4 Lessons That Set My Mind About Becoming a Product Manager

Guest Post by: Sean Echevarria (Mentee, Session 3, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Dustin Levy]

Image result for product managerTwo years ago I threw myself into the deep end of the Silicon Alley tech scene here in NYC. I joined a growing user experience agency called Motivate Design, without having any real knowledge about UX and its function within product strategy. And I caught what some might say was the product bug! I signed up to be a mentee for the third session of The Product Mentor to learn how to break into the space even more.

The session has given me the chance to gather a lot of industry knowledge and have great conversations with my mentor. His advice and the know-how shared by others through the live stream presentations have made me think a lot about whether product management was the path that I wanted to take in my career. But before I tell you what my next steps are, let me share with you the top four lessons I’ve learned by participating in this program.

IDEAS CAN COME FROM ANYWHERE IN A COMPANY

Image result for ideas from anywhereThis is a belief that I’ve always had well before being in the tech space, but it seems that we live in a world where this concept is still not fully supported by everyone. Companies still isolate innovation to a lab or a new product development team, and the reality is that ideas can come from anyone whether they work within engineering, sales, marketing, etc. The ability of a PM to pull ideas from everyone and filter them to meet customer needs is truly the mark of someone who knows what they’re doing. 

RESEARCH IS MANDATORY, NOT OPTIONAL

This didn’t come to me as a surprise; I would say that in the UX space you should always start with research so that you can gather insights that will drive your design process. That being said, coming from a company that focuses on qualitative research methodologies (usability testing, in-depth interviews, and Friendship Groups™) it was interesting to hear that one of the balancing acts that PMs deal with regularly is the balance between qualitative and quantitative research. However, it seemed that it was unanimous that a great PM will do their best to conduct both and collect as much data as possible, even if they have to be resourceful.

SOFT SKILLS > HARD SKILLS

Image result for soft skillsYou hear it time and time again from successful entrepreneurs that you hire for passion and the person and then skills come secondary. And I’ve always found that interesting considering we still live in a world that highlights all skills and accomplishments via the dreaded resume (can’t really show passion there). However, after several conversations with my mentor and other product managers it was quite apparent that this rang true for them. The ability to communicate effectively with a wide breadth of different people and make sure that everyone was working towards a common goal is one of if not the most crucial part of the job.

ALL OF THE BLAME, NONE OF THE GLORY

It seems that no two product managers are the same, but each one did have a similar lesson to share with me. That is, if you’re a good product manager be ready to “take responsibility when things go wrong, and give away any credit when things go right”. This was something that was advised to me time and time again, with the underlying notion that if I want to be a product manager, it better be because I truly care about making products that users love and help improve a business and not because I want credit for building a popular app.

As I continue to learn and grow from those who’ve participated in this session of The Product Mentor and others who have been nice enough to share their insights with me, what I originally only thought I wanted is now what I’m sure I want, and I look forward to growing into a role where I can help bring delight and simplicity to users all over the world through product management.

Image result for glory

About Sean Echevarria
Sean Paul EchevarriaSean Echevarria is currently the Manager, Talent Brand for Jet.com, the shopping site dedicated to saving you money. He also is the co-founder of The UX Lab, a UX Meetup with over 3400 members nationwide and is constantly volunteering and collaborating with the tech/startup community. Before coming to NYC, he co-founded a startup and helped build a million dollar valuation for a patent pending redesign of the standard jar, lovingly called Jar~with~a~Twist. He aspires to take his current product management skill set within the physical space and merge it with his knowledge of the UX digital space to join a growing product team with the right mission.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The 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

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Adopting the AIM Strategy to Product Manager Presentations

Guest Post by: Sam Kolich (Mentee, Session 3, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Jonathan Berg]

As product managers, we are tasked with managing stakeholder expectation throughout the lifecycle of our products. In doing that, one must master presentations so they are always prepared to speak on behalf of their product. It doesn’t matter if you are producing fire hydrants or making a mobile app, solid presentation skills are required for the success of your product. During this mentorship, I learned and demonstrated in my current role, the presentation strategy AIM. A highly effective and easy way to create presentations based off of three key principles: Audience, Intent and Message.

At my current job, I noticed my presentations were becoming less and less effective and after every meeting, I would have to spend time reiterating the message either in email or in person. In other words, I was having to defend my idea after the presentation instead of getting an immediate blessing from whoever I was speaking to.  

memorableslogan1Public speaking is not an easy task but I was not struggling with the sheer act of talking in front of people. I was struggling with making the message memorable. By learning the AIM model, it quickly diffused any problems I was having when creating the presentation. As mentioned above, AIM is broken down into three ideas, that do not have to be followed in order:

Audience

You need to analyze your audience and figure out exactly who will be attending or eventually viewing your presentation. Getting a brand’s blessing to work on a product under their name is different then requesting investment for a new idea no one has seen or heard of before. You must know the wants and needs of whatever group you are speaking to.

