You and Your Product Depends on These Two Things

gain-self-awareness-as-a-leader

There seems to be a big uptick in Product Management-centric blog posts and advice.  Each of those articles tells and extends the group experience of the PM community.   As a colleague mentioned to me, the domain of the PM has extended from managing the hardware or physical product, to firmware and to software.  You have both consumer focused software (i.e. Microsoft Office and Windows) to Enterprise software for corporations such as Enterprise Resource Planning, IT Operational Management and Business Intelligence and Reporting to name a few examples I have bumped into in my career.  In fact, there are many companies out there from the “bricks and mortar” group that now realize that software products are needed and in fact are required to augment their products and services.   In fact, their traditional hardware product may now be offered through software only.

Every Leader Wants Their PM Function to Be Like What They Do in Silicon Valley!

Ha,  this is a good one.  I don’t want to wade into the politics and demographics of Silicon Valley, but it is indeed a different world here and by extension the Bay Area in general.  The key to what makes Silicon Valley PMs different is the focus on these two things:  How you view yourself and how you view the world.  While this may seem very much like what one would do during a personal offsite, it is indeed the kernel of what makes PM different out here on the west coast.

How You View Yourself

Seems like a simple question.  Surprisingly, few people actually take the time to really think about this.   You could extend this to all sorts of topics in your private life, but I am going to focus on this from the view of the PM.   Do you view yourself as a leader, a great strategist, an execution engine, a person who facilitates great teams, a collaborator, a type “A” personality, a future CEO, an entrepreneur, someone focused on their career progression, a technical visionary and/or a customer advocate? I could go on, but you get the drift.   Everyone should have a personal narrative about what they are inherently about, what makes them tick and what their personal model of themselves is.  This is important in that you take that mental model of yourself into every meeting with engineering, every project with marketing, every customer visit.  It influences how you go about your product management activities.  Is there a right mix of all of these aspects of your view of yourself?   I don’t portend to know or have correlated how all of these aspects correlate with great PMs (if there is even a good consensus with the organization on which PMs are the good ones) but I have experienced that the better respected PMs blend all of these aspects into their individual persona. The key is to be able to switch modes depending on the needs in that situation.  For example there were times when I was the customer advocate to a breaking point in a conversation with a VP, and other times when I have been known to say “but we are here to make money long term, and at some point we need to massage out that customer segment from our future product direction”.  The key is knowing when to use a specific dimension of your mental model and which end of the spectrum to be on regarding that issue considering the situation (people in earshot and agenda topic in question).

How You View the World

People often get confused on their view of themselves versus their view of the world.   Yes they are intertwined, but how your view the world is very important for a PM.  One could call this their view of the market, or society, or behavioral pattern shifts, or technical transitions, disintermediation, disruptions in supply patterns, demographic shifts, economic choke point changes, structural cost changes, generation of new markets, new ways of doing things, impact of automation on society  (stay tuned for a future blog on this), the drive toward virtual companies, outsourcing, offshoring, and other labor-based disruptions.  Again, I could go on and on here.   As the PM or a member of a group of PMs that own a complex product, your view along all of these dimension impacts how you position, identify and build capabilities and go to market strategies.   A good example of the kind of thought that needs to go into your persona assessment of your views of the world is whether you see software products as a core enabler of the consumption of more underlying infrastructure and hardware, or do you see value in and alone in the software driving pricing.   Seems like a simple point, but it makes a huge difference when you are working on software/hardware combination companies or products.

Waxing Philosophically

Most of us have experienced building a pitch deck for our product or company, a quarterly business review slide deck, but few of us have taken the time to really create the self -assessment deck for our view of ourselves and how it influences our view of the world.  If we could do this with a simple app on our phones, we could then see we indeed could be a better product manager.  Being a better product manager helps our careers, gets us more allies in the battle for our product and funding, and gets us more success with our customers.  It makes me wonder if we product managers need an assessment app on our phones to help us improve…. And yes the topic for this blog came from my Yoga instructor’s 10 minutes of pre-pose philosophy.   See my philosophy blog from last year (yes the same Yoga instructor) here.

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