Beware of the bias in product feedback + Tips to Manage PMs
+ Mental methods to explore problem & solution spaces in product
Hello there, product peep!
In this week’s newsletter, we’ll tackle:
Beware of the bias in product feedback
Tips to manage a team of product managers as a product leader
Mental methods to arrive at innovative product solutions
Beware of bias in product feedback
Product feedback is crucial for a PM. But it's also easy to manipulate.
Customers, sales reps, support => Product Managers receive several requests from all these parties...but seldom without a few teaspoons of personal bias, exaggeration & rhetoric.
The best PMs I've worked with are adept at de-constructing loaded phrases & sentences in an effort to arrive at the base facts.
Scenario A=> Support says: "Everyone is complaining that our search is a pain. We need a fix immediately."
Scenario B=> Sales says: "Prospects are raving about feature X that all our competitors have. We need an ETA on this."
* puts on his anti-bias raybans *
A1=> Define "everyone".
Every single user account? Paying users, loyal users & free trial users? Deflate the claim.
B1 => Define "prospects".
All of them? How many? Are they in our ICP? Did they commit to buy? Was this all in one week or a period of time?
A2=> Expand on "complaining".
Did they file a support ticket? Send an email? Did you talk to them? Can we see the original message? Are they suggesting something or reporting a bug?
B2 => Expand on "raving".
Was this an expert review? An objection during a sales call? A question? An idea/suggestion? How intense were their words?
A3 => "Search is a pain."
It's a pain because it's a functional bug? Or a non-functional issue (e.g. too slow)? Incomplete (not enough facets)? Irrelevant results?
B3 => "Feature X that our competitor has."
Define the feature. What does it solve? Do we have a workaround? Do we have that in the roadmap? How many users are desperate for that feature? Is this a dealbreaker? Why? Do competitors really have it? In what form? All of them?"
A4 => "Need a fix immediately."
Is it a showstopper? Is it something that needs to be fixed or "improved"? If we don't "fix" it, what's the downside? If we do "fix" it, what's the gain? Does "immediately" mean tomorrow or this week? Can we wait longer? Why not?
B4 => "We need an ETA on this."
Do we have a clear commitment to pay? Is this the single feature a prospect is hinged on? Can it be delayed to next quarter? Why not? Should we build "this" feature or propose a better solution to the actual underlying need? If we give the ETA, what will be the outcome? If not, what's the result? What's an acceptable ETA?
No, these questions are not meant to unnecessarily irk the person coming in with them. The feedback door should always remain open.
However, it's essential that PMs properly qualify a matter to ensure they don't prematurely send the team on a wild goose chase.
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How do you manage a team of product managers?
If you’re a product leader looking to get the most out of your product team, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Design a proper onboarding program
Easy? Not really.
To have them hit the ground running, it’s important to give them a 360-degree of the mission, product strategy & company vision.
Many product leaders skimp on this are & then later feel the friction when productivity is slower than what’s desired. In my experience, every time I’ve given a PM ample time in their initial six weeks, they’ve gone ahead to take on senior roles in the company. And every time I’ve done the opposite or delegate this task - that resource bails out in the first 12 months.
The most common mistake here?
Thinking onboarding is a single-session activity.
Onboarding is a journey that lasts months (typically 3). You can't unload the history of a legacy product in 30 minutes. Even if you do, you can’t expect an incoming newcomer to retain all that.
For Product Managers, unpack the following four areas:
Product: the state of the existing product & immediate future plans
Processes: from discovery to documentation to meeting cadences to launch checklists
People: the dev/design team, support teams, cross-functional teams (sales, marketing, legal, customer success), loyal customers, prospects
Positioning: competitive intel, market trends, domain knowledge
Deflate pressure to perform. Get them to ask questions. Get them to shadow you or sales in customer calls.
2. Let them run the details
Work with them to identify problems worth solving. Create a direction and share considerations they should make & questions they should ask before diving in.
But then, get out of their way & let them own the micro-details. Don't curb their creativity.
Course correct when you have to. And guide/mentor them about when the feature is about to ship (e.g. conduct pre-mortems, ask what metrics are they going to track etc.)
3. Make yourself available
Product Management is a lonely role.
PMs need someone to bounce off ideas. Be that sounding board. Touch base with them on a daily or weekly cadence. Listen.
