Thursday, September 19, 2013

Preparing for your next career move!

This subject has been on mind quite a bit given my own career shifts and transitions. As that time approaches for me (and in the past) I try and take these types of transitions as a learning and reflective time. So this blog post is my attempt to share some of the questions I ask myself as I make that next career transition.
  • What are the top 3 things that I learned in this job that I can take to my new job?
  • What are the top 3 things I want to change to improve about myself?
  • X years from now I want to be a . What skills do I need to work on to fill the gaps in order for me to get there.
  • What are the top 3 words that I want my new manager/team to say about me after my first 30/60/90 days? How will those impact my actions?
  • What are the key traits I would like to see in my ideal manager?
  • What are the things that frustrate me about people/situations at work?
Thoughts? Do you think I missed anything?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Importance of being Prepared!

There are a lot of key skills/traits that product managers (and for that matter any employee) need in order to succeed. That includes the obviously "hard" skills such as experience writing requirements, etc. and it includes the "soft" skills that often go unsaid but not unnoticed. I've coached/mentored/managed product managers (and am one myself!) and have started to create the framework/steps below as I look at my own development and goals. There are 4 steps in the evolution, but this blog post will only cover the first. You'll notice each step has a blue "summary" word that I use to help summarize the trait.
  1. Preparedness - While this term doesn't need a formal definition it is really about having the discipline needed to hold yourself to a higher standard. For me it is about the willingness to set a high standard and submit your actions to that standard. It is a form of obedience/discipline to yourself.
    • Meeting Preparedness - Learn and prepare for your meetings and work. Do not be lazy or "wing it". This lackadaisical attitude results in mediocrity and we have all seen what those meetings look like. You should be prepared and mindful of how prepared others are. In product management, there are many opinions and thoughts on what to do and where to invest. A prepared and organized mind can separate the the noise from the insight. Being prepared always brings clarity of thought and purpose. Don't go too overboard, as there is something to be said letting the conversation flow. Find that happy medium.
    • Transition from reactive to proactive - How many times has someone had to scramble to get the executive request done? Creating a roadmap one night because of a request. Updating the competitive landscape slide urgently. It is a constant effort to stay one step ahead through anticipation and proper time allocation. There are two key issues that I have seen with product managers that constantly prevent them from being prepared. First is the anticipation. Spend the time it takes to anticipate the requests. Look at certain "boundaries" such as the end of the fiscal year, or the mid way point of the year. Perhaps every quarter or every release. If you are managing a product in production, perhaps looking at usage and feedback data on a monthly basis. Secondly, you have to carve out the time. Too many product managers are not balancing the tactical and strategic. They focus too much on the daily grind that they lose sight of the bigger picture and then they get being reactive.
    • Managing your Manager - Many product managers don't spend the time to properly engage with their management. They sit through their 1on1s without a plan (more on that here). Learning to anticipate what they will need ahead of when they will need it, is key. For example, if you know there is a management offsite in two weeks, are you asking your manager about what they may need from you today so that you can prepare? Not only that, perhaps your manager is thinking about what they will need from you, so by asking the question you are making sure your manager is prepared. Your manager will appreciate your concern in making sure they are prepared and that they are putting their best foot forward. You are showing that you care about their success. You are forming a deeper and more meaningful relationship with them based on mutual success. Compare that with others who are not prepared for their 1on1s or just bring their managers problems. You are creating separation through being prepared.
Thoughts?/Feedback? - Being prepared means being proactive and mindful about it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Setting up your company for success!

So I've been reading some articles here and there about what are the top things that CEOs do or need to do in order to lead their companies in the right direction. It is definitely food for thought so I decided to chime in! Here are my suggestions for the top 3 things that CEOs should focus on in order to best set up a company for success.

  • Vision / Strategy - A great CEO should focus on ensure that the company has a strong vision and strategy in order to succeed. It can be too broad or too narrow. It has to be easily understood and easy to articulate. The "Vision" is a the company's purpose/goal. I've seen this somewhat overlap with a mission statement. The "Strategy" is the how behind that vision. For example, the airline company Southwest succeeds because of its low cost/high customer service strategy. They only fly 737s to lower maintenance costs and training costs. They only fly to less expensive airports (Midway vs. OHare)
  • Allocation - For me allocation is about how does one allocate both the dollars and the people in order to achieve the strategy. It's about looking at each function in the organization and determining if you have the right talent and is the company enabling them to succeed. For alignment - I have thought of the analogy of a compass. If you take 10 people put them in a room with no windows and tell them to go north, it will be a mess of confusion! Now give them each a compass. All 10 will point in the same direction. A CEO needs to make sure that the corporate leadership is acting like a compass so that the company as a whole is well aligned. 
  • Goal Alignment - CEOs are ultimately responsible for serving employees, shareholders, and customers. They should focus on standard operating mechanisms and metrics and managing the team against those goals. There needs to be a true sense of ownership across every single goal/metric across the business unit. It can't be "that's a marketing metric", "that's a sales metric". EVERY single person on the team needs to contribute and own the outcome and objective. Also, a CEO will need to ask the right questions and ensure that their team is communicating across functions and there is depth of thought. There are times when comments are made in a meeting that are presented as facts when they are beliefs. Alignment can take the form of clear objectives and metrics to consistently measure and discuss. Just be careful and these metrics don't create negative "selfish" behaviors that may meet the short term objectives but create a culture that won't sustain the company in the longer term.

