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PMs/POs: 25 Things You Can Try Now

Published: September 20, 2016

What can you do in the next week or two to be a better product manager?

I write these listicles for friends and consulting clients and share them when I can:

  1. Call five customers and ask them the same, non-leading questions. Share an overview with your team. Better yet, invite folks to listen in
  2. Observe five people using your product to get their daily work done. GoToMeeting is fine for this. Ask to be a fly on the wall. Edit a set of interesting clips. Share with your team
  3. Conduct a story-mapping exercise (see Jeff Patton’s book for help)
  4. Collaborate with your UX team to conduct a usability test *right now *for an upcoming feature (a paper prototype is fine). Do a couple tests, iterate, and repeat
  5. Watch this video from Sian Townsend on jobs-to-be-done. Consider how you could use jobs-to-be-done to replace personas, roadmap items, user stories, etc.
  6. Make sure you understand exactly how your business makes money (or intends to make money). What assumptions has your company made about the fundamentals? What must remain true for you to continue with business as usual? Sketch it out, and explain it to someone who has just started at your company. If you service a specific vertical, learn exactly how your customers make money as well
  7. Take a field trip with your team (yes, a real trip, with a van, with engineers and UX) to visit a customer. Spend a couple minutes on the drive back to capture key learnings
  8. Set a couple dozen Google Alerts for news on competitors, customers, and specific domains/markets
  9. Break down silos. Do you speak to someone without your team present? Figure out how to have a conversation together so you aren’t the blocker and/or go-between
  10. Invite customers to the office and schedule a series of activities that they can participate in (e.g. sketching, customer journey mapping, etc.)
  11. Go on site with a customer and record a no-holes-barred, “this is how you could completely change how I work”, video. Bring the inspiration back to the team
  12. Figure out how to have an honest and safe discussion with your team about what is working, and what isn’t working. All too often the presence of the PO/PM stifles conversation (you’d be amazed what they say when you aren’t around). Change that dynamic!
  13. Create a “that drives me crazy” list — things that drive your internal team crazy when they use the product — and dedicate a couple days to knock those things out. It isn’t guaranteed to be customer facing, but it sure will boost morale
  14. Institute a just-in-time meeting policy. Make a Kanban board public. Keep adding agenda items to the board until there is enough stuff to fill a 45 minute meeting. Have the meeting. There’s no sense in talking about stuff until it is actionable and pertinent
  15. Get some photos of real customers who will benefit from your immediate work, and put them up on the wall. Call them as well. Personas are great and all, but real people and real stories inspire people
  16. Organize a customer panel to discuss topics pertaining to an upcoming initiative. Invite the whole team. Seeing the differences and similarities across customers can be eye opening. Plus it’s fun
  17. Partner with your onboarding / customer success / account management team and schedule regular interviews and usability tests with new customers. Fresh eyes are super valuable
  18. Remove a rarely used feature and figure out how to message this to your customers. That wasn’t that bad, was it!?
  19. Work to break through any of the stereotypes you hold about your team (e.g. engineers don’t care about UX, and UX doesn’t care about the business). Invite someone to lunch. Ask about what drives the people you work with
  20. Before you use the words complicated and complex, consider this model from David Snowden . Ask whether the problem you are solving is complicated or complex
  21. Conduct a targeted survey in-app. The targeting matters… you want highly qualified responses. The silent majority of users has a lot to say
  22. Check the adoption of your past five ship and reflect on your product decisions together
  23. Make a commitment to report back to your organization on the outcomes generated from your current effort. Consider a pre-cap design studio to flesh out what you want to communicate
  24. Schedule a session where everyone — yes everyone, including engineers — draws ideas, prototypes, etc. Make it official by calling it a design sprint
  25. Do some research on Service Design . Consider how your product is an integral part of a higher level service, and reach out to other parts of the organization to understand how you can help deliver that service more effectively. Customer journey mapping is a great place to start