Training is Product Management

I never like saying fail fast, I say what can you do to learn quickly. How can you maximize your learning about something?

Jeremy Horn, Founder of The Product Group and The Product Mentor, shares how product managers can find mentors, how to get new hires up to speed, and how senior product managers can grow into leaders.

Here are the highlights:

  • Why does Jeremy think mentorship is so important to product managers? (4:58)
  • What can senior product managers and organizations do to help new hires? (12:10)
  • What are some of the common mistakes Jeremy sees when getting new product managers up to speed? (14:20)
  • How does Jeremy recommend product managers get better at their jobs? How can product managers find the right resources for themselves? (19:28)

And here’s the transcript:

Mike Fishbein: Hey, I’m your host, Mike Fishbein. This is Product Management, the podcast produced by Alpha. Welcome back. On this episode, I’ll be speaking with Jeremy Horn, maybe better known as The Product Guy. Jeremy has built a vast network to help product managers become better at their jobs. He’ll share ways product managers can find a mentor, what some of the most common mistakes are when getting new hires up to speed, and best practices for training the next generation of product managers.

Jeremy Horn: I’m Jeremy Horn, also known as The Product Guy in many places online, offline. I’m the founder of The Product Group, started it about six years ago. We’ve grown to over 9,000 members today. Actually, as of now, it’s the world’s largest product management meetup in the world. I’m also very proud to announce that we just launched another version of it out in London, and it’s actually growing very fast as well, so it’s very exciting. I think we just had another 70 members join out in London last night. It’s going awesomely.

Also, if you want to learn more about it, just go to TheProductGroup.org. It drives you to the New York chapter. You want to set up local chapters, it’s really easy. But what I do, I really organize a lot of different types of product initiatives from The Product Group, which is a round table discussion for people to get together, talk about different things product management, process, and we dig into a featured product every night. We take it apart. We figure out what makes it tick.

Then one thing that every product person loves to do is figure how they could do it better, and so that’s kind of what The Product Group’s about. We don’t do any AV. We don’t do any demos. We don’t do any of that boring stuff that you see at so many of the other meetups. Ours is fun, and it’s very social, and you get some free food, free drinks also, with it to help your brain kind of keep going for those two hours.

Other initiatives that we’ve got are The Product Mentor, which I’m sure we’ll end up talking a little bit more about, the Product Associates Program, and I’ll talk more about that all the way at the end, and as well as The Product Jobs. It’s a free board that we put up a little while ago that helps get product managers and the companies looking for them kind of paired up more easily to help find the jobs.

I’ve been a chief product person really throughout my career, from startup companies to enterprise companies, network security, online services, wearables, e-commerce, media, big data, really all kinds of things. I’d say for most of my … I’d say not most of it, I’d say maybe a quarter of my career, I didn’t even realize I was doing product management. I thought I was just inventing, and doing product, and delivering business value.

It wasn’t until I finally realized, “Oh, you call this product management,” that a lot of the things in my career and a lot of my extracurricular activities, The Product Group, The Product Mentor, really started to kind of coalesce.

Mike Fishbein: Jeremy says he’s been in product management for his entire career, but he wasn’t born being known as The Product Guy. Where exactly did his journey begin?

Jeremy Horn: I’ve always been a product person. I think you used to call it an inventor back then, when it was a little bit more informal. When I was a little kid, I used to have lots of sketchbooks of my inventions. Earmuffs with no band, faucets you could talk to, lots of kind of goofy things like that, tons of sketchbooks. I’ve always been someone trying to solve problems or find problems to solve, and that started out when I was very young. I’m a graduate of Carnegie Mellon, computer science. I have a very strong art background. I’ve done a lot of art contests, won a lot of fun awards on that side.

My logical side, my artistic side, my problem-solving side, it just became this kind of perfect storm of skills and desires and things that I like that have kind of turned into this product management career that I have now. As I mentioned earlier, even when I was a VP of new products, I didn’t even know you called it product management. I just knew I was the guy in charge of coming up with new products.

Just always been very logical, very iterative, in how I approached everything, which just turned into a very natural fit when this thing called Agile came about, and this thing called Lean came about, and it gave this framework to a lot of the things that I had done previously or things that I was on the right kind of track to adopt and adapt to my own work. It just worked out really well, that whole stream of things. But it all started when I was sketching weird solutions and inventions in my notebooks as a little kid.

