Jiff Slater
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30 Jul 2021
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My principles of product management
4 March 2020

[Draft post]

Principles of product managemnet

I’ve been in product management for a while and over the course of the past 8 years I’ve learned a lot about the difficulties that aren’t apparent in the popular posts promoting product management as a career choice.

– that the ability to connect with other humans is under-rated…
– that the development team’s well-being is just as important as your own well-being…
– and, that most customers give you bad, and non-actionable feedback…

So from these realisations and my experience, here are my 5 principles of product management.

1) Focus on the customer problem, not the solution.
Too often I see my peers around getting enthralled by some solution that seems to address every customer need. My first question to these budding PMs is: have you defined the customer problem? The second is how to did you define this? More often than not, the series of answers is: Yes, and Gut Feel.

While I do champion gut feel for making some difficult decisions I don’t think it should be ascribed to critical decisions. Rather, focusing on customer data and customer feedback is the reality when deciding on the solution and then moving onto the solution.

2) A/B testing is validation not truth.
Often I find that junior Product Managers want to focus on testing, testing, testing. From experience, the more important portion is crafting a meaningful hypothesis to test rather than getting a metric to be greater than another.

More often than not, if an experiment becomes wins by a wide margin – something is not right. Give credit to the organisation you joined – most of the low hanging fruit has already been eaten. If you have a huge win, it’s highly probably that it’s a fluke. You measured wrong, your hypothesis doesn’t actually address the customer problem, or it was a seasonal occurrence. I encourage you to take a deep look at the data across multiple facets and see if that huge win (which, by the way gets you plenty of kudos) is actually going to improve your product.

3) Failure is not optional.
As a product manager, you should be constantly questioning your own opinions and deductions on how the world works. Your experience, although great (or limited), doesn’t necessarily match how your customers perform. The only way to craft a winning path is to avoid the obstacles along the way and that means making mistakes — fast — and changing direction quickly.

4) You are the blocker
I’ve found that often the PM is the blocker to progress. Why? Because they don’t communicate their vision well enough. Tell the devs exactly what you want — and what you don’t. Work with them to a great compromise. Coordinate with design on your thoughts — and don’t rely on them to eventually iterate into what you want. Check your pulse with user research and quickly incorporate their feedback. Communicate with other product managers what you plan to do so they can adjust as required.

5) Micro pivots are as effective as major movement
Often you’ll instrument something that shows one of your earlier convictions was wrong or even dead wrong. It’s OK to make a small change that fixes that without changing your main product. Not everything needs to be a huge change with tens of other teams involved. Make a judgement call and commit to the changes that you think are necessary to improve the product and be prepared to turn off that feature flag if it doesn’t work and commit it if it does.

These are just a few of the principles that help to guide me when developing a product. Disagree? Agree? Please head over to me on Twitter @plktio or email, see my contact info, and let me know what you think. I’ll publish the best comments on my blog next week!