Posted by: Ivan lybbert | September 25, 2009

Product Management A.D.D.?


Admit it.  You think you have A.D.D. don’t you!  I know I did.  A couple of years ago, I even bought this t-shirt in honor of my inability to focus on any singular task at a time.  But really, it was just “work-induced A.D.D.”  As a Product Manager, you spin a lot of plates, and everyone wants some of your time!  How could I get anything done with all of the distractions?  It wasn’t my fault, it was the job’s!  Right?

Sorry chief.  Not true!

There are ways to gain control of your crazy schedule and tasks without “folding space” (who can name that movie?).  These are some that work for me:

Turn off email (and other related noise) – Just trust me!  You can do it!  Try to unplug for a few hours every day.  You’ll love it!  I know this may feel a little counterintuitive, but if email drives your task list, then you’re giving everyone else control over your schedule.  Don’t get me wrong, I love email.  But I’m in charge, not Outlook.  In the past, I’ve even specified in my email signature what times of the day I check my email so they don’t wig out when I don’t respond in five minutes (don’t worry, if it’s an emergency, they’ll call you!).  This also goes for other things that can get noisy like Twitter.  Just because someone makes a living off sending Twitter updates, doesn’t mean you make a living off reading them in real time.  I get to all of them eventually, but when my schedule permits.

Don’t allow the Hallway Dump – Have you walked through the hallway at work when someone stops you and asks, “Can you send me the updated price list again?”  Don’t let them do it!  Deal with it immediately (tell them where they can find it), or have them send an email to request it properly.  If you say “yes” to those requests, you may temporarily feel the sensation of being “the helpful person” your colleagues can rely on.  But if you allow people to hallway dump on you regularly, chances are you’ll forget. Then you’ll become known as “the ineffectual person”.

Too many meetings?  Then communicate better! – At one point in my career, I had an average of forty meetings a week.  Ugh!  And while I might have had a sense of being a rock star, it was bogus.  The truth is I wasn’t communicating what I knew effectively.  People were asking the same questions in nearly every meeting! Questions like, “What’s in the next release?” and “Can you explain that feature?” Once I figured out a better communication medium than my pie hole, I found that my meeting invitations went down.  Additionally, I would never accept a meeting unless I got on the phone with the organizer and had them explain to me why I needed to be there.  Many times I could answer their question over the phone and save myself a half hour.

Of course, don’t forget proven techniques such as blocking time on your schedule for yourself and working from home one day a week. Many Product Managers already do these because they really work!

OK, your turn.  What do you do to reduce the “work-induced A.D.D.” moments in your chaotic (yet very rewarding), Product Management life?

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | September 18, 2009

You’re Smarter Than Your Customer

smarty pantsYou are smarter than your customer.  What? Did I write that?  You bet I did, and I’ll say it again.  You, the Product Manager, are SMARTER than your customer!

Before I begin, I have to thank Haig Sakouyan for his comment on my blog last week for this idea.  In my challenge to state what we do in 25 words or less, he said “Product Manager’s listen to what customer’s think the problems are, figure out what the real problems and then works to solve them.”  There were many great responses (some of which will show up in future blogs), but this comment turned me on my head for a second.  To state that product managers listen to what customer’s THINK the problem is, and then figure out the REAL problem sounded a little blasphemous.  The customer is ALWAYS right…right?  At first glance it didn’t sit well with me, like someone parting my hair on the wrong side of my head!  But after some thought, I realized he is right.

When I was in first grade, I had a friend who always had the best toys.  So, naturally, I always went to his to house play!  Among other things, he had GI Joes (with the Kung Fu Grip!), a Stretch Armstrong, piles of Matchbox cars, and a box (well, a tube) of Tinker Toys.  We had great fun having Tinker Toy competitions to see who could make the coolest building, car, or anything!  Well, the next Christmas, I also received a set of Tinker Toys, and I was thrilled.  Now I could practice my building skills before our competitions!    The next time I went to his house I brought over a newly constructed Tinker Toy car and showed it with pride.  He then showed me a car he built with a new set of toys called Lego Blocks.  His was infinitely better!  You could actually PLAY with his, whereas mine suddenly looked odd and fragile.

Before I saw his Lego car, if someone asked me for the best way to build a car, my response would have been limited to the framework of what I knew about Tinker Toys.  But if someone asked him, his response would have the framework of Tinker Toys AND Lego’s.  Call it what you want, paradigm shift, different frame of reference, whatever.  He knew something I didn’t.  And as a Product Manager, if you’re doing your job right, then you know something your customers don’t.

As product managers, we have to listen to the customer.  I mean REALLY listen.  Once we understand their pain points, and can communicate them back to show our understanding, THEN we can work our magic.  While the customer envisions how the new product will function, it’s only based on what they know about your product (or a competitor’s product).  You should have the advantage of knowing where the product is going, what the market needs, and what your company does best.  Work until you have all the information.   Then you’ll be the kung-fu master, and your customer is the young grasshopper!  Ok, so maybe I went too far there.  But you get the point.

