Guest Post by: Ben Chamberlain (Mentee, Session 9, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Nis Frome]
I was frustrated when I started The Product Guy mentorship program. I felt by executing primarily on well-defined projects, my role was closer to project manager than a product manager. Serendipitously, the company changed direction and I was tasked to build a product with few concrete details and a great deal of uncertainty. The lack of definition opened the opportunity to learn a few lessons along the way. Hopefully they will help you when you encounter important projects that aren’t well-defined.
Get the full backstory
When a project isn’t well defined, it may be because the stakeholders themselves aren’t completely sure what they want. Or it could be that they simply haven’t told you because you haven’t asked. Keep pushing on to discover what the goal is – is it increasing revenue, reducing cost, learning? What does your boss want to show their boss, and in what timeframe? If it’s a senior PM, it may be showing an exciting opportunity to VPs or CPO. If it’s executives, it may be what they need to present to the board. To achieve success, you need to understand how success is defined.
Document your Key Assumptions
Write down the assumptions you have about this project in a list, then order it by those most critical to least critical for the success of this project. As you learn, add the information supporting and contradicting these assumptions to the doc. Add new assumptions as you gather them. The information you gather doesn’t just have to be A/B tests. It can include many sources of information, user testing, anecdotal data from other teams, like sales or support, what your competitors are doing, and the instincts of your executives.
In times when you’re learning first, having this centralized information can show what you know and guide you towards the next most important thing to learn.
Lean on your developers
Those talks where you push to learn the backstory? Ensure the developer or developers on the project are in the room for them. They understand the technology the best, and need to as close as possible to the problem. You won’t be there for the hundreds of decisions they’ll need to make as they execute on the roadmap, so the more context they have, the better their decisions will be.
Communicate Communicate Communicate Communicate
Even if your stakeholders aren’t sure what they want, they know what they don’t want, and that’s to be surprised. Communicate the plan, progress, and changes, over and over as you learn new information. In messy projects, the information can change very quickly and consistent updates are a must. If you sense confusion, check-in with your stakeholders if they are feel up to date, and change the way you’re communicating if needed, whether it’s through a different medium or giving a different level of detail.
In every large project there comes a time when it becomes difficult to envision the path to success. This is doubly true for messily defined problems. You may realize you’ve been solving for the wrong problem, or that question the validity of the assumption most crucial to your projects success. Remember that this messy project fell to you because someone believed you could do it. If they had faith in you, you can too.
Ben Chamberlain has worked on technology products in the San Francisco area for six years. His primarily focuses on early product growth and internal tooling. He is currently a Product Manager at Prezi.
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!
The Product Guy