Metrics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part Three: The Good (how to measure for outcomes)

In the first part of this three-part series on metrics, we discussed vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are typically raw numbers taken without context, such as page views and app downloads. They don’t correlate directly to customer value. And they don’t provide guidance for what future product changes you should make.

Outcome-oriented metrics, on the other hand, do provide guidance on how to evolve and improve your products over time. Outcome-focused metrics typically do 3 things:

  1. They link actions to results.
  2. They focus on delivering customer value.
  3. They provide insight into the health of your product or business.

Remember the differences between vanity and outcome-based metrics. Vanity metrics might make us feel good, but they don’t help us improve or optimize our business. Outcome-based metrics provide insight into the health of your product.

Where should you start when you’re ready to embrace an outcome-focused approach to measuring success?

Start with your company’s strategy.

When your company has a strong, clear vision, it should serve as your north star and guide you to defining the most important metric. Based on that vision, what is the one metric that matters most to the success of your company and that you can rally your team around?

Let’s look at a great example of leading from strategy with Zappos. Their CEO literally wrote the book on modern customer service. Zappos disrupted online retail sales by focusing on its support department as an opportunity to market and generate revenue rather than as a cost center. Their entire strategy revolves around creating loyalty among its customers using effective KPIs that lead to what they call ‘wow’ moments. And they did this because they found that repeat customers spend more than first-time customers and drive referrals.

sonos

Here’s another example from Sonos, where I worked for nearly twelve years as a product management leader. The Sonos mission is to fill every home with music. We used that as our north star when defining key outcomes. For example, ‘fastest time to music’ was a key outcome by which we would measure the success of a particular feature. The rationale was the faster the music starts playing, the better Sonos is doing its job of filling the home with music.

Ask yourself, what is the key outcome you can focus on and set actionable KPIs against based on your companies strategy?

With your company strategy in hand, I recommend selecting a useful framework for measuring key outcomes and the one I like is Pirate Metrics.

Pirate Metrics Framework

Pirate Metrics were coined by Dave McClure back in 2007. Here’s a link to his presentation where he first describes this framework. He breaks it down into 5 components.

Acquisition – how well are you getting customers to your site or app?

Activation – are your customers having a great ‘first run’ experience?

Retention – how often are your customers coming back?

Referral – are they telling others about your product?

Revenue – are they paying for your service? Are you able to monetize your customers?

Let’s dig deeper into this and come up with some examples to help you better understand pirate metrics.

To better understand how to apply pirate metrics, pretend we’re product managers for lynda.com, an online learning platform that lets you watch videos on how to do everything from learning to knit to learning to code and everything in between.  What are some outcomes that we might care about that could be measured using the pirate metric framework? 

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 7.00.16 AM
  1. For starters, let’s look at acquisition. We don’t necessarily care how many people come to the lynda.com homepage. That’s a vanity metric. What we probably do care about, though, is how many people are signing up for a free trial of the service within a specific time period, say each month.
  2. From there, how can we measure activation and whether or not our customers are having a great first run experience? A good metric, building on the previous one, would be what percentage of the people signing up for a free trial are watching a video from start to finish? If they’re only watching a few seconds of a video and then leaving, you could hypothesize that they’re not having a great first run experience.
  3. To measure retention, we could measure what percentage of those people are coming back to watch another video within the month. This is probably one of the most important metrics product managers care about. Knowing your MAU, or monthly average users might even be your company’s top line metric, which is the case for a company like Facebook.
  4. For measuring referrals, we could measure what % of people are sharing links of videos to their network. Some companies like to measure NPS, also known as the Net Promoter Score. It’s based on asking customers if they would recommend your product to friends or colleagues.  I’ll talk more about this in a few minutes.
  5. The final, and probably most important metric, especially if you work for a SAAS product is measuring how much revenue your customers generate. ARPU, or average revenue per user, is often the top-line metric for SAAS business. How might we measure this? One possibility is to measure the % of people who go from the trial to paying for a monthly subscription, which most companies refer to as their key conversion rate.

Putting outcome-based metrics into practice

Now that you have a framework to help you identify all of the possible types of outcomes you can measure, let’s talk about how to harness this information and put it into practice.

We can boil it down to four key steps:

  1. What is the key outcome based on your company’s vision and strategy? What is the most important thing you can improve upon? Perhaps it’s an increase in your conversation rate.
  2. Form a hypothesis. The important thing to remember is to start small and look for the most meaningful lever that you can pull and focus on that. Don’t change five different things on your landing page and then start measuring your conversation rate. You won’t be able to correlate which of those changes affected your conversion rate. Change only one thing. Your hypothesis could be something like: “If we reduce the price of our product by 10%, we’ll see an increase in our conversation rate of at least 11%.”
  3. Build your experiment. This is where you need to dissect your hypothesis into key components so that you can collect the correct data to validate if your hypothesis is correct or not. Before you build anything, make sure you know what your current state, or baseline metric, is. In this case, make sure you can state what your current conversion rate is. Once you have your experiment ready, set up your analytics to measure the KPI against the current baseline and the goal that you’ve set.
  4. Measure and analyze. Once you’ve got the new data coming in from your experiment, you should be able to quickly analyze if it was a success or not.
  • If it wasn’t, that means your hypothesis was incorrect. Remember that you should not view these moments as failures or a waste of your precious developer resources. This is a learning moment. Failing fast and learning early is key to allowing you to eventually zero in on what works.
  • If the experiment was mildly successful, I encourage you to tweak your hypothesis based on the new data you have.
  • If the experiment was mildly successful, I encourage you to tweak your hypothesis based on the new data you have.

If it was wildly successful, celebrate! And then look for the next lever you can pull to help your business be even more successful.

What I just described with those 4 steps is a framework for continuous learning based on the Lean Startup Methodology.

lean-startup-methodology_diagram
Lean Startup Methodology by Eric Ries

By creating this virtuous loop of building experiments, measuring your KPIs and learning each step of the way, you can quickly and successfully create value for your customers (and your business).

Key takeaways from this 3-part series

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series of articles on the various types of product data that exist, so here’s a quick recap of the key take-aways:

  1. Measure for outcomes, not vanity metrics. Tie actions to results.
  2. Define KPIs based on your company’s strategy and top-line metric.
  3. Experiment with small changes and foster a culture of continuous learning.
  4. Make sure your data is correct. Examine a sample of your data before moving on.
  5. Choose the right type of visualization for the data. From Data to Viz is a great resource for this.

If you found this article (or series) useful, please share it with your network. You might also enjoy this article about how to achive product/market fit.

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Metrics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part Two: The Ugly

In the first part of this three-part series on metrics, we discussed bad metrics (aka vanity metrics). If you’re new to this post, you may want to read the first article in this series on metrics and then hop on back.

Ready or not, let’s dig into ugly data and, by that I mean flawed charts.

The Ugly – Flawed Charts

As often as product managers talk about making data-informed decisions, it’s amazing how often data is presented in ways that are completely misleading or downright wrong.

Many of you may remember the Venn diagram incident from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign a few years ago.

The general point her campaign team was trying to make was true. The majority of American’s support universal background checks including a majority of gun owners. If you think about it, though, the yellow circle should be completely inside of the blue circle because the gun owners referenced here are all Americans. But that’s now how Venn diagrams work! This information should’ve been presented using a different type of chart.

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 8.23.33 PM

In this example on the right, it appears the designer messed up the doughnut chart. As you can see, the green line goes around more than half of the circle, even though the number referenced is 41%.

The chart to the left is bad for several reasons. If you follow the use of colors, you’ll see Iceland, Finland, Portugal and Spain all nicely represented with different colors. And then it shows the UK, Denmark, Australia, Venezuela, and Kenya as being part of the same country. This would’ve worked much better as a simple bar chart!

The lesson here is to make sure you use the right type of visualization for displaying your data and that your chart is correct.

Where to get help with selecting and creating charts

If you’re struggling with deciding which type of chart to use, I highly recommend From Data to Viz.

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 7.52.49 AM
From Data to Viz

Whether you’re new to the world of creating graphs or you’ve been doing this for years, this website is a treasure trove of information about how to present data.  

Based on the type of data you have, such as chronological or numerical, it will guide you through the relevant types of visualizations that are best suited for your particular case. 

Depending on the type of chart you’ve selected, it will also inform you about the pitfalls to avoid.

Another great source of information is this book by Edward Tufte. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is the bible in the industry. I can’t recommend this book enough!

And, if you ever get the chance to attend one of his seminars, it’s well worth it!

Now you now how to avoid some of the biggest mistakes when creating data visualizations. Plus, you’ve got some great resources to get inspiration on the best way to present your data effectively. Being able to communicate data persuasively is a key still all great product managers should have. It will help you manage your stakeholders, influence product decisions and build support for your work. Wield this power wisely, grasshopper!

The next and final post of this series will culminute with how to use data for outcome-based product teams. Don’t miss it. Sign up to stay informed when it comes out.

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Metrics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part One: The Bad

Everybody knows metrics are important for product managers. The key is using the right data to inform and influence your product decisions.

There are 3 types of data: The good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly. In this three-part series, I’ll explain each one of these, culminating in how to measure for outcomes (aka, The Good).

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Let’s start off with the bad — Vanity Metrics

What are vanity metrics? They’re a way of measuring something without context, they are easily manipulated, and they do not lead to actions you can take to grow your business.  Examples of vanity metrics include app downloads, page views, time spent on a website, twitter followers, facebook likes, etc.

The number of times your app has been downloaded does not provide a direct correlation to how successful your business is. If a million people have downloaded it, but only 1/10th are using it, that’s not good. Same with page views. Just because your website has lots of traffic does not mean you have a successful business.

Companies must properly measure the right data so that they can get a handle on the true health of their business.

If you focus primarily on vanity metrics, you can get a false sense of success by focusing on metrics that might make you feel good, but don’t actually tell you how well your business is doing. This is an especially lesson for start-ups, which seem tempted to use vanity metrics because they haven’t quite figured out which metrics actually matter.

Let’s take a look at some examples of vanity metrics…

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 8.17.39 PM

On this chart, it looks like something really great happened on August 14th. Wow, web traffic really spiked that day! The problem that many people make is attributing that solitary spike to an action they took directly preceding it. Multiple people at their company may have done something that resulted in the spike. There could even be external events that caused the spike. The key takeaway here is if this spike didn’t lead to the company’s bottom line by generating revenue, it’s useless.

Speaking of useless, this entire page is useless!

google-analytics

Many product managers use Google Analytics. But if you use their default dashboard, pictured here, there’s nothing you can take action on based on these metrics! The thing to remember is that you should customize your dashboard to focus on the metrics that measure how well your product is achieving key outcomes. Data points such as the number of users, page views, and average session duration don’t help you measure what’s working. And you can’t improve what you’re not effectively measuring.

If you are new to the world of product management and concerned that you don’t know good data from bad data, consider getting product coaching. For more info, click here.

Join me next time for the second post in this series where I’ll discuss “The Ugly” metrics. As often as product managers talk about making data-informed decisions, it’s amazing to me how often data is presented in ways that are completely misleading or downright wrong. I’ll help you avoid some classic mistakes. You won’t want to miss it!

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Top 10 Frightfully Scary Product Manager Nightmares

Halloween is just around the corner. I love watching scary movies this time of year, especially the original Halloween movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis. There are so many scary movies to choose from, I usually watch one almost every night during October… which always leads to nightmares. This got me thinking… what are the top nightmares product managers have? What keeps you up at night?!?

#10 – Having dinner with your extended family and suffering through questions about “what exactly do you do”?


#9 – Coming back from a rare lunch with a co-worker only to find someone from your support team has convinced your dev team to squeeze this bug fix into the sprint even though they’re already behind schedule on everything else they thought they would get to.


#8 – Interviewing a UX design candidate who insists the onboarding experience for your app is outdated and would be the first thing she would fix if hired.


#7 – Finding out via a post on Slack that the Sales team promised your biggest client their pet feature will ship in the next release.


#6 – Sitting in a quarterly planning session to discuss OKRs while people keep suggesting tasks as KRs.


#5 – Finding a typo on your landing page … 12 hours after deploying to production.


#4 – Being asked to put together a roadmap presentation for your company’s board meeting … and the CEO needs it in 4 hours.


#3 – Getting a rejection notification from the app store 5 days after you submitted it for approval … and your big launch is happening tomorrow.


#2 – Writing a strategic plan for the future of your product … while sitting in coach on a 5-hour flight and the person in front of you has reclined their seat ALL.THE.WAY.BACK … and your laptop battery dies before you saved your document.


#1 – Someone from Customer Success just created a new Slack channel called “Feature Requests” and invited the entire company to it. And your boss thinks it’s a great idea and asks you to keep track of everything that’s requested.

What are some of your scary product manager stories? What spooks you the most? Share in the comments below.

Also, please follow me on Instagram. I share product management posts almost daily and you don’t want to miss out! Click here to follow me

Launch Your Career as a Product Manager

If you want to become a product manager, I encourage you to treat your career just like you would a product. Start thinking (and acting!) like a product manager by continuously assessing, improving and measuring all of the different aspects of getting a job.

Research the roles

Research the different types of product manager roles and decide which one is more appealing to you. While many PM positions are ‘generalists’, many companies have roles for technical product management. You can be a data product manager if you love numbers, you can also be a Platform Product Manager if you like creating systems. The best way to get a sense of how these roles differ is to browse Linked In and binge-read job descriptions. 

Create a list of target companies

Similar to thinking about the kind of PM role best suits you, you should also do some soul-searching about the type of company you would like to work for. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of company do you want to work for?
  • Do you want to work for a consumer product or are you more interested in B2B products? Or do you think you might enjoy working on something physical, such as a consumer electronic product?
  • Do you prefer working in a small company or a large one?
  • Do you like the risk and excitement of a start-up or would you prefer a more established larger company that can offer career growth?
  • What location would you prefer to live in?

Think about all of these different types of variables to come up with a list of target companies. 

Assess your PM skills

Using a product management capabilities framework, score your current performance honestly in each area. Are you weak in some areas and overperforming in others? Use this information to seek out opportunities that will not only play to your strengths but also help you identify the knowledge and skills you need to sharpen to reach your ultimate goal.

Neil Cabage

This detailed product team competency framework by Neil Cabage is a great one to use because it spreads capabilities across a strategic and tactical axis. As a future product manager, you want to ensure that you are capable of performing across the full spectrum.

Market research

Another high-value thing you can do is talk to current product managers. Don’t do it hoping to get a job at their company, though, because you will burn bridges. Treat these purely as informational interviews. The goal is to learn more about what it’s like for them to work as a product manager in an effort to determine if you are a good fit for this type of career.

Here’s a great question to ask a product manager during an informational interview: “If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself to better prepare for a job in product management?”

Invest in your resume… it’s your primary deliverable

Because your resume is the one thing that a recruiter or hiring manager will expect of you, it better be perfect. Your resume has less than 2 seconds to make an impression. Think about that. In less than 2 seconds, a recruiter will scan your resume and decide if you are worth considering or not. Many companies use an ATS system that automatically scans and rejects or approves candidates based on how good their resume is. Don’t put this off until the last minute because creating a good resume takes time. Start early so that you are ready when it’s time to start applying for jobs.

For more tips on how to create the best resume for a product manager job, check out these articles:

Practice interviewing

Interviewing is like going to the dentist. No one enjoys it but it’s a necessity. Find someone you can practice with. And since you’re managing your career like a product, think about who your ‘end users’ are: you’ll be dealing with recruiters and hiring managers initially. If you have an onsite interview, you’ll probably deal with stakeholders such as engineers and designers. Consider who those people are, what their needs are, what pain points they may have and formulate a plan for how you can address them successfully when you’re being interviewed.

Beta test the job

By beta testing, I mean do something that allows you to test product management out before taking a full-fledged job. Lots of people aspire to be product managers, but not everyone has the skills and traits needed to do the job. One way to test out product management as a career is to get an internship with a product management organization. Another great option is to participate in a hackathon in your area. Join a team or participate by yourself and create something from scratch in a short period of time.

If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it

Finally, keep track of your efforts. Create a simple spreadsheet that tracks the jobs you’ve applied to as well as the jobs you haven’t applied to, but might. Include dates for when you submitted your application so that you can follow up in a timely fashion.

If you do an interview with a company and get rejected, use that as a learning opportunity. Find out why you didn’t advance in the interviewing process so that you can fine-tune your approach.

I love helping people who love creating products! With more than twenty years of experience in product management, I have interviewed and hired hundreds of people so I know what works (and what doesn’t). If you’d like to find out how to achieve your career goals in product management, get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

5-day Resume Challenge: How to make time to work on your resume when you’re too busy

Have you been contacted by a recruiter about a position even though you’re not actively looking for a new job? Being asked for a resume when you’ve been in the same position for a couple of years can make you feel like running in the other direction. The thought of updating your resume can be especially daunting if you’ve been in the same position for several years.

Or perhaps you want to start a new job search, but are so busy with work and family life and you just don’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to even begin. Not to worry! I’ve created a 5 day challenge that will help you manage your time and create your resume quickly and easily so that you can be prepared for new opportunities when they arise.

Day One Challenge – Schedule and Get Inspired

If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. Today’s challenge is the easiest. First, you’re going to block out 30 minutes every day for the next 5 days. It’s ideal if you can find the same time every day so that it’s even more consistent. If your schedule is too busy, consider waking up half an hour earlier and doing this work in the morning before the chaos of the day ensues.

Bottom line: Be sure to put a recurring 30-minute appointment on your calendar so that you don’t procrastinate or get overbooked by other commitments.

Day Two Challenge – Create a Draft

I recommend that you start by writing on a blank document. This allows you to document important content and liberates you from the constraints of a resume format. Don’t worry about spelling and grammar, either. That will be tomorrow’s exercise!

As quickly as you can, remember you’re only doing this for 30 minutes max, write down as many details of your current and/or past jobs as you possibly can.

Day Three Challenge – Edit the Draft

Now is the time to review what you wrote and correct any grammatical or spelling mistakes. According to CareerBuilder, recruiters automatically dismiss 58% of applicants due to typos.

Spend 30 minutes today reviewing your first draft and editing it with a focus on fixing typos as well as rewriting any sentences that start with passive verbs such as “responsible for…” or “managed the…” with more powerful action verbs.

Need inspiration? Here’s a list of 185 action verbs you can use to better showcase your accomplishments.

Day Four Challenge – Apply Some Polish

Today is the day you bring it all together! After this 30-minute session is over, you will have a final draft of your resume. You are going to feel like a champ once this is done!

First, find a resume template that is simple and clean. If you use Google Docs, you can download one from there. While you could easily spend hours looking at different resume templates, the key is to move through this step quickly.

Next, it’s time to apply the template to your draft document. While you’re at it, make adjustments to the content of your resume to make it more easily readable by doing the following:

  • Format the page so that you have at least .5″ margins all around and set the line spacing to single. The key is for the document to be easily legible by anyone who reviews it.
  • Use the same font for the entire document. You can use a second font for section headers, but limiting your resume to one font helps with visual consistency.
  • Add section headers in bold to separate areas such as experience and education.
  • Highlight key accomplishments with bullet points.

Day Five Challenge – Send to a Friend

According to a study conducted by Ladder, your resume only has 7.4 seconds to make an impression! Don’t blow your chances by having grammatical and spelling mistakes in your resume. Once you’ve finished your resume, send it to one or two people you trust to review it. Don’t submit it to any prospective employers before this final step!

After you have incorporated any final feedback from your Day Five review, you’re ready to send your spiffy new resume to recruiters and hiring managers.

Pro-tip: Tailor your resume to the specific job. If you’re applying to multiple jobs, that likely means having several versions of your resume. Yes, this will take more time but by making minor tweaks to your resume, you can customize it based on the job posting to improve your odds of bubbling up to the top of the resume pile the hiring manager is reviewing. For example, if the job posting states that the ideal candidate will “Possess strong decision making and prioritization skills”, make sure you include examples in your resume about frameworks you use for prioritizing what features to build.

Want more resume tips to increase your odds of landing your ideal product manager job? Check out these articles:

Need more help? Try my Resume Revamp service. As an experienced product management leader for more than 20 years, I’ll treat your resume like a product. I can help you make the right first impression by providing you with feedback on everything from the look and feel to the content of your resume. Because I know the types of skills and traits PM hiring managers are looking for, I will provide suggestions on keywords you should incorporate. The ultimate outcome of this resume review is to help you land your dream job. Get more info here.

Everything You Need to Know about Product Discovery – Part Four: Prototyping, Testing and Validating

Last week I talked about ideating, which is the third phase in the product discovery process and is used to rapidly identify several solutions that would allow you to test your hypotheses.

Once you’ve landed on your one idea that you think will test your hypotheses, you’re ready to prototype and test.

The big question you must ask yourself before prototyping

Based on your hypothesis, what is the simplest, quickest prototype you can create to validate your idea?

It could be as simple as a sketch on a piece of paper. It might be a black and white digital image you can show customers on their phone. It could be a low-fidelity prototype using a tool such as Balsamiq or Proto.io.

Example of hand-drawn wireframe from Wikicommons

A wireframe is one of the most basic artifacts you can create for testing your idea. It can be done by hand or with an app on your computer. Wireframes lack visual design elements and typically only contain the most basic elements needed in order for a user to interact with it. And when I say interact, I just mean figuratively. Wireframes are not clickable.

I love Balsamiq for its ease of use and library of standard OS assets. Balsamiq is a rapid, low-fidelity wireframing tool that reproduces the experience of sketching on a notepad or whiteboard but using a computer.

Regardless of how you create your prototype, it should be something you can literally throw out when you’re done testing it. In other words, it should not be something written in code that could be tweaked over time. This prevents teams from becoming too attached to their ideas. A big mistake teams make is continuing to invest in something once it’s created even if it didn’t test well (or, even worse, wasn’t tested at all)!

Remember our example in the previous articles based on Domino’s Pizza? In that example, our imaginary product manager formulated an assumption that customers are not completing orders via the mobile app because they want to know if there are any specials and they think the best way to find out about specials is by talking to a Domino’s employee.

Based on this assumption, you may develop a hypothesis such as “If a user launches the app and the first screen she sees is a list of today’s specials, she will be more likely to complete her order using the mobile app.”

From there, you could create a and load it on an iPhone or build a prototype, such as the one here, that you could quickly show to several customers to validate the solution.

You or someone on your team should be able to create a prototype in less than a day. If they’re taking longer than that, they are likely getting bogged down in the details that can be figured out later.

Validating the prototype

Validating your prototype is also something you should be able to do in a day. Find a few target users and show them your prototype. Better yet, have them hold it and attempt to use it. Collect feedback on your prototype, from usability issues to whether or not the prototype helps them do their job easier. Find out what’s working and what’s not working and then go back to the drawing board to refine your hypothesis until you’ve reached the desired outcome. You can do this by tweaking the original prototype or you can take one of the other solutions from your ideation phase and mock that up for testing.

As part of the product discovery process, you should be working towards the smallest, shippable “thing” that achieves the desired outcome.

Once you’ve successfully validated your solution, create a small backlog, not of features, but of the other hypotheses you’d like to explore that you uncovered during the earlier phases of the product discovery process.

Developing an experimental mindset that focuses on delivering outcomes and not features is the key to having the most impact on making your customers happy (as well as growing your company’s business).

Do you have a favorite tool for prototyping? If so, join the conversation below!

Have you tried using the discovery process before? Have questions about how to do this? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

Everything You Need to Know about Product Discovery – Part Three: Ideation in 8 Steps

In my previous post, I talked about how to develop a hypothesis, part of the product discovery process. Remember, before moving on to the next step, you should prioritize your list of hypotheses so that you can focus on the most important one. Once you’ve determined the hypothesis you think could have the biggest impact, it’s time for the next phase — ideation.

The goal of ideation is to quickly identify a number of solutions that will allow you to test your hypothesis. Here’s what you need in order to ideate like a pro.

But first, make sure you’re including the right people to generate the best set of ideas.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Teamwork makes the dream work

Have your engineers or marketing peers ever complained that they don’t get to come up with ideas for what to build? If so, this is the perfect time to get them involved. Actually, you should include them in the previous phases, too, but that is often not feasible for development teams. Teresa Torres wrote a great article about why engineers should participate in the discovery process and it’s a good read.

Step-by-step rapid ideation

Okay, now we’re ready to start ideating. Remember the goal is to identify a number of feasible solutions that will allow you to test your hypotheses as quickly as possible.

  1. Schedule a half-day workshop and invite a member from each of the functions that are involved in bringing your product to market (marketing, design, engineering, customer support are good starting points).
  2. Break out and work individually at this point to generate the most ideas. “But wait,” you might be asking, “didn’t you say this is a team activity?” Yes, just trust me on this.
  3. Give everyone some post-its and have them start writing or sketching ideas, one per post-it note.
  4. Limit the amount of time to this activity to a short period like 10 minutes.
  5. Have everyone cluster their post-its on a whiteboard. There will inevitably be some duplication and overlap… this is good. Great minds think alike!
  6. Give everyone colored dots (no more than 3) and have them vote on which idea resonates based on the likelihood for proving your hypothesis.
  7. Select the idea with the most dots. If there is a tie, this is where you can use your product management experience, product data and a smidge of instincts to select the best idea.
  8. Make a list of all the ideas, especially the top ones so that you can come back to them later.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

You’re now ready to prototype based on that top idea. I’ll wrap up this blog series with the final phase of product discovery — prototyping and testing!

Have you tried using the discovery process before? Have questions about how to do this? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

Everything You Need to Know about Product Discovery – Part Two: Hypothesize

Last week, I talked about empathizing with your users and customers. If you’ve just stumbled onto this article, you may want to read the first article in this four-part series on product discovery. It’s the most important step in this process and one that a lot of product teams overlook.

You should talk to your customers and users at least once a week. This shouldn’t be a one-time activity, but a continuous process.

In this second of my four-part series on product discovery, I’ll review the importance of creating a customer journey map followed by developing your hypotheses.

How to create a customer journey map

If you read the first article in this series, you should recall that a key activity after conducting your interviews is to do a brain-dump of everything you observed into some type of repository (Google Sheets, Trello, etc). Now you’re ready to move onto the really fun work of creating a customer journey map.

There are many types of customer journey maps. Many companies create customer journey maps to identify all the touchpoints a customer has with their product and business. There are also experience maps which are used to show the emotions and thoughts a customer typically has as they use a product or perform a certain task.

For product discovery, I recommend creating a customer journey map based on a ‘day in the life’ of your customer. This type of journey map enables you to tell the story of your customers’ experience over a period of time. If you did your customer interview homework, you should have several Day in the Life interviews already conducted.

In terms of tools, I prefer keeping things simple and use Post-It notes, but you could also do this exercise with a flowchart app such as Lucidchart, Vizio or OmniGraffle. I’ve also seen design agencies create the most beautiful customer journey maps using fancy apps such as Illustrator. I encourage you to keep the effort needed to create your customer journey map as minimal as possible. You should be able to do a thorough customer journey map in less than half a day. If you get bogged down using apps that require a lot of time, you risk losing steam during a very important aspect of the product discovery process.

Since I prefer using Post-It notes, I’ll refer to these throughout my example. Start by drawing a line across a whiteboard that is broken down into some type of time component (i.e. “start of the workday, late morning, after lunch” or you can use hourly time durations). Referring back to your notes, write the first activity your customers tend to do. For example, let’s imagine you’re a product manager for Domino’s. Based on your customer interviews, you noticed that the first thing customers do is talk to their family members/roommates to see what kind of pizza everyone wants for dinner. In this case, you would write “Decide on the type of pizza to order” on a Post-It and put it on the wall under 6 p.m. Go through all the customer interview notes and jot down all of their activities, one per Post-It note and stick them on the wall below the corresponding time of day.

Although this may sound like a lot of work, you can get through it quickly, especially if you have a team that can help you. In fact, I highly recommend you turn this into a team exercise so that everyone puts themselves in the customers’ shoes.

Here’s an example of a simplified pizza ordering customer journey map by Abby Covert that shows the process for ordering pizza in conjunction with different locations.

Depending on the number of target customers or personas you have (i.e. users and buyers), you may need to create multiple versions of your customer journey map. Once you’ve completed this exercise, capture it for future reference.

Assumptions and Hypotheses

As you step back and look at the big picture you’ve just created, you should be able to get a sense of your customers’ needs and pain points. If you haven’t already done so, bring in your team members and tell them the narrative about a Day in the Life of your customer based on the journey map. Ask everyone to identify when and where the customers experience problems or moments of joy.

It should flow naturally from your conversation about how your company could make it easier for the customer to perform a specific task. You’ll likely hear people say things like “What if we…”, “Wouldn’t it be great if they could…”, “I think the customer could do this faster if we…” If your team is struggling to come up with ideas, prompt them by asking “How might we help our customers …” This is the beginning of the hypothesis phase.

A hypothesis is an assumption, an idea that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true. A hypothesis is usually tentative; it’s an assumption or suggestion made strictly for the objective of being tested.

Merriam-Webster Dictioinary
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does a hypothesis look like in the context of product discovery? Let’s continue to use Domino’s Pizza as our example. You’ve talked to several customers and realize that many are browsing the menu with the Domino’s app, but are not completing their order with the app and instead place an order by phone. You might formulate an assumption that they want to know if there are any specials they can take advantage of and they think the best way to find out about specials is by talking to a Domino’s employee. Maybe customers think the app has no way of knowing what the local specials are. As a Domino’s product manager, you know that if you can get more people to complete their orders using the app, you can reduce the operating expenses associated with each store. You may form a hypothesis such as “If the app made it easier to see what specials and coupons are available, more people would place an order within the app (and the store will save money by not having to answer as many phone calls).” This is an example where it would be useful to marry the qualitative research you did with your customer interviews with the qualitative data you have from your app.

Before moving on to the next step, prioritize your list of hypotheses so you can focus on the most important one. Once you’ve determined the hypotheses that might have the biggest impact, it’s time for step 3, ideation!

Stay tuned for next week when I discuss the ideation phase where you get to think about solving your customers’ needs with your product.

Have you tried using the discovery process before? Have questions about how to do this? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

Everything You Need to Know About Product Discovery: Part One

Product discovery is my favorite product management activity! I love every aspect of it and think it’s the best process for figuring out the right products and features to build. If you’re not familiar with product discovery, or simply looking for inspiration to up your own discovery game, this 4-part series is for you. For the next four weeks, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the various phases of product discovery. Let’s dive in, shall we?!?

Injecting the practice of product discovery into a company’s DNA builds more successful companies, according to Steve Blank, known as the father of the lean startup movement.

Here’s a diagram that shows each phase of product discovery, starting with empathy.

Product Discovery Process by Joni Hoadley

The first step in effective product discovery is empathizing with your customers.

This is the most important step in the product discovery process and one that a lot of product teams overlook. All too often founders and product managers think that they represent their customers. To create the “right” product (one that achieves Product/Market Fit), you have to understand the needs of your customers. It’s all about empathy.

To empathize with your customers, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Get to know them and understand what their challenges and joys are by talking to them.

Getting started with customer interviews

It may seem daunting as you contemplate everything that goes into setting up and conducting customer interviews. Once you’ve done it the first time, though, you’ll see how easy it is and how effective those interview sessions can be.

  1. Start by building a list of 25-50 customers based on your target. If possible, include at least ⅓ prospective customers so that you can learn what’s preventing them from using your product. Keep in mind that you may have two distinct types of customers, especially if you work for a B2B company: people who purchase your product as well as the obvious: people who use your product.
  2. Target conducting 5 interviews each week based on this initial list. As you talk to people, trends will start to emerge. You can then circle back to people you’ve interviewed previously for follow-up interviews or you can continue to build a list of customers you can schedule for future weeks.
  3. Decide on how you will meet with your customers. If you can visit them in person, that’s the best way. Thankfully, it’s easy to also interview users via video chat tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts.
  4. Repeat the process each month by interviewing approximately 5 customers each week.

How to conduct discovery interviews with your customers

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Before you meet with your customers, create a list of questions that you will ask each one. It’s important to do this so that you can establish a solid baseline for understanding what’s working for them today and what their problems are. If you need advice for interviewing your customers, check out my post on how to use screeners, surveys, and interviews to understand your customers. Identifying patterns and trends in these problems is how you will succeed in step two of the product discovery process (hypothesize). Before we move on, though, it’s important to stress that you should be talking to your customers and users at least once a week. This shouldn’t be a one-time activity, but rather a continuous process.

A day in the life

The best way I’ve found to understand the problems, challenges, and triumphs that my customers face is by tailoring my interview sessions so that I can understand what a typical day looks like for them. Conducting “a day in the life” interview should happen in person so that you can quietly observe your customer or user while they do their job. You will likely pick up on things that you wouldn’t discover during a video call, such as who else stops by their desk to ask them questions that involve your product.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

One of my clients sells software to companies that involves routing drivers to various locations. It was fascinating to see the office interactions with the dispatchers who seemed to be at the center of it all. It became clear that dispatchers were a key customer that my client needed to focus on to understand how they could serve that particular type of user even better.

Setting up a Customer Advisory Board

Once you are comfortable with interviewing your customers regularly, you may be ready for the next level: establishing a customer advisory board (CAB).

CABs are a great way to engage with a few of your most passionate users. The key is selecting participants who seem to genuinely wish for you and your company to succeed. But you also want to select people who will be straight with you and tell you if they think your idea stinks.

You should select people that represent a cross-section of your target customer. For example, if your customer sells road-mapping software, you’ll want to include people responsible for creating the roadmap, people who need to understand the roadmaps once they’re creating, and the decision-makers.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Once you have your board established, it’s good to have a regular meeting cadence. Some CABs gather monthly, some gather quarterly. Choose the frequency that works best for you and your CAB members. You can also use your CAB for soliciting feedback via surveys or sending them mock-ups to gather preliminary user experience feedback. There is no limit to how you can leverage a CAB to act as a sounding board as you contemplate how to grow your business.

Documenting your findings

After interviewing a few customers, you should start to identify common themes and recurring trends. As you interview your customers, take copious notes. Once you’ve completed your interview, give yourself plenty of time to debrief on the interview and document all of the insights as possible. One question I see frequently among product managers is “How should I document everything I learn in my customer interviews?” While there are many approaches, I’ve found it best to keep it simple and do what works best for you. If you like spreadsheets, write each insight in a single cell in Google Sheets. The nice thing about this is that you can add a column for ‘tags’ and then go back and categorize the feedback so that you can cluster your findings together, an activity you’ll be doing in one of the next steps in the discovery process (spoiler alert!). If you like to use Trello, you could put your insights on a card and categorize them using Trello tags or different lists.

Do you have a favorite tool for capturing customer insights? If so, join the conversation below!

Stay tuned for next week’s article on the 2nd step in product discovery, hypothesizing. Don’t miss out! Subscribe to my blog today!

Have you tried using the discovery process before? Have questions about how to do this? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

How to achieve Product/Market Fit

If you’re new to product management, you may have heard of Product/Market Fit and wondered “what the heck is it?” It’s a concept that’s difficult to define and yet, when you have it, you know it. And everybody wants it!

In this video by Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean and Scaling Lean, he breaks the concept of Product/Market Fit down to the simplest terms that anyone should be able to understand. Check it out here:

It’s a relatively short video but it’s packed with useful information about how to achieve Product/Market Fit. Ash believes that Product/Market Fit isn’t just for tech unicorns. It can be achieved systematically and he’ll show you how.

Want to learn more about Product/Market Fit? Is there another product concept that you’re struggling to understand that you’d like me to write about? If so, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

How to build products like the Intuit product team

From Intuit video on Rapid Testing

Intuit was (and continues to be) renowned for its product creation processes that are deeply rooted in understanding their customers. Their “Follow Me Home” program has been replicated by many other product teams since it was created decades ago by founder Scott Cook. Since then, Intuit has established one of the best product management organizations in the world. The company has also continued to refine how it creates products customers love by maintaining their focus on understanding their users better than anyone else.

One of the techniques the product team at Intuit uses is Rapid Testing, which is very similar to the Lean Startup Method. To learn more about how to build products like the experts at Intuit, check out this video:

I’ll be writing more about the rapid iteration as part of the product discovery process soon so stay tuned for that!

If you’re about to start a new role in product management and still unsure about how to get off on the right foot, I offer one-on-one, coaching sessions that I personalize for every one of my clients and I would love to help you crush it!

The secret tricks I used to get a job as a product manager

I became a Product Manager almost 25 years ago when most companies didn’t even have that role. I knew I wanted to be in ‘product’ and ended up negotiating my way in, transitioning from a role in marketing. What did I do up until this time that set me up to eventually become a product manager?

  • I looked for ways to add value. I was always examining things around me at work with the idea of how to make things better. How can I get more people to buy this book? Is there another, better way to get people to install my software? By always questioning how to do things better, it unlocked lots of opportunities and people saw me as someone striving to make an impact.
  • I was curious. Curiosity is a critical trait a PM must-have. Look at things around you and think about how they’re made. Think about how you would improve them. Start to develop curiosity like a muscle because I think it’s one of the things that truly separates great product managers from the rest of the crowd.
  • I was a self-starter. I have always been one to teach myself how to do things. I love figuring things out for myself. This is connected to the idea of being curious, but being a self-starter means you’re comfortable with creating something from scratch.
  • I understood just enough about technology. Other than a summer class I took during college to learn the Basic programming language, raw HTML coding was the extent of my technical skills. Many of you may be wondering how technical you must be in order to become a product manager. The majority of PMs I know do not have a CS or engineering degree, but most of them do have a basic understanding of how coding works. So do what you can to at least have a conversation with engineers and be able to ask good questions.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list of skill needed to become a product manager. I’m simply sharing insights from my own experience with the hopes that it will help you develop the skills and traits you need to break into this exciting career.

Why is it so hard to break into in the first place? Let me drop some juicy data on you.

According to a survey by Alpha software, only 11% of product managers began their career in product management. That means the VAST majority were in another role before becoming a product manager.

The data below is from a survey of 890 product management people conducted by the 280 Group and breaks down the percentage of roles by title. Look at how small the slice of pie is for APMs, a role that many aspiring product managers are aiming for. 2.9% is a tiny number compared to the rest of the PM roles that are out there.

Here’s another interesting data point. Most companies have very few product managers. If you combine that with the fact that there are so few APM roles, is it no surprise that it’s so hard to get into product management at the start of your career?!?

Yes, it’s hard to break into product management. But it is possible. To summarize my recommendations, your chances will be highest if you do the following:

  1. If you’re looking for a job right out of college, consider a role that is adjacent to product management (marketing, business analysis, software development or UX design, etc).
  2. If you are in an existing role and trying to transition to PM, find ways to add value and help the PM department.
  3. Show curiosity for how things work, how products are made, how design decisions happen. This will show that you are thinking like a product person.
  4. Become comfortable with creating something from scratch. Get outside your comfort zone and make something. Again, this is all about getting into the mindset of a product person.
  5. Learn just enough about technology so that you can ask good questions. That will help you establish credibility as a product manager.

Ready to get started, but feel like you need more help? I offer 1:1 coaching services that are tailored to your unique skills, experience and goals. Get in touch today to learn more.

How to crush the first 90 days as a new product manager

As an active participant in several online communities for product managers, one of the questions frequently asked is “How can I prepare to succeed in my new role as a product manager?” I always respond by recommending this book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins. This handbook is designed to help people navigate times of change and transition. I find it particularly useful for people moving into a new product management role because it talks about things like being strategic, securing early wins and creating alliances… actions I’ve found to be especially critical for product managers who are often at the nexus of a company’s product development, marketing and operational departments.

Another great resource for quickly getting up to speed in your first 90 days is this video by Todd Birzer, creator of the 3-minute Product Manager series which is simply outstanding.

According to Todd, the key theme in those first days should be getting a few early wins under your belt and he provides a recipe for how to do just that. He breaks the ninety days into a month-by-month roadmap that you can follow focusing on market intelligence, strategy, new product development, and lifecycle management.

I like how he’s very pragmatic in his approach and gives realistic goals knowing that you will drinking from the firehose during this time. All of the steps he outlines can be accomplished fairly easily, setting you up for success.

Of all the tips he provides in this packed 3-minute session, my favorite is to nail down the process to be used for product discovery and delivery so that you are able to ship 1-2 key enhancements that deliver value to your customers which will help you learn about your customers’ needs, establish credibility and generate early wins.

I’ll be writing more about the product discovery process soon so stay tuned for that!

If you’re about to start a new role in product management and still unsure about how to get off on the right foot, I offer one-on-one, coaching sessions that I personalize for each and every one of my clients and I would love to help you crush it!

The 3 things you must do to get a job in product management

Whether you’re just starting out or looking for a new role, there are 3 things you absolutely must do to get a job in product management. Getting a job in product management is hard enough as it is. Improve your chances at landing that dream job by doing the three things I’ve outlined below.

1. Use the force (of your network)

Most people looking for a product manager job are already using Linked In to grow their network. But that’s not enough. You need to let your network know that you’re actively looking for a job — and describe to them what your ideal job is. Of course, if you’re trying to keep your job search on the down-low so that your current employer doesn’t find out, you’ll want to tread carefully here with direct messages to key people rather than blasting everyone in your contacts.

Using your network to find a job is the most effective thing you can do. In an article on Forbes, research shows that 80% of the available jobs are not even posted in online sites such as CareerBuilder and LinkedIn. You read that right. Kind of unbelievable isn’t it?!? So many people I know that are looking for product manager jobs have been disappointed by applying to hundreds of jobs they found online. The best thing they can do is tap into their network and look for the hidden jobs.

What if you’re just starting out and don’t have an established network? Join one of the many product management online communities. I wrote about these communities in my blog post 50,000 Product Managers are waiting to connect with you!And the title doesn’t lie. If you were to join the four product manager communities I describe in that article, you would have access to 50,000 product managers that are actively engaging in a vibrant community where you can find jobs, learn about best practices and so much more. If you’re not already a member of an online community like this, I highly recommend you do so today!

2. Write the perfect resume

Even in this age of online applications, you have to have a great resume. Did you know your resume only has 7.4 seconds to make an impression? That’s according to a recent study conducted by Ladders. That’s why I’m sharing my checklist for crafting the perfect product manager resume, which you can grab here.

Grab the checklist for crafting the perfect resume for product managers! #prodmgmt
https://bit.ly/31h08z4

If you’re like most people, you might feel this way about having to work on your resume.

Many people have such a hard time writing about ourselves either because they fear sounding boastful or worry they don’t have enough relevant experience.

Download my checklist for crafting the perfect product manager resume and get the help you need to make the best first impression when applying for a job

And if my checklist isn’t enough, I can work with you directly to revamp your resume. You can learn more about this service here.

3. Interview prep (last step!)

Now onto the fun part. Just kidding! For most people, getting ready to interview for a job is one of the most stressful things you can do. Dreading job interviews ranks right up there with doing to the dentist or taking a final exam. The good news is there are things you can do to prepare for your job interview to ease those nerves and get you into the right mindset to show up calm and confident.

Read, read, and read some more! Before you experience that magical feeling of being contacted to interview for a job, read as many books about product management as possible. I’ve got a great list of books and other resources here that I highly recommend.

Also, check out my article 7 books to help you land your first product manager job.

Listening to podcasts is one of my favorite ways to expand my mind because I can do it while doing other things that don’t require a lot of thought, like folding laundry or walking the dog.

Check out these product management podcasts I recommend for upping your PM game.

Follow product management thought leaders these people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, & Quora. These are just a few really good ones that I follow. Once you start following a few, you’ll quickly discover others.

  • Marty Cagan
  • Hunter Walk
  • Julie Zhuo
  • Ken Norton
  • Janna Bastow
  • Eric Ries
  • Jeff Patton
  • John Cutler
  • Ben Horowitz
  • Melissa Perri
  • Teresa Torres

Once you have an interview lined up, practice like you’re studying for an exam. Be prepared for the easy and tough questions you’ll likely be asked. Be prepared to answer design questions. Be prepared to take about products you love and hate. Be prepared to show off your skills and capabilities. Be prepared by doing your research so that know the company and its products.

The last and possibly the most important thing you can do to prepare is by doing mock interviews with another person. You’ll often have to do an initial phone screen as part of the interview process and these can be a little intimidating because you don’t get to see the other person. If it’s challenging to find someone willing and able to help you practice for your interviews, I offer one-on-one, real-time mock interview sessions and would love to help.

My mission is to help people become great product managers who love their jobs and I hope you found this article useful. If you did, I’d appreciate if you could like this page by clicking the star button below and if you really like the advice here, share on social.

How to use surveys, interviews, and screeners to better understand your target customer

Did you know the #1 reason startups fail is that their product didn’t have a market need?!? That’s right. Most failed startups built a product because they thought it was a good idea. 

To avoid building something people don’t want, you have to talk to your target customer. Gathering customer insights is something every product manager should be doing every week, if not every day. 

Want to learn more about the techniques you can use to better understand your customers? Check out this presentation by Jay Clouse

Jay provides dozens of tips and tricks you can use to write better surveys, including identifying the goals and outcomes you want to achieve with the data collected from your survey before you even get started writing a single question. 

Of the customer interview questions he provides, this one is my favorite: 

“If you had a magic wand and could solve your top 3 problems, what would you do differently?”

Understanding your customers is the first step in the product discovery process. I’ll be writing a series of articles about product discovery in a few week, so stay tuned for that! 

Step-by-step tips for writing an attention-grabbing cover letter

You may be asking yourself, why bother with a cover letter? Maybe you’ve heard most companies don’t care. After all, most job postings include uploading a cover letter as optional. You might believe that since you’re applying online, you only need a resume. While the hiring manager might have indicated the cover letter is optional, not sending one is a sign of laziness.

Your cover letter is the best opportunity you have to make a good first impression on the hiring manager. Don’t squander it.

You might feel uncomfortable writing a persuasive letter to someone you likely have never met. Or perhaps you’re simply unsure of how to write about yourself without sounding arrogant. Don’t worry. With these step by step tips, you’ll have a winning cover letter in no time at all!

step 1: Use a standard format

Keep your cover letter to a single page with plenty of margin space. The more white space, the easier it will be to read. If needed, do a little Marie Kondo on your letter and eliminate anything non-essential.

Use a font size no smaller than 10 points. Avoid decreasing the font size just to make the cover letter fit a single page. Your font should also be one that’s easy to read, such as Helvetica or Times New Roman. And be consistent! Use the same font throughout the letter.

If there isn’t an option to upload a separate cover letter, copy and paste the body of your cover letter into the box on the application where you can enter free-form text if that is available.

step 2: Address the letter to the hiring manager

This is a key step because in addition to addressing the letter to the correct person, you also will need the hiring manager’s name so that you can follow up (more on this later).

If you’re not sure who the hiring manager is, this is your chance to hone your research skills and find out. Go to LinkedIn and search for the company name and 2-3 keywords that would likely describe the title of the person in charge of hiring for the position you’re applying for.

If you’re not sure you’ve found the right person, find someone who works at the company (ideally who you are connected to in some way) and ask them if they know the best person to contact to learn more about this role.

You can also try calling the company’s main phone number and asking the person answering the phone, but I’ve found that most people on that first-line of defense are protective of employee information.

step 3: Open with a meaningful sentence

Starting a cover letter with “I am writing to apply for the product manager position at [company x]” is stating the obvious. Instead, use this initial sentence to grab the hiring manager’s attention by offering a glimpse into who you are. Here are some examples:

“In my 5 years at [prior company], I increased our annual recurring revenue per user by [percentage].”

“My approach to creating products is based on combining design thinking frameworks with qualitative and quantitative data.”

You should start with a sentence that makes the reader want to know more about you so they keep reading and, more importantly, feel compelled to review your resume.

Step 4: Customize for each job

It’s okay to use the same general cover letter template for each job, especially if you’re applying to several at a time. The easiest — and most effective — tweak is to review the skills and traits listed within the job description and craft 1-2 sentences that illustrate how you have used those skills and traits successfully with concrete examples.

For instance, this job description lists the following qualifications for a product manager role:

You can create a killer opening sentence, building on the example here, by tying in your own experience that matches the qualifications listed above. This would make you stand out from the crowd of applicants.

One last related tip: Be sure to mention the specific job title. The people reviewing your resume may be trying to fill dozens, if not hundreds, of job openings.

Step 5: Close graciously YET assertively

Show appreciation for the recruiter and hiring manager’s time and consideration by thanking them. But don’t stop there. Be assertive and let them know you will follow up in one week to answer any questions they may have.

And be sure to follow up with the hiring manager if you haven’t heard back within a week from submitting your application!

Step 6: Review for typos

This last step before submitting your resume and cover letter is crucial. As a product manager, you are expected to be a master of details, big and small. If you have even one typo in your resume, that screams a lack of attention to detail. It also implies that you didn’t take your time writing the resume which then implies that you don’t care about the job. Spend a few minutes carefully reviewing your cover letter for grammatical mistakes and typos. If you’re unsure, try a service such as Grammarly.

That’s all there is to create a winning cover letter. If you found this helpful, be sure to sign up for my free 7-step checklist to crafting the perfect resume for product managers.

50,000 Product Managers are waiting to connect with you!