Remember, as a Product Manager you are in a unique position because you (should) have all collective information to help you determine the best direction for your product.  Now, dont get a fat head about it!  Just have confidence in yourself, and go sell your ideas to the rest of your company.  Before you know it, you’ll be making the best Lego cars out there.

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | September 11, 2009

25 Words Or Less

I recently read a blog by Stewart Rogers where he gave a helpful book review on Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath.  The book sounds intriguing, and I intend to read it.  In his blog, there is a link to a Stickiness Aptitude Test that tickled my fancy (do people say that anymore?).  My favorite question?

“What gets you more excited?”

  • “A really sophisticated technology person asks a good question that makes it clear he understands what you’re doing” (Wrong Answer)
  • “Your mom asks a question that makes it clear she understands what you’re doing” (Right Answer)

Whose Mom is this?  While the prideful side of me wants to have a Mother that understands what I do for a living, the honest side of me knows that I probably haven’t followed the author’s practice of creating a sticky message that’s simplified enough for her to understand, or care enough to remember (Don’t worry Mom, I would never trade you!).

Gee Whiz.  This is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago.  I remember when I would explain to friends what Product Management was, their eyes would fall to half-mast, as if to say “is there a gas station between here and your point, because you’re killing me dude.” Of course, my Mom and Dad are the ultimate litmus test.  About once a year, they’ll say “Son, tell me what you do at work again?”  When I’m finished, if they say “Well…(pregnant pause)… we’re proud of you son”, I know I’ll get the same question next year.

I have a friend that said it differently.  He said, “If you can’t explain it in 25 words or less, then YOU don’t understand it”.  That phrase has stuck with me for years.  So I thought I would give it a whirl and try to explain what Product Manager’s do in twitter-like length.  Here are a couple of my attempts:

What is a Product Manager?

  • The individual who agrees to wear a bazooka target on their chest, and hopes to deliver the solution before someone yells, “Fire!”
  • The tour guide that navigates the market, understands its need, directs an organization to solve the problem, and then takes it to market.
  • The poor soul that has meetings all day, then works late into the evening where Letterman and poorly written emails await.
  • The most passionate person in the company that sees no hurdle too high in getting the right product to market.
  • The person who says “hold my feet to the fire, and I’ll solve it”, and has no authority to remove their tootsies from the heat.

As goofy as those sound, I bet most of us have had similar thoughts.  Then why blog about it?  I bet half of you reading this have bosses that have recently wondered if they could survive for a season without a product manager.  Here’s the painful truth, unless you’re in an organization where you make THE money (like a sales rep, consultant, etc.), then you’re considered an expense…(second pregnant pause)… “I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror”.  Thanks Obi-Wan, but it’s true.

I know we think that the sun rises and falls with our exceptional Power Point skills, but you’ve got to make sure people understand the value you bring.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that your actions are much louder than words (MUCH louder), but you should still be ready for a quick response when asked “What do you do?”

Ok, your turn.  Tell me what a product manager is in 25 words or less.  Be short, but be honest!

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | September 4, 2009

It’s Alive! It’s Alive!!

On your mark, get set… Wait! Wait. Do I really want to do this?

A blogger I’m not.  But an opinion I have (not that it’s a terribly important one, necessarily compelling, or even relevant).  But if the internet has taught me one thing, it’s that even the irrelevant opinions of the world can grab their “15 minutes” without the world’s permission.  Not that I seek fame (really, quite the opposite), but I do wish to “add value” and share my opinions with others who are clearly smarter than me.

In this blog, my only wish is to be a conversation starter.  I believe the power of these communications lie in the community.  And even though I’ve had great experiences along the way, they’re only mine.  How could the Constitution of the United States have stood the test of time if only one person would have written it?  Ok, so the Constitution this isn’t.  And a founding father, I’m not.  But the point still stands that WE can get “there” collectively.

And where is “there” anyway?

Product Management Utopia!  A place where unicorns and rainbows rub shoulders with CEO’s who “get it”.  A place where Product Managers are allowed to justify a product before they’re told to create it.  A place where corporate politics don’t exist (Ha! I can dream, can’t I?).  Realistically, I want to facilitate a forum where we talk about what we’ve learned.  Let’s talk about things like, What’s my “take away”? What’s my action? What will I do the next time around to make this work better?

This career path I’ve chosen of being a Product Manager is crazy.  But I love it.  It’s a wild ride, and I keep signing up for more.  I have a true passion for it.  And if you, the reader (thanks Mom!), don’t mind, I’ll express myself every Friday morning in this off-beat, quasi-humorous, yet sincere blog.  I hope you’ll jump in and join me.


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