Intent

In addition to understanding what your audience needs to get out of your presentation, you also have to establish what you intend to get out of the meeting. By identifying your intent and setting the objective, it will bring immediate purpose to the presentation. 

Message

Unless you are able to make your message persuasive you will likely have trouble leaving people with something learned. By establishing your key points and making the message memorable, you greatly increase the chances of a successful presentation.

Another positive side effect of this new format for presenting is the ability to scale your presentations. Let’s say you have a 10-minute presentation planned. Because of the way AIM is structured, you can express the same key message from that planned 10-minute presentation into a 30-second elevator pitch for when you run into a senior level executive heading home for the day. Even though you are leaving out some details from the longer talk, your message is quickly transferable at a moments notice. By identifying your audience (executive in the elevator who represents part of the business), what your intent is (what you need out of this brief meeting) and the ability to persuade them (get to the point and make it memorable), you should be able to get off the elevator with a sense of accomplishment. 

In closing, adopting this new process into my professional artillery, I was able to make significant improvements in the way I was communicating to anyone no matter the severity of the project. I now feel more confident that my message is not getting lost and my audience is left with the intended knowledge I worked so hard in preparing.

About Sam Kolich
Sam KolichSam recently completed his first full-time role as a product manager at the publishing company Rodale. Previously, he worked as a photographer, photo editor and freelance product consultant while gathering the skills to transition into a new career in product management. At the moment, Sam focuses on mobile and web products, working to help brands develop a larger reach in the mobile world.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The 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

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Better Time Management for Product Managers

Guest Post by: Anthony Nguyen (Mentee, Session 3, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Paul Hurwitz]

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a new product manager is around having to juggle multiple areas of product ownership, each associated with multiple cross-functional team members and stakeholders. It can be a lot to manage—I often lose momentum in the day by frequently switching gears and by focusing on fighting small fires instead of making headway on product work. My day feels like it’s being spent being pulled in a dozen different directions, always on the verge of letting something important slip by.

So it comes as no surprise that one of my goals coming into The Product Mentor program was to develop better personal time management. With the help of my mentor, Paul Hurwitz, here are a two time management tactics I’ve started to incorporate into my practice as a product manager. Hopefully you’ll find them as useful in your practice as I have in mine.

Personal Task Management as Project Management

While I had been using a traditional to-do platform for my personal task/time management (Wunderlist) to some success, it felt lacking in both flexibility and power.

As product managers, we’re often used to managing our projects through the various development stages of our ticket tracking software… why not put those same principles to work for ourselves? Paul had recommended I give his own personal approach a try: using Trello and treating personal task management as a Kanban board project.

I’m still in the process of refining how I use Trello in this way, but there were some immediate benefits to this approach over using traditional to-do software: First, the ability to see several lists (and all of their tasks) all together helps to easily provide a “big picture” understanding of one’s priorities, versus looking at any single to-do list at a time. One can scan multiple boards and reorganize quickly and flexibly thanks to Trello and the groundwork laid by project management needs. I’ve found that as a product manager, needs and priorities are constantly shifting, so it’s important to be able to globally understand all the different needs and priorities one is juggling.

Furthermore, organizing one’s day or week as a Kanban board helps to track progress and easily provide updates to stakeholders—unsurprisingly, just like in software development! And the process of moving tasks along helps one feel like they are making measurable progress—a nice morale win when you’ve ended some days exhausted but feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything.

Additional Resources:

Bringing Order to Your Day: Recruiting the Calendar

Though one’s calendar and to-do list often live in two different places, people have long recognized that they are two sides of the same coin. You can’t actually *do* any of the things you need to do if you’re not committing the necessary time for them.

The answer? Time Blocking.

It’s easy to have your day pulled into different directions between HipChat (or Slack) messages, emails, and meetings. The concept of distinguishing between “urgency” and “importance” is one that’s existed for some time now, though it remains as true as ever—particularly so for a discipline that lives and dies by prioritization.

The basics of the technique is fairly simple: reserve (“block off”) time on your calendar for a particular task. You commit yourself to spending a set amount of time towards advancing your work, and it’s protected from interference by spontaneous meetings and other interruptions.Plenty of great writing has been devoted on how to best get the most from this approach—I’ll leave that to the reader.

blocks-of-time

One personal example of how I’ve started to employ time blocking is to reserve a half hour every morning after standup to go through my tickets to check for comments, questions, status, or to close out finished tickets. Sometimes a half hour isn’t necessary or sometimes it’s not enough, but having the routine in place was a great starting point to making sure I was regularly on top of my tickets.