Mike Fishbein: Through his programs, Jeremy has taken on the role of mentor and trainer for up and coming product managers. Why does he think giving back to the community in the form of mentoring is so important?

Jeremy Horn: Can you do it all without a mentor? Sure. I did. It’s really hard. You make a lot of mistakes. You go through a lot of pain. Really, my philosophy, like I said, from The Product Group, to the classes that I teach, to the mentorship program, is, “Man, if only I could help a few people avoid some of these mistakes.” When I started out The Product Group, you kind of had almost like a very social, very kind of mentorship sort of an atmosphere. It was eight people attending, 10 people. Once it kind of grew to a hundred, these new needs kind of came about where people were starting to want to basically be able to kind of pair up with other individuals.

Without a mentorship program, without support groups, it can be a lot harder to just get things done, and that’s really, as I mentioned, the thing that drives a lot of these product management initiatives. There’s tools, resources, people that I wish I had access to that just either didn’t exist, or I didn’t know how to get in touch with, throughout my whole career. A lot of that came from … That’s what kind of brought me to The Product Group, to The Product Mentor Program.

The Product Mentor Program is all about pairing up one mentor and one mentee for six months. The mentee could be someone who just got into product management, or maybe a director, or even a VP that’s looking to kind of figure out how to take their career to that next level, to kind of do that next big awesome thing. Maybe it’s someone who’s trying to figure out, “Hey, I think I’m doing product management. How can I kind of formalize more of what I’m doing?”

The Product Mentor Program, I myself spent a lot of time looking for great mentors, looking for great mentees, to kind of pair them up. It’s actually interesting, the origins of The Product Mentor Program itself. I used to have people all the time after The Product Group come up to me going, “Hey, do you have a mentor for me? I need a mentor,” or, “Could you mentor me?” I really launched it as a really super lean MVP one day. I went to Google, the Google Forms. I set up a form saying, “Hey, do you want to be a mentor or a mentee? Fill out this form,” which by the way, if you go sign up today, that’s the same form I now have embedded on the website, the prettier version of the website that’s running off Weebly.

Again, never really spent a lot of time on that. I’ve always spent the time on the people side of this. I launched it. I thought maybe there’d be some people in New York City that would be interested The Product Mentor Program. I thought it would be really cool if there were. Otherwise, I didn’t spend a lot of time. I just put the other Google form. Who knows what’s involved in a mentorship program or a successful mentorship program? What ends up happening over the next 24 or 72 hours is the thing goes viral. It goes worldwide.

The mentorship program is not just New York City, but it’s London, it’s Australia, it’s Singapore, it’s China, it’s California, Canada. We’re really all around the world. It becomes this whole worldwide event for myself in that The Product Mentor Program, where I thought I’d have a few, ends up having hundreds of people signing up all around the world, mentors and mentees, and that’s basically where the thing got started, think it’s about two years ago now. Actually, little bit more than two years ago, I think, at this point.

We kicked it off. We did session one. You get paired up, one mentor, one mentee. There’s an interview process. It’s a really hard program to get into, because you’ve got to have the right skillsets, and there have to be the right people at the right time to get in. But if you get in, it’s a really cool sort of process. We approach everything within the program very much the mentor and the mentee are products themselves. The program is a product. Everything is always undergoing experimentation. Everything is always undergoing goals and setting goals, setting milestones.

Actually, now in session four, we’re working on establishing … We’ve got this new set of key metrics that we’re using, got a new KPI to see if we can kind of really fine-tune performance and tracking performance of everyone within the program, because we want more than knowing everyone participated and did what they were supposed to do, we want to know if it’s really producing a lot of results for people. Like every product that someone has, you’ve got metrics, you iterate on the metrics, you iterate on the KPI, and you just iterate on all the different parts, process, participation, all kinds of things.

Because it is such a hard program to get into, because it is really kind of an exclusive thing to be able to participate in, everyone who gets in, we ask them to pay it forward. One of the things we have the mentors do is we have them do a livestream. The livestream, number one, is for the people within the program, mentors and mentees, and we do it on Google Hangout, and everyone can basically come in. You ask questions. It’s a little bit more of a presentation, a bit different than the round table thing that I’m more known for, but it’s a presentation that’s given by the mentor in an area of their expertise. They talk for about an hour, but throughout the whole time they’re getting asked questions by people in the room, other mentors, other mentees.

