Seeing the inspiration for the classic icon never gets old.
Inheriting a product as a new product manager requires quite a bit of restraint… mostly in the speaking department.
You spend time meeting your new team during the interview process, generating excitement about what can be built and mulling the value you can bring in your new endeavor… only to hit the brakes the minute you get in the door. Why? Because your job as a product manager is as much to stop interference as it is to get things built… and you can’t build sustainable things if you don’t know how your product was built in the first place.
It was just about 100 days ago that I stepped into Pandora for the first time to work as a product manager. Not every day has been rosy, but the experience has reinforced the importance of one of the most important lessons I have learned time and again when working as or with a product manager: your most important job is to shut up and listen.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed for a new adventure, I came into my new job full of ideas about how we were going to take the advertising products of Pandora to the next level. Where I may have needed to be more careful: preventing enthusiasm for being mistaken as criticism.
There is not a single business out there which is operating perfectly. Your first inclination as a new product manager is to dissect what is working well, what isn’t working well, try to figure out why and then think through solutions to the problems.
If that is your inclination, roll with it… just don’t start communicating it immediately. The key thing to remember is that you’re new to a problem that many other people have spent months, if not several years, trying to fix. They have domain knowledge that is exceptionally valuable for the future of the product, and it is up to you to build rapport to extract that from them.
The problems that your team and partners face make up the core of what prevents a product from reaching its full potential. Listen to the problems of your team: business, engineering and all in between. Make them yours.
It is impossible to build a product strategy without understanding the problems of your stakeholders. For every idea that has been floated, put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members. Think about why they may or may not be excited by this type of change.
What are the core themes of why things may not have been done in the way you would have thought they would? How is the communication across teams? Where does the technology meet and not meet the business needs? What processes exist that may slow down progress?
Once you start to answer these questions, break them into categories that you can share with the product stakeholders.
4) Check in.
Building your hypotheses of problems begins to inform your product strategy, however, you can’t assume that you get it right the first time.
Ask concrete questions of your partners: “Is it fair to say that the reason this wasn’t completed within the two week timeline was because process X requires three stakeholders to meet in a room to sign off?”
This is your core set of understanding from your partners. This is where you get on the same page.
Everybody that you work with as a product manager has an individual role that is important to the progress of your product. Engineers, business partners, operations, etc are all focused on achieving the best out of their respective functions.
Being a product manager is not being “an ideas person.” It is about being a “synthesizing person.” It is about identifying the common aspirations, hurdles, and execution plans across all stakeholders and forming them into a clearly communicated strategy.
As you build and execute your strategy, you will continue to listen and measure its effectiveness, though you will find yourself speaking a bit more. Try to hold back as much as possible, because your team and partners are the ones moving the mountains. You’re just there to make sure things don’t get in the way.
This strategy involves understanding the needs of your team, peers, and company. This strategy is the mechanism with which you attempt to eliminate roadblocks for everyone involved. This strategy is the direction with which you manage your product. This strategy came because you focused on listening. This strategy is a culmination of your partners expressing their aspirations. Silence built this strategy.