No matter how long I stared at my computer screen, I couldn’t change the painful truth. My app–the product I put my heart and soul into and built from the ground up–was awful.
It was so hard to let go of my baby and start anew. But as soon as I started to rebuild, I knew it was the right decision. This tough choice and many more like it have come to inform my role as a product manager. You have to make your game-time decisions when you’re in charge, but hopefully my experiences will help prepare you for the road ahead.
Which leads me to my first point…
Don’t fall in Love with Your Product
It feels so natural to hold on and not let go even if the boat is sinking. You’ve invested so much time and effort that it seems unbearable to throw it away and move forward. This scenario is quite typical for startups that operate in new markets where the ecosystem changes so rapidly. This forces you as a product manager to make a bold call and decide whether the product you have built has become obsolete and the time has come to pivot. It is never pleasant, but always essential.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best users for your product are the ones who complain. Personally, criticism makes me improve and makes me want to prove people they are wrong. I always prefer criticism since it is genuine. Positive feedback can make you feel good, but it’s hard to tell if they are being genuine or just being nice. So, instead of being offended, you should be happy that someone cares and listen carefully to their criticism.
Learn to Love Data
Data is your friend. Don’t be afraid of it: confront it, understand it, and learn to love it. Data is your means for making decisions. The more data savvy you are, the more you will become a focal point in important product matters. With data, you can navigate and determine a product’s roadmap more easily and confidently without making assumptions. It’s almost always better to base your decisions on facts, analysis, and historical data–never on assumptions. For example, don’t assume that the user will react positively to a certain UI change. Instead, conduct an analysis, A/B test, or do research to help you make the best decision.
Managing a product life cycle involves many people and teams: QA, design, R&D, and more. All of the above deserve and should get credit for their hard work. As an R&D team leader I’ve always felt that my employees’ success is my success. I was never threatened by it; on the contrary, I did my best to communicate their success out loud so everyone could relate to their achievements. Same goes for product management; I always do my best to point out the people behind the product. Don’t underestimate the power of authentic recognition.
Always aim for creating products bottom up. The best products are created from valid and genuine requirements which are derived from the field. Top notch products are created in a process of iterative development in which software development is broken down to smaller chunks which are released in iterations. This process enables you to evaluate each iteration, and determine what changes are needed to produce a satisfactory end product.
I like to document as much as I can. This always helps me keep track of my progress. It doesn’t matter if it is written on a piece of paper or pushed into Evernote. The key word is reference; reference to designs, research, and conclusions you’ve reached. At installCore we use Atlassian’s confluence as a repository for product specifications. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as too much documentation. Too many times I’ve seen a lack of information and consequently teams are forced to undergo the same procedures again and again. Also, people usually prefer, and relate better, to sketches and drawing than plain text, so try to be as visual as you can when describing your product.
What are your tips for first time product managers?