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Product Management Philosophies

An aspiring product manager asked me to describe my “style” and philosophies around product management. I spend a lot of time thinking about this in bits and pieces but have never collected my thoughts in an organized manner.

Putting together a response was useful and fun, so I thought I’d share it here as well. Below are some of the ways I approach product management at CareNetwork.

Move very quickly. The enemy of a startup is slowness.

Always focus on MVP. What’s the fastest/cheapest way to test a hypothesis about what a customer will find valuable?

Prototype and iterate to learn. Building stuff is easy. Figuring out what to build is difficult.

Avoid perfectionism. It’s better to be imperfect but early than perfect but too late. Besides, you can continually deliver improvements.

Do less. Be disciplined about delivering an extremely thoughtful, cohesive, curated set of well-executed features. (Note: well-executed != perfect).

Don’t fear competitors. They are usually more of a distraction than anything and often pose less of a threat than you think. Startups don’t die by homicide.

Be flexible & open-minded. Good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Treat everyone fairly. All stakeholders (sales, customers, engineers, executives) have a right to give input and feel heard. However, you aren’t obligated to implement everyone’s ideas… (See next two points)

Balance all input. Product managers are the hub and must synthesize input from a huge number of sources. It’s your job to separate the signal from the noise.

You can’t please everyone. Someone will always dislike a given product decision. Consider their feedback, but don’t let criticism erode your confidence in your decisions.

Constantly talk with users. Customer development is a skill that comes with practice, but is a form of mining gold. Learn what questions to ask and how to listen. Don’t be scared to talk with users early and often.

Read between the lines. When a salesperson or customer tells you what they want, think deeply and ask yourself “What problem are they really trying to solve?”

Keep it fun. At the end of the day, we’re all extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to build cool stuff and work with talented people. A good product team doesn’t feel like a mechanical assembly line — it feels like a group of friends excited about making stuff together.

I rattled these off rather quickly, hopefully they make sense. There are probably more I am forgetting, too. Also, these ideas are more related to product management — i.e. a process for building products — rather than the attributes of a good product.

What are your product management philosophies? Let me know on Twitter!