While every product team I've worked with leverages customer feedback to inform product decisions in some way, most fall short of designing their customer feedback loop to maximize the benefits to the product team of gathering, recording, and synthesizing feedback. They also often treat customer feedback as a point-in-time activity as opposed to a far more helpful continuous process. I wanted to share some of the best practices and techniques I've used for developing a product's continuous feedback loop, designed specifically to maximize the benefit of the customer feedback that your organization is already hearing.
Ever since I committed to being an infinite learner, I've been executing on a daily one hour learning ritual. While it's easy to say that continuous learning is important to me, I knew that if I didn't proactively dedicate time in my day to it, it wouldn't become a habit. So I set aside an hour first thing in the morning with my morning cup of coffee (or two) to this ritual. Over time I've refined what I actually do with that hour to maximize active learning of relevant skills and drive as much efficiency as possible in the process. I wanted to share my process in case it's helpful for formulating your own learning ritual.
I ultimately settled on a learning lifecycle of discover, consume, share, discuss, and write. I'll talk about each of these phases in-turn and it's importance to my overall learning process.
I just finished reading Creativity, Inc., by far the best book I've read on developing a culture of creativity within an organization. Written by Ed Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar Animation and eventually Disney Animation, it takes us through the earliest days of Pixar, and most importantly, into the actual creation process of some of the most creative films Pixar ever made, including Toy Story, Wall-E, Up, Monsters, Inc. and more.
Ed dispels our romantic notions of what creativity is all about and instead replaces it with actionable insights on how any organization, with incredible dedication to culture and process, can create a far more creative organization. I wanted to share 5 key take-aways I had from Creativity, Inc., illustrated through quotes directly from the book.
The area I most often get asked to help product managers on is preparing them for their upcoming product management interviews. Given that I’ve evaluated hundreds of product management candidates, I wanted to share a set of sample interview questions I might ask and what I’m specifically evaluating on to discern whether they are a great product management candidate.
Keep in mind that while these were common questions I personally asked product managers that I interviewed at LinkedIn, there is no standard set of questions nor interview template at LinkedIn. Every interviewer is encouraged to ask whatever set of questions they felt appropriate to help them evaluate the core competencies they were testing for. So don’t expect to receive these specific questions, but instead this should help you understand the competencies that are typically being tested for in product management interviews.
I'm a firm believer that the best product managers understand that mastering the discipline requires deeply excelling at both the art and science of product management. When you start your career in product management you tend to be largely focused on the science: how to effectively do customer research, run an A/B test, manage a sprint, write a spec, and so on. And while those are critically important to being a great product manager, they aren't sufficient. It's those that understand and appreciate the art of product management that do the best. They understand that certain aspects can't be learned by simply reading a set of best practices, taking a class, or applying a technique. They appreciate that certain innate skills and inordinate deliberate practice are necessary to truly excel. I'd put a bunch of aspects of product management into this category: prioritizing a roadmap, effective communication, formulating a vision, negotiating with stakeholders, and team leadership, to name a few. Over time I hope to dive deeper into each of these topics because I think they are so important and often not written about in-detail because the right approach is not easily picked up in a few hours, but instead requires years of focus and effort.
Today I wanted to dive into one such critical aspect of the art behind product management, which is developing user empathy. The reason this is so important is that I've seen product teams who faithfully have run a customer validation exercise and have executed incredibly well against the science of customer validation: identifying the specific target audience, recruiting a critical mass of folks to interview, developing a strong interview guide to answer their most burning questions, and synthesizing the feedback across interviews into a set of product requirements for their next iteration. And yet, the product plans that come out of this process can often be uninspired and little more than a regurgitation of the feedback customers directly gave them on what to develop and how to design their product. Worse, after developing the product directly based on the results of this customer validation process, I've seen products still struggle to find the elusive product/market fit. So what's going on here? To me this speaks to how the science of product management isn't enough to develop compelling products. Instead this is where the art is needed, and specifically in this case what's often missing is a strong dose of user empathy.