Stranger Things About Product Management

Whilst I’m waiting for my laundry to finish drying (T minus 20mins), I’d thought I’d pay homage to my latest obsession, Stranger Things. Unless you’ve been living underneath a big huge gigantic rock, its a Netflix series set in the 80’s. There’s an alternative….wait I should stop there. You should watch it. The crux is there’s some strange things happening in this sleepy town. So here are the 3 strange things I have found in product management.
stranger things

1. The PM as an internal evangelist

I feel like I’m a natural evangelist. Scratch that, its something that I have embraced and become better at. If I really like something, I will blog/tweet/podcast/tell people about it. I do that outside of work. That’s why I write my blog. To share things to the broader community and as my own record. I get that – I want to share it on the internet to the whole wide world.What I never understood was that I needed to share things internally. When I heard that people give talks internally and write blog posts at Atlassian, I didn’t get it. Why would I do something internally when I could write externally? I’m not afraid of it. I use to give talks like 2 times a month at meetups with 30 – 100 people in the audience. I write at a frequent and sometimes ferocious pace for others that are consuming. I love writing. I simply thought it was lame to write an internal blog post that might get seen by like 30 people and at most 2,000 people.

I didn’t understand the importance of internal evangelism. It finally clicked when my manager explained it to me as one of the reasons I was hired at work. I had a passion for writing/podcasting. In a startup with 20 people, everyone knows what everyone else is working on. When you are in a place with 2,000 people and there is a big internal blogging/sharing culture, you need to provide visibility to your project and get feedback and ultimately buy-in. This is where I can shine as I’m one of the people that loves to communicate and share. By sharing what we’re doing, people learn about our product and can give feedback. Its essentially the same reason why I write externally. I need to share what our team is working on and where we are heading.

So I now give regular talks in larger meeting settings (e.g. all-hands), write a regular blog post or write up a page in Confluence which I share with my stakeholders. It might include a demo video or what’s coming up.

2. Its not only what you will do, but what you won’t do

Often as product managers, we spend a lot of time creating roadmaps, writing up requirements and explaining what we are doing. When we choose to do something, that means we’re not doing something else. Its an opportunity cost. So when I do a roadmap, I also include what I won’t be doing. My friend Mick Johnson, CEO of Lexy (ex-head of product for Facebook Mobile) described how he had a page with “Not In Wild”. It explained the 38 things that Facebook Mobile was not doing e.g. Landscape view.

I often need to explain and justify what we are doing, and what are the alternative choices that we didn’t do. Its useful for sparring (debating) with peers and stakeholders if you can explain the choices available and what you chose to do. We have finite resources, so we need to show that we made the best choice amongst the various alternatives available.
3. Conference driven development

This is one of the stranger phenomenas I have come across. It deserves a blog post of its own. I’ve come across:
– TDD (test driven development)
– BDD (behaviour driven development)
– Customer driven development

Conference driven development is building your roadmap according to conferences/events coming up. This has pros and cons. Generally, its important to understand when there are specific events in your timeline e.g. perhaps your company is exhibiting at Dreamforce, the big Salesforce conference which is in SF right now. Or your company has its own developer conference and you want to get the ecosystem excited about what’s launching.

As a consumer/observer, I’m excited when I hear about new stuff launching from Apple. In my opinion, they do it the best. There’s so much goodness coming from WWDC or their special events. This year they announced iPhoneX, iPhone 8, Watch 3 with voice calling and more. Google does a great job with Google I/O as well. Facebook has their F8 conference. They want to make a big bang and announce a lot of stuff when the media and public is focused on them. So there’s positives from PR and exposure. There’s also a hard deadline which your team can rally around.

The fallacy with conference deadlines is that they can put teams under a lot of pressure. Ideally, your team should be releasing things constantly to maintain the cadence of customer value. The conference could be a bundle up of the major stories of the year (or the time period between conferences). So if you are releasing stuff constantly, then it doesn’t matter that there is a conference.

I’ve also been guilty of putting my team under pressure of launching a product at a major tech conference. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to launch our new startup with the product Mandarin Madness at TechCrunch Beijing at 2011.

Sometimes the stuff that is released at conferences isn’t ready yet. Is it smoke and mirrors? Does it actually work? When we do release it, its buggy or simply doesn’t live up to its promise. Launching stuff at a conference can be very risky. However, if you do nail it, it can be awesome 🙂 Look at Apple, they do an amazing job threading it all together for their big annual event.

Its a balancing act. I’m definitely aware of the conferences coming up and what my story will be heading towards that date. Sometimes I work backwards from it. This is the classic conference driven development technique 🙂 But I don’t want to be driven solely by conferences, but rather whats best for the customer. Its a landmark that I need to be aware of. I help to craft a story with the product marketer as that dates comes up. Sometimes its figuring out what we have released and how that is packaged into a cohesive story. In some cases, its also a great time to announce something new.

So these are the 3 strange things I’ve discovered in the upside down world of product management.

I’m out like Season 2,
Matthew Ho

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