With ProductMantra today is a Product Manager whose passion is minimalism. With her minimalist philosophy she creates products that are valuable, usable, feasible and desirable. Presenting to you Suzie Prince, who at present is the Head of Product at ThoughtWorks Studios. Typical to our interview series, we asked Suzie three questions.
ProductMantra: What kind of evolutionary change do you think Product Management will face over a period of next 5 years?
Suzie: There are 6 changes I hope to see over the next few years.
1. Product Owner to Product Manager
I really hope that people outside product management start to get a better understanding of what product management is and what being a product manager means. Too often I see “Product Owner”, “Project Manager”, “UX designer”, “Product Marketer” or “Business Analyst” being used as synonyms for Product Manager. This lack of clarity can be harmful to the role and dilutes the value of product management. I hope this change comes quickly.
2. Internal to external
Many product managers are very internal facing. They run teams, they communicate internally and they manage their managers. Their roadmaps are built from sales team requests, their marketing team handles the outside world and they triage bugs from support teams. I want to see product managers being held accountable for their insight into the outside world. Their analysis of markets, users, pains, fears, joys and challenges should be driving their products. Ultimately I want to see product managers looking outward, not inward.
3. Operational and tactical to strategic
Product managers are often doers. They excel at product management because they are driven and get things done. They can manage teams, drive change and execute. These are amazing skills and ones that all product managers of the future need as well. But they are not unique. Great project managers can plan and execute. Great developers are driven and get things done. The product manager’s unique value is in vision and strategy. They need to understand the needs of the user and the market and translate these into a vision for the product. They need to be strategic rather than tactical. I hope we see a change towards expecting product managers to be great strategists as well as great executers.
4. Roadmaps to visions
No roadmaps! Seriously, I hope the future of product manager no longer has roadmaps. With the evolution from waterfall to agile to lean and kanban to experimentation I would like to see product managers, organisations and users understanding that the future of a product is not conclusive and written down. A roadmap does not make a vision and a vision is not executed by delivering a roadmap. I hope we embrace visions, clear direction, fluid plans and allow our products to grow and evolve rather than continuing with the roadmap fallacy.
5. Data driven to data informed
The future of product management will certainly have more data. More qualitative data. More quantitate data. Yet still there will be things unknown. I predict that the desire to be data driven will be replaced by the understanding that we are data informed. Where we acknowledge that what data we have and what we learn from it is just part of the puzzle of all the things we know and all the things we have to intuit. I predict that our data tools will become better at telling us what data is important and what data isn’t and with that we will become better informed to make decisions.
6. One to many
Finally, I’ll be saddened if we don’t see more diversity in product management. I want to see product managers with different interests, backgrounds and experiences. I want product managers from different social, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, from different races and different genders.
ProductMantra: Gut feeling and data-driven approach – when do you prefer one over the other?
Suzie: I think most decisions, whether we think they are or not, are a bit of both. I think that because I think there is rarely a situation when a product manager does not have any data to help with a decision and I think that a good product manager is always using their prior experience to intuit and make decisions.
What I think is important is (and where I see some product managers struggle) is knowing when they need more data and when they have enough. Things I think about when deciding whether to gather more data:
how important is this decision?
how quickly do I need to make this decision? when is the last responsible moment?
what is the impact of my decision being incorrect?
how much do I really know about this? can I make a decision now?
This last one is really important. Intuition comes from experience. Using your “gut feeling” is not the same as ‘shooting from the hip”. Gut feelings are not sudden or rash decisions but rather decisions based on prior experience and I believe that good product managers should trust their gut and feel comfortable saying “I know enough to make this decision now” even if what they “know” is intuited. And a good product manager should also know when they don’t have the right experience and when they need to get more data.
ProductMantra: When does Product Management get helpless? What can be done in such circumstances?
Suzie: Controlling founders!
I have not experienced this myself but I’ve seen it in other places. Basically the situation is with a founder who is too controlling – they have many ideas, the ideas change, they push plans on teams and they leave no room for creativity or product management knowhow. My advice to product managers experiencing that is to get close to that founder, become a trusted advisor to them, show them your value in whatever format that makes sense. You need to understand them, you need to understand why that business hired you and where the founder needs support. There will always be a place you can help and from that position you can build trust, influence and have the impact you need to have on that product/business.
ProductMantra: Thanks a lot Suzie.
Suzie loves sharing her experience in the craft of Product Management and her recent article about “Why Continuous Delivery and DevOps are Product Managers’ Best Friends” exhibits her deep hands-on knowledge as well as the ability to zoom out. Her twitter handle @pm_suzie is worth following for insightful updates.