In this keynote from #mtpcon San Francisco, Michael Sippey, VP of Product at Medium, shares some insights on how to think big and create clarity and focus for product management teams to unleash their full potential.
The Power of Optimism
At the start of his keynote Sippey says that: “Most acts of creation – live music and conferences like this – are optimistic acts”. Optimism is fundamental in order to make things, he says, and he defines it as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something”.
No one can be a product manager without being an optimist, but “optimistic” feedback loops can expose real product challenges. Sippey references a tweet – “My bank’s iOS app let me know it now offers ‘podcast streaming’ and I really need to talk to the product manager” – and asks if the banking customer is confused, what does it say about the bank’s internal teams? It means the engineers, designers, marketing and executives are equally confused about their product.
Key Operating Principles
He highlights two of the seven operating principles defined in Principles by Ray Dalio, founder of the Bridgewater Associates hedge fund.
1. Think Big
In the startup context, thinking big should be unconstrained and boundless. This stage is the “yes, and…” stage – it is where brainstorming, whiteboards, Post-It notes, and stickies live. The focus is on imagining the future you want to be in. At this phase, the product manager of a banking app convinces themselves their app needs podcast streaming.
2. Create Clarity and Focus
The real job of a product manager is to create clarity and focus. To unlock the full potential of product teams and help build great products, you need to blend the principles of thinking big and creating clarity and focus.
Why do Product Managers not Want to Prioritize the Backlog?
It is very challenging work. It is more fun to work with a designer, report a bug, or talk to customers. Most of us are dramatically underinvested in this area of focus. Sippey recommends we make use of agile and keep to ordered lists only. He offers a simple hack to help with prioritization:
A Grand Unified Theory of Work
- Make a list of things to do.
- Prioritize the list.
- Do the things on the list, in order.
- Constantly communicate about items 1-3.
Three Take-Home Hacks
1. Banish Unordered Lists
The art of getting better at product management focuses on banishing unordered lists. Stop using bulleted lists. By only creating lists with numbers, product teams will have to prioritize and focus on what actually matters. Practise this exercise during crucial conversations in one-on-ones, with management, and during staff meetings.
2. Let go of Needing to be Right
During the brainstorming phase, treat the act of prioritization like brainstorming a feature or coming up with a new idea. As product manager roles attract Type A personalities, the act of testing prioritization opens vulnerability within yourself and the team you manage. “Being able to tell your team the truth takes vulnerability, self-love and trust,” Sippey says. And he advises those of us early in their careers to build their vulnerable muscle now. Being vulnerable with your teams is the most important thing you can learn as a product manager.
3. Enlist your Team
Make room for the optimists. Another hack Sippey suggests to ask teams is 10 questions for product opportunity assessments from Inspired by Marty Cagan. For solutions requirements? Talk to engineering. For how to bring a product to market? Talk to marketing. How big is the opportunity? Speak with sales.
Top Three Questions for Product Managers
Michael closed the talk by reminding us to always focus on three simple questions:
- What problems are we solving?
- Who are we solving it for?
- How will we measure success?
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