Sometimes a picture says it all. Not too long ago, I was in the car with my son. As we stopped at an intersection near a college campus where my money lives, we looked up and saw the following sign. We laughed about who would have spent the time to create a stencil and apply this to the sign. My son said; “Do you know where this phrase comes from?” I thought for a few seconds and had to admit that it’s part of the lyrics from the Vanilla Ice song “Ice, Ice Baby”.
First, let me apologize for that interjection. Many of you may have spent time in counseling to wipe away those lyrics and images or maybe you’re one of those who believe Vanilla Ice was an icon of urban music culture. Either way, I’m not going further with the topic, only to use the lyric “Stop, Collaborate and Listen” to surface a few thoughts on Product Management. Now, stop humming that Vanilla Ice tune and read on.
STOP – the frenetic pace. Let’s face it, product managers and their leaders are constantly side-tracked by the list of “busy work” that often overshadows the true purpose and value of product management. Steve Johnson in the Strategic Roles of Product Management, said; “the strategic role of product management is to be messenger of the market, delivering information to the departments that need market facts to make decisions.”
How do we better focus on the messages from the market and build credibility if we’re buried in “busy work” that no one cares about and it doesn’t create sustainable value? In a recent post on Games Executives Play, Alan Armstrong shared, “the underlying problem is often very deep and hard to fix.”
While there are several ways to “fix” the issue, Bill Warner suggests that we “need to manage the CEO collectively and use the experts hired for their expertise.” If you’re thinking, “I can’t manage my CEO or it’s not within my role” then who will? We all have to take an active part of seizing every opportunity to promote and communicate the strategic nature of product management and STOP the “busy work.”
COLLABORATE – is not an idea, it’s an action. When I moved into product management, one of the first things my mentor and manager taught me was that product managers are successful if they do two things. First, you have to become the leader of the product and make all product decisions with empirical data. The second was to collaborate on a continuous basis ensuring that number one happened.
Over the years I’ve learned that collaboration is more than “jointly working with” but more understanding the relationships required and how to actively sustain them. In a recent post on collaboration and leadership, Art Petty stated, “it’s a lean, mean world right now, and the better you are able to find ways to participate in value-creating activities with the leaders around you, the better off your firm will be.” As Product Management and its leaders, we have to personally engage with all those who can provide insight, validation and honesty in the decision making process.
LISTEN – there’s an old saying, “hearing is a gift and listening is an art.” One of the attributes that product management and its leaders must sustain and leverage is listening. How good are we at listening? I’m not sure, but if you ask those who watch you such as colleagues, customers, and executives, they’ll swear we’re all hearing impaired.
Seth Godin was right when he said, “more than anything else, I think prospects, customers and citizens watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.” How can you be the messenger of the market if you don’t get the message? As you look for ways to improve your listening skills, perhaps eliminating some of the ground noise we all create would help. Find some time to disconnect before you engage.
If product management and its leaders take the time to “stop, collaborate and listen” I believe we will expand our credibility internally and externally and be better prepared, or as Vanilla Ice would say, “You better hit bull’s eye, the kid don’t play.”
Jim Holland’s passion is enabling product marketing teams. With a lifetime of experience, he has a fresh and unique perspective in guiding product teams and has a knack for sensing markets, synthesizing ideas and turning them into reality. If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.