I’ll also note that one of my biggest anxieties of time blocking prior to adopting it into my schedule was a kind of FOMO: I thought that as a new product manager, I was best serving my most important stakeholders by being as available as possible (given their typically busy and packed schedules). One insight that Paul offered was that time blocking also has the additional benefit of self-prioritizing others’ requests of your time. In other words, when folks in your organization are looking for a meeting slot and see that your time is occupied, they will self-evaluate (based upon their relative seniority and the importance/need of the meeting) to decide whether to look for another time slot or reach out and ask if you are flexible on that conflict. As I’ve started to employ more time blocking, I’ve noticed this happening exactly as predicted.

Additional Resources:

  • Ellen Chisa has a great essay on time organization, where she observes: When I started interviewing for PM roles in college, the most common response was “well, there is no average day for a PM.” If someone tells you that, I’m tempted to say that they aren’t a very good PM (that isn’t necessarily the case: it could also be a problem with the organization they’re in). It’s not a role that works well if you’re scattered and just react to what comes up. If you don’t have some consistency, it’s easy to get bogged down in “urgent” work, but neglect what’s actually important.
    Read more about how Ellen typically organizes her day: http://blog.ellenchisa.com/2014/02/07/so-what-do-you-actually-do-as-a-product-manager/
  • For a more “product management” specific discussion on importance versus urgency: http://pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/time-management-for-product-managers

About Anthony Nguyen
Anthony NguyenAs an attorney turned product manager, Anthony Nguyen jettisoned his suit and followed his love of gadgets to become a product manager at Vitals, a healthcare transparency company. He currently works on VitalsChoice, a white-label SAAS platform for health insurance plans that allow members to search for doctors, preview procedure costs, assess quality, and basically make more informed healthcare decisions. Anthony works in New York City and is always up for chatting over coffee about healthcare policy, career transitions, running long distances slowly, or the new smartphone he just bought.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The 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

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Becoming a Truly Customer-centric Product Manager with the "Jobs to Be Done" Framework

Guest Post by: Izge Cengiz (Mentee, Session 3, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Amanda Ralph]

As product managers – whether new to the role, or a seasoned product manager- we frequently come across or actively use the product canvas. Product Canvas helps us clearly lay out the main building blocks of a product from unique value proposition to key success factors; from customer segments to business value/drivers. Although each section of the product canvas covers an essential part of the product, there is one that, working with my mentor Amanda has been really etched into my product mind, and that is “Jobs to be done” framework: When – I want to – So I can. (Note:”jobs to be done” section corresponds to “problems” section in the original product canvas template)

At first, it might sound counter-intuitive coming from a product manager, but a product focus alone does not work to drive disruptive change. Too often, we can find ourselves diving deep into customer segmentation, business modeling, product feature selection even pricing before we answer this very fundamental question. In Amanda’s words, what is key is understanding what real life job your product is solving for and what is the value of the product in the context that it is used in. You can answer this critical question leveraging various tools such as interviewing your customers about their experience (note: not directly about the product itself) with open ended questions and listening to their stories or observing your clients in real life. Amanda in her product mentor talk drove the message home with the milk shake example. (if you haven’t watched: http://bit.ly/1XIKXYt) By understanding what your customers use your product for and in what context, you can redesign/optimize your product according to your customers’ experiences. This leads to happier customers and higher sales for your product – two birds with one stone!

In my opinion, the biggest contribution of clearly establishing jobs to be done for a product is, that it acts as a litmus test against products that don’t solve a real problem for their intended customers, but are developed almost as a vanity product. Not only does this approach save the company’s valuable resources from being wasted on products that don’t have a real potential, but also serves as a great tool to communicate the value of the product, both to internal decision makers as well as end users.

With Amanda’s guidance, I applied this thinking to the products that I manage, and saw first hand the clarity it brings to thinking about the product and communicating it with others, both internally and externally. I am happy to see that, the more I go back to the jobs to be done framework, the more it’s becoming second nature in my approach to new product ideas or existing products. I recommend to all my fellow product managers to stop and ask themselves early and often: “What’s the job/problem I’m solving for?”

About Izge Cengiz
Izge CengizIzge Cengiz is Product Manager at Monitise, where she is responsible for various Monitise next gen products, delivered on Monitise’s cloud platform.

Prior to Monitise, İzge was Business Development and Account Manager at Infosys, based in New York; covering telecommunications and telematics clients. İzge started her career at Motorola Inc. , as an RF circuit design engineer, working on development of Motorola’s first generation smartphones.

İzge holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, and Electrical Engineering & Economics double major from Bucknell University.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The 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

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy