Do Hard Things…Product Management

I’m pleased and honored to be a regular contributor to the On Product Management blog. Quite often you’ll find my posts there. This post is co-located on both sites.

In a recent conversation with my friend Kevan Kjar, CEO of Three Quest, I noticed a sticker on his PC that said, “Do Hard Things.” 

I asked Kevan about the logo and what it represented. “It’s a personal challenge that I’ve adopted and I use it when working with youth groups.” Kevan then asked, “Would you like to take the challenge?” I said, “Sure, tell me more.

Kevan shared, “The challenge is simple, but not necessarily easy. Pick one thing that you know is hard to do. Plan how you will do it, when you will do it, and then consider what would happen if you don’t do it.” It’s often easier to do a hard thing, than live with the consequences of not doing anything at all.

How does this apply to product management and its leadership? Product management teams are asked to do hard things everyday. As a profession, we are in the middle of flux, change and frequent decisions with significant impact. However, some things aren’t addressed because there’s change involved, we aren’t sure how to do it, or things may seem out of our control.

As an example, everyone in product management knows Win/Loss Analysis provides valuable insight. Some years ago, I was leading a product management team where we did not own, weren’t permitted to conduct or participate in, and had little input into the process. Forget getting access to the information, its was almost impossible.

What would you do? I had to do hard things

Preparing information with my team, I met with the executive responsible for win/loss. We discussed what he wanted to accomplish, the resources required to maintain the activities and the value his team was receiving. I asked how product management could benefit from the information. I offered to take on the analysis and with his managers and my team, we would create a process, provide resources, record results and share information with all internal teams.

The consequence of not having the conversation would have resulted in a continued loss of valuable insight into positioning, the buying process, the competition, sales readiness and other product and sales oriented events. While it wasn’t a difficult conversation, it resulted in a positive action for the organization, improved information and another executive became a big fan of product management.

In the article Making Tough Decisions,  Manny Nowak shares, “One of the definitions of a good leader is one who can handle the tough decisions, one who will acknowledge what has to be done, and is willing to complete the task-at-hand.”

As leader and contributor to product success, how can product management be prepared to do hard things? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be Observant – Contributors and leaders have to stay focused, be engaged and aware of the current state of strategies, the business and team actions. The pulse of many companies flows through the veins of product management.
  • Be Informative – While data is key to making decisions, communications is equally important and product management is more successful when data and clear communications are in tandem and one supporting the other.
  • Be Resolute – Make a decision and don’t waiver. Your credibility and the value in product management is riding on a clear decision.
  • Be Actionable – Once a decision is made, move forward. While it’s always good to look forward, take time to do a retrospective to see what you’ve learned.

Imagine the impact that product management could have on an organization when doing one hard thing in the new year. I envision a time when product management teams do hard things and the outcome is stronger teams, increased knowledge, more credibility and sound business and product decisions.

If you like the post, please comment. If you’d like to connect with me, you can find me on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jholland[at]missioncreekpartners[dot]com

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  • Product Management Tribe  On December 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Mike, thanks for the comments and mention.


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