Guest Post by: Daniel de Repentigny (Mentee, Session 11, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Shobhit Chugh]
Every day follows a similar routine; wake up, check your phone, go to work, go from meeting to meeting and fit in any unallocated time with whatever fire came up that day, go home, repeat. The repetition and the structure provides comfort for me.
When you first start as a product manager at a startup, the routine can be jarring and exhausting. There is always a honeymoon period at the beginning when the full weight of your responsibilities haven’t yet been loaded onto your shoulders, but after a month or two, the fog lifts and the force of the full weight bears down.
There is always more work than the people available to do it; when somebody doesn’t know who is the best person to do something and it’s urgent or important, the common answer is go to the product manager. These are the fires I was referring to. When you’re new, you have this constant sense of being behind – like you’d be better off if the days were 28 hours and you only needed to sleep 3.
You eventually do find your rhythm, you’re able to handle all of the work on your plate, or maybe the company grows and more people help out. You fall into a place where you know that you can handle everything, you’re busy, but you’re into a routine.
There is only one problem with finding the routine, you also find comfort. You get into a place where you’re comfortable and It can then be easy to pick up bad habits. You go from one meeting to the next letting the meetings dictate the pace and deliverables of the day. Any time not spent in meetings is spent getting ready for the next meetings. You get caught up in the short term, staying on top of everything, focusing on outputs.
Unlike other disciplines, product management has very little actual work product. Because of this, it’s difficult to assess one product manager versus another. Any post hoc analyses of product managers can only determine the things that they did well against the things that they did poorly – but this can only come with hindsight. It’s impossible to know what the difference in the product would be if a different, theoretically better, product manager were in their place. Would there be more value created for the users?
I’ve struggled with this question constantly when trying to figure out how to move my career forward. How do I, as a product manager get better at product management? What sets me apart and how do I move that needle? How do I know that I haven’t found my comfortable niche and I’ve stopped growing as a product manager?
To ensure that I’m moving forward, even in the face of falling into a routine I look to applying the impact-outcome-output framework not only to the products that I work for but to my career and life as well.
What I learned during The Product Mentor was how to break out of the routine, that a product manager’s work product is their reputation, and how to focus on outcomes to become a better product manager.
Outcomes are changes in user behavior that drive some business results. When looking at yourself through this same lens, as the product, outcomes are changes in your own behavior that drive some results. In the case where your impact is your reputation, the outcomes that you will focus on improving your reputation. What changes in behavior can you make to improve your reputation?
This is an extremely subjective question. For me, driving outcomes and changing behavior meant focusing on approaching each situation with intentionality. In terms of sports psychology, this means approaching each situation you encounter as a game instead of a practice. Each situation you encounter matters.
An example is having a goal for each meeting and conversation you encounter as well as having a set routine that you can go through before each. Approaching with intentionality and knowing what you want to take away from a meeting can greatly change the course of it. Asking yourself what message you want to convey, what the interests of the other people in the room are, and what you want them to take away from the meeting can change how you prepare, and say in it.
Having mental models for approaches to other communications, such as emails, and approaching them intentionally is also helpful. Changing your behavior when writing emails so that the focus is on what you need to say to get alignment with the other party and thinking about their background and understanding of the matter as opposed to just telling them what you know, having empathy for them in other words, can change their perception of you.
In terms of tracking the impact changes from a metrics perspective, outcomes can also be used as objectives in OKRs. In order to do this, the OKRs will be for your own behavior changes, where the KRs are the number of ‘x’ behaviors occurring, or not occurring. In the case of meetings, for example, the objective is clarity in all meetings and one of the KRs that could be set is the number of emails that are sent clarifying points set within it.
Ultimately changing your behaviour in meetings, communications and goal setting drives the desired to the outcomes and eventually leads to a change in the way that you’re perceived as a person and product manager. It also has a compounding effect – when you build the muscle memory to know that you can handle each situation and know what to do in them, you’re free to focus on additional areas which can be improved and apply the framework to those as well.
When you’re armed with this framework, you no longer go from one meeting to the next, you no longer find a routine, you’re constantly trying to achieve the outcomes that you’ve set for yourself – always looking for the next edge. The fires no longer control your day, because you know how to handle them, and how to use them to fuel your personal development. Applying this framework to not only your products but also your professional life can be the missing piece between routine and your next level of product management.
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