There are a lot of other ideas in my head like culture, hiring, team building, etc. but those are the ones that bubbled to my head today! What did I miss?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why teams are slow or fail? - My personal thoughts

I read this recent article by SVPG (click here for the article). I really liked it but wanted to also share my thoughts on what slows the team down
  • Unnecessary Changes - Change happens. We know that not every product manager can anticipate the whim of every customer or sales person. But unnecessary changes or churn can cause a lot of challenges to getting team to really form, focus, and finish! I've seen companies constantly move developers in and out of teams like musical chairs. I've seen product managers bend to the whim of sales winds and drive their teams nuts with constant changes or lack of clarity or depth in requirements. Change happens, but keeping the team focused on the "why" and solving that problem will result in much faster delivery of true customer impact.
  • Lack of customer empathy which causes a lack of urgency - I have seen a lot of teams (especially development), not really feel connected to the customer or to challenges of support, etc. As a result, they lose that drive to fix an urgent issue, simply because they don't know the challenges it causes. There are a couple of quick fixes. Ask your product manager to truly be the voice of the customer, share the data, share the stats, record a customer interview about an issue and play it back for the team. I've heard of other companies asking folks in product development to spend an hour a month listening to support calls, etc. As a product manager myself, I typically use the release or sprint boundary to share the "why" and get the team on board with the work in front of them. Don't forget to follow-up with the team afterwards. Nothing improves morale more than hearing the words of a thankful customer or see a graph of support volume dropping off after a fix!
  • Poor Team Composition - Although this one is listed last, it is by far the most important. In my career there have been several instances where someone on the team just didn't fit in or get along well with the team. In one instance, we had a developer who was super smart, but very loud and it was his way or the highway. Eventually management wised up and he took the highway. In another team, we had a experienced team member, but he was always so negative. It took so much time and energy from me to constantly keep him engaged and not drag down the whole team. Thinking about who should be on a team and what they bring is a critical success factor for the team and for their ability to deliver results quickly.

Thoughts? Did I miss something?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Startup and Development Process - New Tips!

Blog Post #2 Revisited - The Startup and Development Process
As a company grows from 10 people to 50 and then to 200, processes have to adapt and complexity grows. The reality is that product managers can get sucked into the whirlwind of trying and figuring out the best development process. Should you be agile? What about this form of agile or that form of agile, sprint lengths, etc. It's very easy to get sucked into this whirlwind of decision making at the expense of other duties.

The Problem
As a company grows rapidly, job responsibilities start to shift to newly hired specialists. Where once you were part project manager, part developer, part QA are now in your natural state as the roles get filled in with other "experts". The challenge comes from the fact that expectations and responsibility change at different paces, thus resulting in the need for process to overcome confusion. As a product manager who sits in the middle of many processes and departments (marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.) you often have to fill in the gaps cause by the separation.

Companies really struggle at this stage in their development as the folks that have been there since the beginning often times don't agree that there is a problem or struggle with all the change and sometimes see very little benefit (or even some slow downs).

  • Remember that process serves a purpose - Think about the goal you want to accomplish and make that the center of your discussion. Once you get to shared vision regarding your goal, then the discussion can shift into the best way to achieve that goal. 
  • It's about people and not process - Just because you have a process hammer, doesn't mean that everything is a process nail :). Don't forget the people element in changing your process. Impacts to morale can be real! Celebrate the wins and acknowledge the learnings. Be inclusive with the change! 
  • Slow and steady wins the race - Change in how things are done can be jarring and there is always that urge to go faster! Take one change at a time and realize that your team is going through an adjustment period. Take note of what is working and what isn't and adjust accordingly. The key to being slow and steady is to ensure that you set and agree upon expectations ahead of time. Happiness is the difference between expectations and reality.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where I have been?

So it has been a year since I last posted something on this blog and during this year a lot has changed in my professional life. Let's see I started a job, almost left that job, been promoted, taken on new projects and have been managing a small team. There are times when I reflect back and feel regret, times when I wished I would have zigged rather than zagged.

In all of this, I have learned some things I'd like to share:
  1. Believe in yourself. If you don't no one will believe that you are capable of great things
  2. You can't get caught up in items beyond your control, you have to be honest and polite to everyone. 
  3. When you see an opportunity to learn, run to it, don't walk. Embrace learning.
  4. Reflect - Take a moment every day, every week whatever to just reflect. Jot down a note of what went well and what could have gone better.
  5. Giving is better than receiving - Always look to help others grow. It is through their growth that you will grow.
  6. Always seek feedback - It will help you learn (See #3)
Thanks for reading. Feedback? Are there any lessons you have learned lately that you would like to share?