. I love to go on Twitter and find out what people are saying about the product, then connect with them personally.
- Cole’s course at a super low price for Everyday Innovators: Become a Product Manager | Learn the Skills & Get the Job
- Connect with Cole via his LinkedIn profile
- Cole’s website
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
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 on your favorite social network.