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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gentle Reminder Product Managers: Mind Your Network!

Not sure what's going on, but I've been pinged regularly in the last couple of weeks by folks either looking to fill PM positions or PMs looking for their next challenge. There's a single word that leaps to mind during all these conversations: network. For such a self-evident message, I'm fascinated at how few people actively manage their professional network. Here's the thing: You can't create a network in short order when you need it. It's like a hardwood tree -- you have to plant it, care for it and let it grow slowly if you expect it to be strong.

This message is particularly relevant to folks who have "perm" positions (as opposed to those of use chasing down business for our services business). It's easy to get complacent and wonder why you would try to meet people on LinkedIn when you see essentially the same faces every day. I am certainly guilty of not leveraging social media to enhance my network when I was employed. I'd like to think that I've made up for lost time, but the inescapable fact is that my network would be even bigger if I'd been dedicated the time and effort to it that it deserves. On multiple occasions, I've heard from long-time employees who are surprised to find themselves looking for a job and realizing that they had been "asleep" for years with respect to the professional network. Don't be one of these people!

If you're not sure what to do to create, groom and retain your professional network, have a look at one of my previous posts. In this post, I would suggest the following to help you grow your network through social media.
  • Consider starting a blog. The more specialized the better. Try to write a one-page post every month (that's probably the minimum you need to create a "fan base"). There are tons of free platforms (like Blogger).
  • Start connecting with folks on LinkedIn. I'm not talking about building a network of farmers, perfume salespeople and rocket scientists. I'm talking about finding other professionals working on similar topics or in similar companies and sending them a request to connect. If they are hesitant because they don't know you, simply say "I find it valuable to network with people who have professional interests similar to mine."
  • Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and participate. Like interesting posts and every once in a while share something you've stumbled across.
  • Consider using Twitter. Tweet interesting tidbits related to your work a couple of times a day. With tools like TweetDeck, you can even schedule Tweets weeks in advance.
  • Use all your social networking channels to promote your blog (just point people to new posts)
  • Set up Google Alerts for topics that are relevant to your work. I get TONS of great information delivered daily to a dedicated e-mail folder. These alerts are the source of most of my posts on social media.
I hope this post encourages you to be more diligent about growing and maintaining your professional network. A tiny bit of effort now can make all the difference in the world when you need it.

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BTW, if you're looking for a PM position or trying to hire a PM and having a tough time, feel free to hit me up. I've got a lot of unconnected people in my network lately!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The "New PM" Test

As a product management consultant, I've spent a fair amount of time trying to get myself up to speed on what an organization's goals and plans are, not to mention understanding what their products do and how they build them. When teaching or consulting on product manager, I encourage individuals and organizations to document their offerings and intent in a way that a new person to the team could get a nice overview in half a day. It's what I call the "New PM Test". In my experience, a new person joining the team exposes all kinds of organizational "weaknesses" in terms of sufficiently documenting their offerings and practices. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Create a strategy document with a 10 page/slide summary that explains where you are, where you want to go and how you'll measure success. You should document insights about the markets you serve and alternatives available to your customers, especially competitors. It's also important to give some insight into financial measures.
  • You should have a functional description of your product, including whom it serves, what it does and what the key moving pieces are (marketecture). It should describe important stakeholders, including the people who buy and those who use it (who, in the B2B space, are often different). This document isn't a user manual; it doesn't have to describe every feature and function, just the most important ones. A few screenshots can really help the reader picture how your product works.
  • For complex products, you should have internal training available. Sometimes you can leverage training that's been developed for customers or sales people. New people in your organization should take the training as quickly as possible so they deepen their understanding of your products function, strengths and weaknesses. Too often we "hit the beach" at a new job and put of these seemingly time-consuming activities.
  • You should have a release plan document (word processing or presentation) that describes the planned scope, resources involved and the schedule. It should identify key roles and provide their contact information. I'm not talking about a huge Project file here; I'm recommending a document that in less than 15 pages provides someone like a new PM a solid overview of the current release.
  • You should create and maintain a SWOT analysis of your product. It helps keep you honest about areas for improvement and can remind you to invest in the opportunities you've identified. SWOTs for your strongest competitors can also be invaluable.
If you already have these artifacts and a functioning practice for keeping them current, congratulations! If not, get busy. A practice I've used successfully in the past is to put new people in charge of updating the material and finding gaps in "coverage" (information that would help them ascend the learning curve quickly and get productive).

Please visit my site for more information on my product management consulting and training offerings (including an online course with certification).