One of the first things I tell my clients is to join at least one Product Management online community to boost their career. There are so many different groups available online and they typically have communities created in Slack and Facebook. The benefits of joining an online community of product managers are that you can connect, chat and learn from thousands of product people all over the world. Job listings are actively posted on all of the communities I belong to, making this a great resource for those of you looking to break into a PM role or switch roles.

If you were to join these four PM groups, as I have, you could connect with 50,000 product people! If you put us all together, we’d almost fill up Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s a lot of product people!


Product Manager HQ claims to be the world’s largest slack product community with more than 7,000 members and 40 active channels. PMHQ does cost $25 to join (as of 6/6/19), but the lifetime membership gets you access to live AMAs (Ask Me Anything), in person meetups, and exclusive content.

PMHQ Slack Group

Mind the Product is one of my absolute favorite resources. The MTP slack community has over 20,000 members worldwide. Mind the Product also offers conferences around the world that bring the product management community together in real life. Nothing beats meeting in real life!

Mind the Product Slack Group

Women in Product is a group I belong to in Slack as well as Facebook. Women In Product is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing women with equal access and representation in product management careers at all levels. I find the Facebook group, which has almost 15,000 members, to be more engaging.

Women in Product Slack Group

The Product Collective also has a highly engaged community of more than 8,000 members. I’ve found people asking for advice on a variety of topics ranging from how to price SaaS products to how to sunset apps and everything in between. The people behind The Product Collective also host the Industry product conference as well as produce a great podcast about product creation called Rocketship.fm.

Product Collective Slack Group

Whether you’re looking for a job or you’re a seasoned professional wanting to connect with like-minded individuals to exchange ideas or get advice, all of these product management communities have something to offer.

Do you know of any other online PM communities? If so, please DM me about them. I’m always looking for ways to expand my network!

How to Build Trust with Engineers

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

General George S. Patton

I love this quote because I am a firm believer that this is how product managers should lead cross-functional teams!

Many aspiring product managers think that the role of the product manager is to be the mini-CEO for their product. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As a product manager, you have an immense amount of responsibility but typically little to no authority. So how can you influence your team to achieve their potential to the fullest? Start by building trust. Once you’ve built trust, you can influence and lead much more easily.

Having spent time in the trenches with product teams for nearly 25 years, here are some of the ways I’ve found to build trust with engineers.

Ask smart questions.

Don’t feel like you have to be the smartest person in the room, because guess what?!? You’re probably not! And don’t pretend to know what people are talking about because good engineers can smell the BS a mile away! What you can do to build trust is to ask smart questions. When the team is discussing the best way to solve a particular problem, use the Socratic method and dig deep so that you can get at the root of the discussion. The Socratic method is great for exploring complex ideas, getting to the truth of things, uncovering assumptions, and distinguishing what we know from what we do not know. Practicing this method of inquiry will not only help you build trust with your engineers, but it will also help you build better products!

Focus on the “why” and the “what”, not the “how”.

Engineers usually prefer to have as much detail as possible about what a product should do or what outcomes a feature should enable. Having said that, a surefire way to get on the wrong side of engineering is to tell them “how” to do something. This is particularly challenging for product managers who have a Computer Science degree. To paraphrase that quote by Patton, you might end up creating something even better than you could have imagined if you let people do their jobs. And by trusting your engineers to come up with great solutions to how to build your product, you’ll, in turn, earn their trust. Trust is a two-way street!

Context-switching is kryptonite to engineers.

Context switching is the ability to stop what you’re doing and switch to a different task. As product managers, you may find yourself switching context several times a day and think nothing of it. Hey, what’s a day in the life of a product manager if there isn’t some fire drill interrupting you from the work you’re doing. Don’t interrupt your developers, either in person or via Slack, every couple of hours to show them a bug you might have found. Why is context-switching the hardest on engineers? Because their heads are typically in such a deep mental state of problem-solving that a typical interruption can affect short-term memory. According to Miller’s Law, the number of objects an average person can hold in working memory is about seven, give or take two. So every time you interrupt one of your engineers, it could take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour! Talk about slowing down your team’s velocity! If you can ease the burden of context-switching, they will show their gratitude with trust.

always taking the blame when things go wrong.

Great product leaders give credit to the team when things go well and they take the blame personally when things go wrong. This is a tough one for many product managers because as the leaders of their team, they are often in the spotlight. When your team fails to meet its commitments or your product doesn’t achieve the expected results, you could probably come up with a dozen reasons why things didn’t work out the way you intended them to. Maybe your lead engineer had to take unexpected time off. Maybe an OS bug surprised the team, resulting in days of unforeseen work. Whatever the reason, it’s on you to shoulder the blame. You may not feel glorious in those moments, but know that you are building an enormous amount of trust among your engineers when you take the heat.

Represent the customer, not your ideas.

PMs can get a bad rap for being Steve Jobs wannabes. Tamper the enthusiasm you have for your ideas and focus on representing the customer and their problems. I see this typically in junior product managers or product managers who transitioned from other roles. They’re so excited to have an opportunity to influence the product direction and have so many ideas, they just can’t contain themselves. If this sounds like you, I suggest you do a brain dump of all those ideas so that you can clear that mental memory and start fresh by focusing on your customer needs instead. By being a zealot about who your customers are, what causes them pain and what delights them, you can generate a rich set of insights based on product data and customer research (both quantitative and qualitative) to identify product opportunities. By sharing these insights and opportunities with your team, and including them along the way, you will establish yourself as someone who can be trusted.

Oh, and bringing them donuts helps, too. How are some ways that you’ve built trust with your team? Drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

What do Tom Brady and Oprah have in common with product managers?

I recently listened to an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s podcast “Supersoul Conversations” that featured Tom Brady. I’m not much of a football fan (college basketball is my jam), but I was interested in hearing what Tom had to say since he’s such an incredible athlete.

Tom spoke about how he had not always been the best football player. When he played for Michigan, he knew the areas he had to work on, but he also knew his strengths: he had a strong work ethic, he was a natural at leading people, and he had perseverance. Probably sounds like a great product manager you know, right?

He went on to talk about how he led his NFL team, the Patriots, when they were down by 25 points in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons. Rather than worrying about the huge gap and questioning if they could do it, they tackled (sorry, had to go there) each play one at a time and ensured they made the right move for that particular play: Score one touch down. Stop the defense and get the ball back quickly. Get to a first down… you get the picture. That 25-point comeback was the biggest in Super Bowl history.

As a product manager, you may aspire to be the greatest of all time (like Tom Brady is one of the greatest football players of all time). To get there, you must be able to lead your teams by identifying the key plays needed to win and focusing on those plays one at a time.

If you and your team are trying to deliver a monolithic release, you are setting yourself (and your company) up for failure.

The key to winning is to lead your team to focus on the right solution for the first opportunity you need to deliver before moving on to the second one, and the third one and so on. Prioritize and focus on incremental activities that put you closer to your goal (whether it’s delivering a more engaging experience for your customers, increasing revenue for your company, etc.).

Want to learn more about how to lead cross-functional teams? Sign up for my 1:1 coaching program that let’s me share my first-hand experience with you so that you can advance your career.

Image courtesy of Oprah.com.