Older Dogs Help Train Pups…Even in Product Management

I read an article over the weekend how a local dog owner paired his prized, but aging Lab with a new retriever puppy. Now, I’m not a hunter nor a dog trainer, but recognize the leadership qualities that can be applied to product management from the example in the article. 

In the article, Jim Martin states, “An older dog can put you well ahead of the game in teaching a pup.” “He has seen his older dog teach his young dog how to mark birds, retrieve and even stand up on its hind legs to pick up scent.”

As a senior product manager, do you offer your experiences in how to “mark, retrieve and pick up the scent” of product management activities to new or inexperienced product managers?

If you’ve been with a company for some time, you should understand the goals of the company (picked up the scent), what’s expected and how product management executes with precision (mark and retrieve). When you offer your experiences to someone else, you’ll be surprised what you might learn.

Some years ago, I was working with a young product management team. One person was classically trained and another had been a sales engineer and in professional services before transitioning into product management. While I was senior to both, I learned a great deal about operational metrics from one and innovative market discovery techniques from the other.  

As a product management leader, do you assess and know the capabilities of each of your product manager both young and older? Do you know their strengths and challenges and who has the best skills and capabilities to partner with a “young pup”? If not, you need to establish a regular plan of understanding where you identify, review and measure the success of each person and their capabilities.

In the article, the writer shared, “Of course, you have to watch everything the old dog teaches the pup.” As a product management leader have you observed the knowledge, actions, methods and implementation of the experienced members of your team, or do you “hope or trust” they know what they are doing?

Product management leadership is an active, engaging role that’s not all about the tactical implementation of activities or the strategic execution of methods. It’s about establishing expectations with your team, orchestrating and aligning skills to manage key processes, monitoring and communicating success and evolving the skills of your team using the talents and experience of the “old dogs and young pups.”

I encourage you as I do myself to continuously review yourself, your team and the expectations of the company. By doing so, you’ll find there’s a wealth of capability and success.

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  • Jen Kuhn  On April 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    What a fabulous analogy! I appreciate this post both as a dog owner (with a very young pup) and as a leader. I especially like where you describe your own experience as a project manager. You allowed yourself to learn from others on your team. Many leaders would benefit from this approach…there are teachers among us, if we are willing to learn.
    Kudos to you for a fantastic post!

  • Steve Johnson  On April 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    A mentoring program is always a great idea. Back in the 80s, we trained new sales engineers by teaming them with a more experienced SE for 3-4 months. You’d learn all the stuff about how to do the job including the things that weren’t in a training class or manual… including how to demo with a wicked hangover. In the 90s–and I don’t know why!–it seems we just hired new guys and sent them on the road with the sales guys–no product training, no sales engineering training, no sales training. Sad. Very sad.

    In product management, it seems the same: we generally just throw the new guy in the deep end of the pool. That’s one reason why product managers enjoy Practical Product Management–it’s the “real world” view that they need to be successful right away.

    It’d be nice if companies had a formal mentoring program but don’t wait for permission. Start one today.

  • Frank Gartland  On April 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I agree with Jen that this is a great analogy. Sure, some companies have learned this lesson somewhat, but most are so rushed for results, they hope the newly-hired folks “just get it” and starts contributing brilliance within the first few weeks.

    The idea of pairing an experienced pro with a young newbie may not be the norm in business, but it’s clearly a proven principle. Consider the way farmers “yoke” a young ox with an old one, for example. When the young ox gets distracted and tries to wander off the path, the older ox jerks the yoke — which hurts by the way — and the young ox slowly learns the ropes.

    Unfortunately, I believe some of the challenge here is that many Product Managers and Product Marketers see themselves in competition with their peers instead of looking for ways to help them as a formal or informal leader. As Steve hints, I have seen many cases where Product Managers who are comfortable with themselves play the role on their own. My hope is that more people begin to see how helping others is a sign of strength and management experience. Hope you don’t mind the following references: Matt 11:29-30; Lam 3:27


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