Life Is Product Management- Part 1

Introduction

After reading Jon Westenberg’s inspired Medium article titled “Stop Trying To Be Somebody. Make Something. Don’t Just Talk About It,” I gathered one key takeaway:

Be focused on doing great work.

The dedication you put into your work is usually reflected in your professional career and in your life. Titles do not mean anything. I may currently have the title of Product Manager, but in order to keep being a PM and master my craft, I have to constantly evolve and apply my learning. Practice does not create perfection. Only the pursuit of perfection exists, so I am constantly pursuing it.

My goal for writing this series of articles is to give some backstory in to how I broke into Product Management and draw parallels on how product management practices can be used to live a more fulfilling life. I was inspired to write this series after reading Westenberg’s article and listening to the podcast This Is Product Management. Hope you enjoy reading this as I much as I enjoyed writing it.

Part 1: My PM Origins Story- The BevGrip

Strangers reach out to me and ask: “Brian, how do you break into Product Management?” I usually answer with the typical Product Manager (PM) response:

“It depends.”

There are many different ways to get into product management just as there are many ways to cook a recipe of a dish. Everyone has their own method and none of them are necessarily right.

I want to preface by stating that I am still breaking into product management myself and my experience leading up to my career in product management is not typical. Therefore, the following mainly describes my own personal journey.

Roughly a year ago, I found my calling into Product Management when I enrolled in General Assembly’s first Product Management Immersive cohort in San Francisco.

However, my true PM origins begin way before that.

My product management origins story began my last semester in college in 2008 when I decided to take a Product Design course as an elective. This was my radioactive spider bite [Spider-Man reference]. In this class, I was first exposed to the basics of product development, which could have taught and explained agile a lot better. We assembled our own project groups to design one single product over the course of a semester. Considering how none of us were engineers, my team and I wanted to create something we thought would be useful. So like many great minds before us, we brainstormed by thinking about things that either annoyed us or pissed us off and tried to figure out ways to solve them.

After deliberating for days, we decided on an idea I proposed: a disposable coffee sleeve with an elastic grip called the BevGrip! The BevGrip was inspired when I was walking out of Starbucks one day and someone ran into me, causing my drinks to drop out of my hands and spill to the ground. The thought at the time was if I create a coffee sleeve with an elastic band, I could firmly grasp my coffee drinks.

 

 The only image I can find of the BevGrip. These are initial sketches from my notebook

The only image I can find of the BevGrip. These are initial sketches from my notebook

Over the course of a couple months, we created multiple iterations of the BevGrip. We conducted focus groups and user interviews in addition to sending out surveys. I thought BevGrip was a great product with great potential: it was simple, low-tech, and solved a possible need.

Later on, I learned in hindsight that I committed one of the cardinal sins of Product Management- falling in love with your product. The idea was creative and sound, but the solution needed more validation. Through the process of talking to potential users, we discovered the manufacturing costs were too high unless we reached certain economies of scale. Also, you were more likely to burn yourself if the beverage is hot because it wouldn’t be as easy to let go of your cup. Those plastic stoppers that attach to coffee lids were a more sound idea. But hey, you live and learn!

What I Learned From This Experience

Product Managers learn the best from failure, so in each of these articles, I will write down what we call a retrospective, diving into what was learned and how to improve the next time around.

This goes back to the idea that products need to be validated. There are 3 stages of validation that need to met:

1) Problem validation

a. Does this problem exist for other people and NOT just for your self?

2) Solution validation

a. Before building the actual product, find out if your solution is something users can see working for them

b. Draw out your product idea and show potential users your idea

  • Ask if this solution solves the problem you are trying to solve for them

3) Usability validation

a. After building the prototype, can your users pick it up and play with it? Is it too complicated? If so, fix it (iterate) and make it more user friendly

Before I started practicing Product Management, I learned first hand from the BevGrip experience that talking to friends is terrible for product interviews. You want to help make their lives more pleasurable, but your family and friends may not give you honest feedback in order to spare your feelings, completely negating the point of conducting interviews in the first place.

I highly suggest talking to strangers if you can and ask them questions such as:

1) What do you think this product does?

2) What do you like about it?

3) What do you not like about it?

4) If you had a magic wand, what solution would you like to see?

5) Never ask: “Would you buy this?” Offer the product to them. If they buy with cash or credit card, you actually may have a decent product.

In the end, you will discover results. I got results- not the ones I necessarily wanted to hear, but results that dictated whether or not I should move forward with the product or kill it off. And that is the crux of it all…PMs discover using data and research whether they should continue keeping a product alive or not. BevGrip died because after the validating the solution, I discovered that there were better solutions on the market.

The BevGrip anecdote demonstrates one of the core tenets of Lean Startup methodology (Build-Measure-Learn).

Think about how Product Management may be applied in your life

Are you growing at your job? How is your relationship with your significant other? You yourself are a product. Find ways to make your product (you) better.

For your job:

1) [Build]

a. Create something of value to your team or company

i. Examples

1. A tool to save the company money

2. Make a training tool that makes onboarding new employees more efficient

  1. 2) [Measure]

a. See how well your efforts are paying off using specific metrics

3) [Learn]

a. What was useful? Not useful? How can I make it better?

For Your Relationship

1. [Build] Where is my relationship currently like? Talk to your significant other and ask:

  • What do you like about our relationship? What do you not like?
  • What can I do make our relationship even better?
  • Take steps to making it better
  • Allot for time in the week for date nights (cook, go dancing, do activities together that interest both of you

2. [Measure]

  • Have these activities spiced up your relationship?
  • Are you communicating better without any misunderstandings

3. [Learn]

a. See how your efforts have paid off

  • Find out which activities you want to continue doing together and which ones to throw out
  • If your relationship is stagnant, decide if you still want to pursue it or break it off and move on

Thinking like this and applying this mindset to your daily life will get you on the fast track to a product mindset. Hopefully, you will also become a better and happier person in the process.

Please stay tuned to the next article in the series, Life Is Product Management.