After reading Dave Perrel’s post on learning like an athlete, then seeing that Tyler Cowen had also been thinking about it (and giving his own take on it!), I was inspired to think about this in the context of product management.
Tyler’s favourite question around this is: “What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?” This strikes me as a nice version of asking how people approach deliberate practice in their career – the metaphor of a pianist’s scales is helpful for grokking an abstract idea like this.
Like most knowledge work jobs, product management isn’t a profession that has success metrics nearly as clear as sports. This makes it more challenging to find a smart practice regimen, but far from impossible.
Before we can figure that out, though, we need to zoom out a little: what does success look like for a product manager?
A successful product manager:
- Is respected and trusted by people in all parts of the organisation
- Knows how users are using her product, and what the current top opportunities for improvement are
- Has a constantly-changing list of hypotheses about the product to test
- Is responsible for a product that is constantly improving (yes, we have a recursion problem here, but we can’t go through every layer of turtle in this post – define this as you wish!)
OK then – as a product manager, what routines should I have to ensure that I will constantly grow closer to the Platonic ideal PM I’ve described above? Basic routines, automatic routines, routines that provide the foundation for doing more complex, high-value work – work like scales for a pianist.
- Check the key metrics for the product – those 1-3 numbers that tell you if things are improving, stagnating, or going to hell
- Talk to actual users, and watch them using the product
- Write down a question about the product or the users. Ideally, find the answer immediately, but at least record the question
- Check the status of what your team is currently working on, and review what is coming next
- Use the product or a competitor’s product, to stay completely in touch
- Reach out to someone outside your team to communicate something interesting, ask them a question, or just say hi
There are certainly more you could add to this list, depending on your exact expertise and organisation, but I would be comfortable prescribing the items above to all PMs.
Now go forth and practice your scales, my Product sistren and brethren!