5 More Ways to Act Like a Product Lead (Part 2)

Ross Otto
Product Architect

Back by popular demand! In a previous post, I covered five critical skills that every Product Lead should add to their expertise. Here are five more!

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Write out your product’s strategy and goals

Just like hope isn’t a strategy unless you’re Obama in 2008, your product strategy isn’t actually a strategy unless it’s written down. It doesn’t have to be a 100 page thesis with footnotes. But, it does need to be documented somehow -- memo, slides, etc. Why? Because if it’s not documented, you can’t easily communicate it. You can’t measure your goals. And you can’t adapt it or evolve it over time (you’ll definitely need to do this). Try taking your latest idea or strategy and writing it down -- it’s hard! But it will force you to be more thoughtful about your own words, vision and ideas. All of which will lead to your product’s success faster.

Build frameworks to make strategic decisions easier

Product Leads are forced to make or build consensus on hard, strategy decisions for your product or company (often with less information, data and feedback than we’d like). Even if you’re making the decision yourself and it’s not a consensus, you’ll often need to convince others that you’ve made the best decision. Given that, it’s critical for Product Leads to be able to take complex decisions and break them into their component parts and show the options and their relevant aspects. For example, let’s say we need to decide if we’re building our consumer mobile app on iOS or Android first. Frame up the options based on your research -- iOS, Android, Progressive Web App, don’t build at all, or more than one. Identify key aspects of each of those options that are relevant to the decision (these will likely be different for each framework). In this case, they may be the development time to build, skillset match with your existing dev team, fit with your desired user, ability to implement desired feature set, and cost. Now that you’ve got the framework to make the decision, now you can have a thoughtful and valuable conversation with your stakeholders to make the decision or to show them how you came to your decision.

Get multiple perspectives before formulating your own

Actively listen to your users and coworkers and push to gather more feedback and different perspectives from your own. Oftentimes, Product Leads will wait to gather different perspectives before finding their own opinion and perspective. This is because Product Leads shouldn’t actually be speaking for themselves, they should represent and be the voice of the users and other stakeholders. That can only come through your own research, conversation, and feedback sessions with users or those closest to your users.

Your new best friend, documentation

Colleagues may get tired of incessant talking of documentation and definitions, but this formalized communication is essential for building stable products that can be quickly built, used and communicated. Never assume that just because the dev team has been told what to build, that they understand what to build and will remember. Writing down requirements ensures that everyone has a reference point to determine what to build and what means success. Even more important, you’ll identify dependencies and nuances that you didn’t think about previously. Before starting any development, ensure the feature is well documented and tested, then walk your dev team through it. Your dev team will also likely point out things that you’ve missed too -- most likely, they know your product better than anyone.

Simplify messages and ideas to fit broader audiences

Product Leads need to find ways to better communicate to broad sets of audiences. In fact, communication is often cited as the most critical skill for product leaders. But, good communication is easier said than done! For those looking to hone this skill, try simplifying messages instead of adding more detail. Definitions and details are important, but place them out of the spotlight (Appendix, footnotes, reference documents, etc.). Remember that not everyone learns the same way you do, at minimum have documentation for visual learners and be able to voice it over for auditory learners. If you find that your team learns in other ways (tactile, logical, etc.), try to incorporate techniques that work for those specific audiences. Lastly, your audience will often have different backgrounds (finance, engineering, marketing, customers, etc.), so make sure you have enough background to setup your message for those users who aren’t as familiar with the ins and outs of your product. Don’t assume that they know what you know -- you’re the product expert after all.

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There are certainly others that could be included -- perhaps that will be another article. But, what do you think I am forgetting or overlooking when it comes to thinking like product lead or manager? Message us with your thoughts at contact@leanml.com. We want to hear from you and update with your great ideas!

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