Originally posted to Alpha UX Blog (written by Alexa Szal) and reblogging to further share the great evening we had discussing the Future of Product Management and Product Politics.
On Tuesday evening, Alpha UX coordinated a thought provoking panel discussion on Product Politics. The focus: how industry leaders deftly navigate the thorny landscape of internal politics commonly found within large organizations. Panelists included Mark Hurt, Founder and CEO of Creative Good and author of “Customers Included”; Jeremy Horn, former Head of Product, Data Strategy, Content Management and Distribution at Viacom; and Ed Jen, Head of Product for NeoCare Solutions, an Aetna company.
The panel discussion brought to light the delicate balancing act of maintaining a user-focused mentality while juggling numerous stakeholder priorities. Anuraag Verma, Head of Business Development at Alpha UX, moderated the discussion and presented several commonly-faced organizational challenges to the panel of industry leaders, aiming to tease out definitive approaches found to be effective. Here are three big takeaways:
Start from square one.
According to Jen, “As a Product Manager, you’re typically brought into a larger organization because there is something wrong. And it is your job to fix it.” However, when “fixing” any problem, Ed mentioned how easy it is to take a subjective or instinctual approach to solving a problem – either by using prior experiences or simply a gut feeling. He urged product managers to first learn the organization, stakeholders, and customers before defining a solution.
“You take into account people’s’ different perspectives, agendas, and goals, and you have to look the company’s vision – remember how to make the most money while making the least amount of enemies,” Jen said.
Identify problems and solutions, instead of features
“Sometimes customers don’t know what they want. But customers know what they do,” Hurst explained. “So as a product person, you have to read between the lines in order to identify what can work versus what cannot work based on the study of what customers do – by looking at their behavior.” Hurst advocated for getting out of the building and analyzing the authentic interaction between users and a product.
This deviates from asking customers outright what they would want from a product – which can often lead to a wishlist of features instead of an actual solution. Conducting qualitative research with your users and your product can tease out specific problems or workarounds that occur during an authentic interaction. It also aligns all your stakeholders around a common thread of research, instead of around assumptions and opinions.
Defend your decisions by telling a story.
Jeremy Horn emphasized the role that storytelling plays when managing products. This extends not only to how you think about your product, but also how you defend your managerial decisions within an organization about your product. “If you make a controversial decision, tell the story of your decision. Use numbers in your story to back it up.,” he said. “You need to educate the people above you as to what you have uncovered, and how you chose your decision based on those findings. You need to get them point A to point B – don’t expect them to connect the dots themselves.”
All panelists lauded the undervalued ability to leverage people skills and communication within product management as a way to present strategies and decisions – and allow others to understand your mentality. The need to articulate the reasonings for your decision becomes vital to progressing a product forward. When asked point blank how one is able to balance all of the varying goals of the organization and still make everyone happy, Horn provided an insightful response:
“Your job is not to make everyone happy: your job is to make decisions, explain your goals, and be able to explain the reason they are your goals. It’s taking calculated risks while being able to cover your bases to moderate your risk.”