I’m only a year and a half into parenthood, but I can already tell you it’s one of the most challenging roles I have ever assumed. I’m learning how to bring order to chaos every single day, multitask like never before, answer tough questions, and feel comfortable saying ‘no’ – even if it will be met with pouted lips, disappointment or a completely irrational meltdown.
Having served as a product manager for much of my career, I’ve come to realise there’s a lot of overlap between these two roles. Both parents and product managers must approach their jobs proactively and strategically, and they share the ultimate goal of sending their bundles of joy down the best possible path to success.
Everyone has an opinion
In the nine months leading up to the birth of a child, it’s inevitable that family members, friends and even complete strangers will bombard the soon-to-be parents with advice.
Aunt Sue will insist that the baby only drink organic formula, your eco-conscious best friend will guilt trip you into buying cloth diapers, and the random lady in the mall parking lot will rave about the benefits of playing classical music in the nursery.
Ultimately, it’s up to the mother and father to assess their external influences and make informed decisions that start their child’s life off on the right foot.
Product managers face a similar juggling act. Business, design and technology teams all have a stake in the product’s success, and each of these functions may have conflicting agendas and objectives.
It’s the product manager’s job to account for each department’s wants and needs while fiercely protecting the product’s focus. He or she needs to simultaneously gather these groups around a single vision and development road map.
Through the lens of parenthood
After launch day, product management is all about learning and adapting as the product grows and matures. It’s not about having all the answers; it’s about solving problems the best way possible using the resources and information available to you.
Here are three tips to help product managers create better outcomes.
1. Solve the problems you have today
As a 37signals (now Basecamp) essay stated, “People often spend too much time up front trying to solve problems they don’t even have yet.” When resources are thin and speed is everything, you simply cannot afford to work on things that may never be needed.
Good product management relies on careful iteration, so it’s important to shift into the mindset of focusing on today’s known problems and prioritising the rest accordingly.
As a parent, I find myself in similar situations all the time. For example, should I wash sippy cups, do the laundry, or work on finishing the upstairs playroom when I get home from work? Once I realise that nobody’s out of underwear and my 18-month-old daughter is just as happy drawing on the walls downstairs, this decision becomes an easy one to make.
When it comes to product management, there’s no reason to devote valuable time and energy to something you don’t need yet.
2. Just say ‘no’
My daughter is at the age when she wants to get into everything: the spice drawer, the dog food, the fireplace – you name it. It’s my responsibility to set boundaries, tell her ‘no’, and ensure the right structure is in place.
Product management is no different. You create, nurture and support a product throughout its life cycle, and the path is riddled with unforeseen scenarios and bizarre edge cases.
Everybody is going to have an opinion on what you should do, but at the end of the day it’s actually what you choose not to do that might be more pivotal. By learning how to say ‘no’, you will avoid the things that could hamper your product’s chance at success.
3. Know your ‘why’
We aren’t quite there yet, but I know the ‘Why, Mummy?’ phase is just around the corner.
“We’re going to the grocery store.”
“To get food for the week.”
“So we don’t go hungry.”
Every single thing I do will be questioned by my daughter, and even though the answer will often seem obvious, it’s important that she understand the ‘why’ behind my actions and decisions.
As a product manager, you will be questioned thousands of times by people across varying departments. It’s crucial for you to be able to defend and clarify your decisions each and every time you are. When everyone is on the same page and working toward the same ‘why’, great products emerge.
Though I never find myself negotiating with co-workers to finish their lunch, I apply many lessons from parenthood to my professional life every single day. As you work to conquer product management, remember to keep your focus, adapt with changes, and always know your ‘why’. This is the best way to ensure your product is well positioned to develop and thrive.