Four Micro-Actions that Make Awesome Product Managers - Part 1

Hi there! I’ve been really busy with my new job this summer, and I haven’t been keeping my usual weekly writing cadence for Product Popcorn. The good news: I’m absolutely loving my new job and have some super fun product challenges to work on that have renewed my love of product management. The bad news: As I’ve been ramping up, I haven’t had as much time to write (or podcast) for Product Popcorn.

Product managers are responsible for bringing the voice of the customer to the team, and making sure the overall product being built brings actual value to end-users. However, our day-to-day includes many random tasks and micro-habits that get us to the all-important product launch.

Over the past month I‘ve been keeping a long, running list of random micro-actions that I’ve observed (and implemented) from awesome product managers.

Here’s Part 1 - Four Micro-actions that Make a Great Product Manager!

1 - Self-service before you ask for questions

Before you use a technical resource’s time (or any resource, really) to explain something to you, do 5 minutes of research to understand the basics. Come with pointed questions instead of expecting a comprehensive personal lesson. Everyone’s time is valuable, so do some homework beforehand.

Last week I had a question about containerization and how it would affect scaling my product. Rather than asking a technical resource this blanket question, I did 10 minutes of research to understand Kubernetes. I then asked for 5 minutes of my architect’s time to get answers to my specific questions. When you treat highly-paid technical resources’ time as a valuable asset, you’ll gain respect from engineers.

How to start today: When you have a technical question today, take 2 minutes to see what you can learn via a Google search before you ask an engineer.

2 - Understand the technical details

Don’t be the product manager tunes out during a technical discussion with the excuse “I’m not technical.”

Take the time to understand how your features work on the backend. Ask questions. Take notes. Draw a diagram and reference it before you discuss that feature with your engineering team the next time. Product managers from non-technical backgrounds don’t become ‘technical’ overnight; it takes years of asking how things work during meetings, taking the time to understand the answers, researching online, sitting down with an engineer for 5 minutes to clarify a backend component that doesn’t make sense.

Take the time to understand how things work.

How to start today: Go through the architecture diagram for your product, and practice explaining it for a pretend audience. Make notes where you trip up and don’t understand. Then sit with an engineer for 5 minutes to understand the gaps.

3 - Write a summary at the end of every meeting

You may think this is obvious. (It isn’t.) You may think this is not your job. (It is.)

Keeping track of what happened during a meeting, as well as decisions that were made, can become critical during subsequent product discussions. As the product manager, you’re at the center of every product decision. Make sure you know what was discussed and decided, and when those decisions were superseded.

I use Evernote to keep running tabs on all product meetings. I’ve seen PC users use OneNote.

While I keep fastidious notes and often send them all meeting attendees (paper trails are important), this is something I continuously work at. Make it a habit. You’ll become the product manager that technical and business resources come to when they want to remember, for example, ‘what did we decide during that meeting back in June when we talked about the launch date for x?’

How to start today: Take 90 seconds at the end of your next meeting to write a 3 sentence summary of what happened, with the date and who was in attendance.

4 - Hold people accountable for action items

Once you get in the habit or writing short meeting summaries, you should also log a bullet-pointed list of action items and who they’re assigned to. Make sure assignees agree! (If they don’t, it doesn’t really count!)

More importantly, refer to this list of action items during your next sync with that group. Yes, these items are probably logged in JIRA, and if you work for a small company, that my be good enough. If you work for a large company (like I do), there are many, many JIRA boards, and having a ‘quick-reference’ list linked in your meeting notes is easy.

How to start today: Take 1 minute at the end of every meeting to write down action items, and get verbal agreement from assignees.

OK, now go do these four things! (If you’re not already doing them.) I’ll be back in a few weeks with Round 2.