Some thoughts about product management

in product development, software, product management, lessons, mendeley, nature, connotea, elife

I moved into digital product management in 2007. I had no formal training, and for much of the last eight years I’ve been learning on the job. There are a huge number of resources out there, great lectures, books, conferences, blog posts. In this short post I just want to reflect a bit on what I’ve learned on this topic through direct personal experience. I continue to learn, and my thinking continues to evolve, so this post is more of a look back, than a look to the future. I’ve pinboarded a few of my favourite links under the tags product development and product management. I also highly recommend Marc Abraham’s blog , he writes frequently on things he learns and on his experience putting those things into practice.

So what is product management/development, can we define it?

When I first heard the term I thought that there might be a single thing that one did as a product manager. However what one is dealing with at a fundamental level is an intrinsically complicated process involving many different moving parts, from people, to markets, to technology. It requires many different skills with opportunities for contributions from many different quarters, and as a result cannot be reduced to a one dimensional description.

I really like 360 view on product management in Roman Pichler’s post about what is product management, and it’s the kind of view that I have now internalised, but it took me a few years to get there.

Anywhere people want to get things done, there is room for someone to look at the process with product development glasses on. You often hear this as referred to as taking the voice of the user. In addition to this I think we can break it down along another axis, one based on efficiency of effort. In recent years this has been codified under the lean heading, lean startup, lean UX, lean enterprise.

Are there any commonalities around what we do?

I think there are, I think that at any moment we need to:

We often fail at both of these through a combination of doing things that are just the next thing in front of us, doing things that seem like a good idea but that have little evidence to support them, and then taking these sub optimal ideas and failing to execute on them. This is not a situation to bemoan too much, it emerges as a natural consequence of human optimism and desire to be productive, combined with operating in an environment where there is far from perfect information.

There are two pathologies that I want to call out as being especially harmful

The first of these sucks a lot more than the second one. At least with the second one you have a chance to learn something, and maybe get it better the next time. 

What can help navigate us through this fog?

I’ve just started reading lean enterprise and the authors make an early analogy to the uncertainty we face in creating systems and products with the uncertainty of war. They talk about the fog of war and how to mitigate against it. I think it’s a very powerful analogy, and so the question in front of us is what activities or tools can help us to navigate through this fog in the context of product development?

Of course I’ve just described in a very loose way a rough workflow based on agile and on the lean manifesto. All I can say here is that these are lessons that I have learnt through direct experience, mostly though not doing these things.

My greatest hits/mistakes

Here are some examples of product management koans that I’ve internalised as a result of a direct experience. I might be wrong on some of these, and some of these might no longer represent as much of a risk as it once did, but these are where my current natural baseline of thinking sits right now, and so it’s useful to be able to describe them, so that that they don’t remain as sacred cows, but can be farmed, and perhaps taken out and replaced at some point by more useful lessons.