38: Product managers learn by doing

I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned about being a product manager.

Many years ago, my parents bought me my first PC. It was fairly pricy at the time, and represented the end of my reliance on stolen minutes on other people’s computers. And because I’m a muppet, the very first thing I did was to brick it by attempting an ill-advised upgrade. I spent the whole night in a cold sweat figuring out how to unf**k it before my folks found out in the morning. Once I’d got it working again, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson not to tinker further. Instead I found I was no longer afraid of experimenting further with it.

When we’re children, we have an overriding desire to learn by doing. It’s as if we have a biological imperative to seek the answer to the question “I wonder what would happen if I … ?” We won’t accept the voice of experience, even if it’s telling us not to touch the hot thing, eat garden worms or pull the cat’s tail. We have a go anyway and learn what happens for ourselves.

As we grow older, most of us lose that urge to have a go and damn the consequences. We gradually lose our appetite for risk, perhaps because we begin to remember our failures more keenly than our successes, or feel we have too much to lose.

Learning product management theory in a classroom is a risk-free scenario. You undertake the thought exercises in a safe environment and, because you’re not actually making changes to your product during the training, there are no untoward consequences. It’s all too easy to let the training wash over you. At the end of the course, you leave with the warm, fuzzy feeling of having learned something and the obligatory list of things you’re going to do differently tomorrow. The feeling soon passes, you bury the action list in a drawer, and fundamentally nothing changes.

Some lessons can only be learned the hard way, when you have skin in the game and something to lose. These are the situations that feel like all the blood is draining from your body, or when your heart is racing from a lucky near-miss, or when bits of you are hurting because you zigged when you should have zagged. These are the lessons you’ll remember most keenly. And if things don’t go your way, figure out what went wrong, pick up the pieces (and occasionally your front teeth) and resolve to defy the outcome by doing things differently next time.

Product management is a discipline that thrives on curiosity – questions continually present themselves because there are so many unknowns. You can learn all the theory you like, but at some point you just have to stop thinking about what the answer might be and dive in to find out.

So rekindle your childhood urge to experiment. Take a risk and try something different or unexpected. You only truly learn by doing.

A Day in the Life of a Product Manager – Guest Post for Silicon Milkroundabout

Some advice for all you budding product managers and job hunters out there:

  1. Get your good selves over to Silicon Milkroundabout 7.0 this Saturday.
  2. Go chat with the Mind the Product gang about a career in product management at SMR7.
  3. Read my special guest blog – A Day in the Life of a Product Manager – over on SMR’s blog.

And if you’re looking for tips on how you can tell you’re doing your job right, you may also be interested in one of my earlier posts: 4 Key Ways to Spot a Successful Product Manager.

14th May: The $100 million assumption – MVP down under

Get Excited and Make Things

On Wednesday 14th May, I’ll be joining a panel of local product managers and startup founders at Product Anonymous in Melbourne, Australia to talk about their MVP (minimum viable product) trials and tribulations.  If you’re in the area, it would be great if you could join us and take part in the discussion.

Time: 6-6:30 pm arrival & drinks.  Talk starts at 6:30 pm.

Grab your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/product-anonymous-may-14-mvp-tickets-10598537511

See you there!

Product Management in Commerce on Mind the Product

Mind the Product logo

As the UK shops itself out of recession, it was more than fitting that February’s ProductTank London was all about product management in commerce: online, offline and mobile.  This month we had three eye-opening talks:

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2nd March: Calling all entrepreneurs – Cofounders Bootcamp

Founders Nation BootcampI’ll be joining a great line-up of speakers at Founders Nation’s Bootcamp on Sunday 2nd March.  If you’re embarking on a new startup adventure, this is the event for you!

Tickets are available now at www.cofoundersbootcamp.com.

Special offer for readers of this blog – use promo code FNPartner14 to receive a 15% discount on tickets this week.

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Back(log) to the Future – story arcs, roadmaps and product themes

Last time I published an article explaining why I thought roadmaps were a little like DVD box sets.   DonorDrive product manager Kasey Marcum (@kaseymarcum) asked in the comments:

“Always enjoy your posts, Jock! I really love the high level idea of this. What does this actually look like in the wild?”

Imagine your roadmap and sprints being as engaging as a hit movie – just think how much easier they’d be to “sell” to your stakeholders and customers!  Let’s see how you can do this.

Back to the Future

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Product Management in Online Payments on Mind the Product

Mind the Product logo

New year – new ProductTank London.  2014 kicked off in style with Andy Young and Yuval Samet talking to us about product management in online payments.  Take a look at the recap I wrote over on Mind the Product’s blog.

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