Befriend them. Ask them about their career goals. What motivates them? What inspires them? Find intersections and commonalities with the existing role.
4. Train them to ship value, not fragments
Don't just keep giving them a piecemeal job like “ticket this” or “wireframe that”.
The worst lie you’re telling yourself: “I don’t have time to brief them on this. I might as well do it myself.”
That investment you’re going to put into get them up to speed will pay off big in the long term. In my experience, I always think back and ask “Why didn’t I do this de-brief earlier.”
Train them to go end-to-end. Product Managers are unique in that way - they have to exhibit leadership and tremendous ownership from Day 1.
Let them take an idea, validate it, shape it, build it, plan a GTM, drop it in production & track performance. Your job is to set the guardrails & unblock them.
5. Expand their mental horizons
Show them ideas. Share articles. Buy a competitor tool & ask them to explore it. Lend books. Connect them with advisors and seniors.
Expose them to whatever success might look like.
However, do this in a manner that its’ relevant to them at that point of time.
Overwhelming them with everything that comes across your social feed isn’t the right way to go about it either.
Also, make it very clear whether it’s a mere suggestion, a FYI or something we should dig deeper on. A lot can be lost in translation even in harmless email forwards.
6. Dial up their challenge over time
Treat their journey like a ladder.
Comfortable with surveys & focus groups? Get them on A/B testing.
Got a hang of an auxiliary module? Have them own something from your core system.
They’re vibing with engineering? Get them to lead product townhalls to execs, sales & marketing.
Invest in their incremental growth.
7. Flag their level-up
Let them know what they need to do move up the ladder. Whether it's hitting a KPI, OKR or owning a difficult project, make it clear where the horizon of their current role runs till.
Finally, stay humble.
Remember that sometime early in your career, someone took a chance on you. It's your turn now. Pass it forward.
Q: "How do I create innovative out-of-the-box solutions for my product?"
Whether you opt for frameworks like double-diamond or design thinking, innovative solution design happens in two phases:
begin by exploring the expanse of the problem space.
explore the solution space using your first-principle thinking hat on.
Without going into details of established frameworks, I'll share a few pointers here for each arena:
1) Build user empathy through thoughtful questions
Uncover the jobs-to-be-done by digging deep. What is it they are really trying to solve?
⇒ Shallow analysis: "Influencer X wants a powerful design tool that helps them build professional social media posts."
⇒ Job-to-be-done could be: "Influencer X wants to save money on hiring a professional designer by creating social posts themselves without the need to remember image dimensions of each social channel."
2) Don't "invent" problems that simply don't exist
Idea ⇒ "Wouldn't it be cool to give HR a way to add nice stock photos to their job postings?"
Reality ⇒ HR doesn't have time + all digital visuals need to go through Marketing first.
3) Deliberate on the wording of the problem
The wrong 'frame' can easily lead product & design teams down a rabbit hole.
Instead, consider "reframing" problems to access a different perspective.
Problem ⇒ How can I make the load time of this page faster?
Re-framed ⇒ How can I make the time the user has to wait more pleasant?
Personally, there are 5 techniques that I've seen come in handy when ideating solutions to defined problems:
Noticing a pattern in the problem and applying a concept from another industry.
Another field ⇒ Sell a great printer at a cheap price. Make money over time through cartridges.
Applied to my field ⇒ Give away an amazing video editing tool. Make money on storage & backups.
Flip the problem upside down to reveal different solutions.
Forward-thinking ⇒ How can I become more productive with my time at work?
Inversion ⇒ What are things that make me less productive with my time at work? How can I block those distractions?
3) Working backwards
Instead of building a product vision and then thinking what to build, draft what your launch page should say to impress audiences and work backwards to achieve that wow impact.
Amazon invented the idea of developing the press release for a feature first and then work backwards to see how it could be translated into reality.
Combine two ideas together to make something more powerful.
Idea A ⇒ LucidChart offers a digital canvas.
Idea B ⇒ InvisionApp allows people to collaborative on visual designs.
A+ B ⇒ Create a collaboration-enabled digital canvas (Miro).
5) Assumption culling
Knock down pre-conditions you've self-constructed by challenging them.
Goal ⇒ User wants to post a classifieds ad for a car. Assumption: User must provide an image and all the details of the car.
Challenge ⇒ Why do we need them to enter car details?
Idea ⇒ Can we auto-generate the details of the car by recognizing the car in the image?