My favorite product managers are quietly powerful. Every day they take small steps that move their teams and business forward in a meaningful way. But they do it without a lot of hoopla, taking a confident yet unassuming approach.
After all, product managers have a lot on their plate every day. They are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for their product. It is a big responsibility that requires facilitating and collaborating with many different teams — both internal and external — without the formal authority to manage those teams. It requires a unique mix of humility and strength.
However, that quiet power does not mean leading product is easy. I realized early on that the daily life of a product manager is unpredictable, hectic, and sometimes very tough.
Many people have creative product ideas, but don’t know how to turn them into a reality. That rang true for Product Management grad Chris Place, who wanted to solve a common problem: People aspire to bring lunch to work, but often fail. He turned to GA’s Product Management course in Hong Kong to give him the tools to create and launch Prepd, a sleek lunchbox and companion app that aims to make meal prep fun.
“GA helped me understand marketing and creative storytelling,” Place said. “How can I tie together my product skills with a compelling marketing plan to bring my product to launch?” After the course, he leveraged his learnings to launch a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.4 million to make Prepd a reality. “We never expected this to get this big,” Place says.
Your words can be a powerful ally or your worst enemy. It all depends on how you use them. So, how often do you think deeply about what you are going to say before you say it?
Product managers, in particular, cannot afford to be careless in their speech.
After all, good product management demands leadership and requires frequent conversations with other teams as well as different external stakeholders. These are not casual conversations; instead, they have some urgency and gravity. The success or failure of the product may depend on how well the product manager communicates with others.
But mastering the art of effective communication is not easy. If you are not careful, your words can undermine your effectiveness and authority.
That is why PMs must root out responses that convey a negative attitude and shut down communication, hindering their progress as a team.
Since the Great Recession in 2008, startups have become a major force in society. Today’s entrepreneurial culture — with lower financial barriers to launching a business and people’s increasing desire for flexibility, freedom, and purpose in their work — has bred a whole generation of young companies that have quickly scaled and revolutionized a wide range of industries. A number of those companies, like Airbnb and Uber, have achieved explosive growth and evolved into bonafide conglomerates in recent years.
Meanwhile, older organizations looking to remain relevant and thrive are striving to figure out the practices that allow these startups to excel — and how their corporations can adopt them in order to catch up.
There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.
There are countless steps where the product experience can break down. Have you ever been waiting at the corner for a ride-sharing pickup, and while the app swears the driver is right there, there is no car in sight? Or how about seamlessly ordering groceries in an app, then waiting well past the delivery window with no sign of your avocados? Ever called customer service by phone to learn they have no record of the two detailed chats you had with online agents about your issue? We’ve all been there.
As consumers who increasingly rely on technology to help us wrangle a vast range of goods and services, we’ve all experienced pain points when really good software doesn’t equate a really good experience. All too often, there’s a breakdown that occurs outside product screens, when a product or process hits the reality of the human experience or a user fails.
Take a peek at the diagram above, which charts the various user touch points that can occur with your brand in a product experience loop. Users interact with a product through many different channels and modes of communication, and bridging the gaps between them is essential to your product’s success. If you present users with a custom call to action in a social media ad, your customer service teams must be ready to respond. If you build an offer email that is redeemable at a brick-and-mortar retail location, the cashier will need tools to redeem it.
In 2016, I was preparing with clients for an upcoming training workshop focused on coaching a cross-functional team of designers, software engineers, product managers, and business stakeholders on integrating product discovery practices into their delivery cadences. During our conversation, my client said to me, “Our tech teams are learning Agile. Our product teams are learning Lean, and our design teams are learning Design Thinking. Which one is right?”
The client found the different disciplines at odds because these seemingly complementary practices forced each discipline into different cadences, with different practices and vocabularies targeting different measures of success.
The engineering teams, using Agile, were focused on shipping bug-free code in regular release cycles (many teams call these “sprints”). Their ultimate goal was an increased velocity — the quantity of code they could ship in each sprint. Product managers, using Lean, were most interested in driving efficiency, quality, and reduction of waste through tactical backlog prioritization and grooming techniques.
General Assembly’s recommendation for keeping up is simple: Companies need to invest in learning. The Economist magazine recently issued a special report that highlighted the importance of “lifelong learning” as a habit that both skilled and unskilled workers must incorporate to keep pace with a rapidly developing economy. They profiled GA’s approach to tech education — including upskilling promising individuals and reskilling those with outdated competencies in data, web development, and design — as an effective way to ensure employees’ skills were kept up to date.
Create opportunities for employers and job-seekers alike with these proposed policies to help close chronic skills gaps.
A tightening labor market, persistent skills gaps (in fields from manufacturing to technology), and the short shelf life of skills in the rapidly changing digital economy, have led to a seemingly paradoxical narrative in the education-to-employment pipeline.
In manufacturing, for instance, 70 percent of companies now face shortages of workers with the necessary technology skills. And yet millions of Americans struggle to find jobs that put them on a path toward social and economic mobility or, at least, a comfortable perch in the middle class.
What’s worse, the compounding forces of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will begin to dislocate a growing number of workers — putting unprecedented pressure on an education and workforce development system that is ill-equipped to tackle looming reskilling and training challenges.
New Models Emerge
In the last five years, an array of non-accredited education and training providers has surfaced to address these challenges, including General Assembly, as well as on-demand learning platforms, ultra-low-cost course providers (like StraighterLine or Coursera), and new approaches to “education as an employee benefit” (pioneered by companies like Chipotle, in partnership with Guild Education).
Amazon has long been at the forefront of emerging technologies, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is no exception. IoT technology, which allows objects to send and receive data through internet connectivity, is changing the way we interact with everyday objects. For example, you can control your air conditioner through a mobile app or track your health stats through a wristband.
On the consumer side, Amazon introduced the Dash Button, which allows customers to reorder an item with the touch of a standalone button. For businesses, the eCommerce giant launched AWS IoT, a platform for developers to build, manage, and analyze their own IoT devices.
Since founding General Assembly in 2011, I’ve heard some incredible stories from our students and graduates. One of my favorites is about Jerome Hardaway. Jerome came to GA after five years in the United States Air Force. He dreamed of tackling persistent diversity gaps in the technology sector by breaking down barriers for other veterans and people of color.