But what we also do is we open it up to the rest of the internet. If you go to TheProductMentor.com, and you go there when we have one of our live events, there’s a link to the live page. Yourself, the rest of the internet, the rest of the world can also ask questions in real time. As the questions come in, I moderate them and pass them along to the mentor so we can get as many of those questions answered over the course of the livestream. That somewhat we do on the mentor side to kind of get more people involved in the program who might not have gotten access directly to the mentors.

On the mentee side, you learned something. You got a lot of something out of this program. What we have all the mentees do, what did you learn? Did you learn a new way to do roadmaps? Did you learn a new way to manage stakeholders? Did you learn a new way to kind of work with your tech team in a more harmonious fashion? If you did, let’s write an article about that. Then we’ll get that article out there so that other people can learn from your experiences in the program.

Those are kind of your deliverables, your key deliverables, but there’s a lot of goals and metrics, so what are you trying to … As a mentee, what are you trying to get out of the program? As a mentor, what do you want to get out of the program? We take a lot of that, and that’s where we kind of match up the mentor and mentee’s goals with each other, and then we also make sure that the mentee has very clear goals, what they’re trying to get out of the program.

Now, we don’t help mentees find a job. It’s not like how do I get out of my current product management job. We don’t do that. What we do is we help someone who can take the skills that they’re learning to make their job, their environment, better. Maybe it’s roadmapping. Maybe it’s, “Oh, my God, I have 100 stakeholders. It’s herding cats. I don’t know how to get them all together.” It’s all about helping with a lot of those types of scenarios, and moving a lot of those situations and improving those situations for everyone.

That’s really what the mentorship, pairing up the mentors and the mentees, are really all about.

Mike Fishbein: Jeremy has done a tremendous amount of work to fuel the product management community with training and educational information. His work has definitely inspired a lot of what we’re trying to accomplish with This is Product Management.

In terms of training, let’s talk about what product managers and organizations can do to help new hires in the field.

Jeremy Horn: Just like anything in product management, and I think you can probably relate to this yourself, process is your friend, whether you’re creating a podcast, or you’re managing a project, or you’re working on a roadmap. When you’re onboarding someone it is very important you have a really good solid process, everything from welcoming the person and making them … Buying them the cookies on their first day, or taking them out to lunch, or who’s got them next, to their training, to their learning, to also just even before you bring them in having a good interview process and a good hiring process so that someone is not going to be surprised, like, “Holy crap, this company is weird.” Or it should be they come in and go, “This is exactly what I expected,” and that you’ve hopefully assessed their skills as best you can.

One of the things that I do in my interview process is I have a very clear rubric that I use for every single product manager so that I can always be comparing apples to apples. There might be some tweaks I do for slightly different types of roles, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to compare apples to apples, testing logic, testing creativity, testing analytical skills, because at the end of the day, there are certain base skills that I’m looking for that every one of the people I’d want to have on my team has.

Definitely the people skills, definitely team building, definitely creativity. I find that’s one of the hardest ones to train. If you’re not a creative person, it’s hard to get someone, teach someone to be creative. Not impossible, it’s just harder.

And so everything from the hiring to when they start, and when they start, there’s a lot of things that you make sure, if you have process in place for how do we manage a product, how do we work with stakeholders, what are the expectations of stakeholders. Hey, I just started, what am I supposed to be doing by the end of the month? Am I getting a bonus? Knowing all these kinds of questions and making sure that they’re as codified and as standardized as possible so that you’re not giving everyone different bits of information, so you are helping everyone stay consistent. And also if you find new things, have a good way to capture this new information, the new information that this new employee might be asking to help spread it out to everyone else.

Mike Fishbein: Process is your friend as long as you take control of it, Jeremy says. I then asked him to talk a little bit about goal setting and the common mistakes he sees being made getting new product managers up to speed.

Jeremy Horn: I think when it comes to goal setting and helping kind of the new product managers acclimate, whether it’s a junior member or a more experienced member, you have to make sure the process and everything that you’re doing is more of a living document and it’s not something rigid, not something that isn’t going to be able to be adaptable.

Everything from just helping the person work with the new stakeholders and helping kind of get them acclimated with the people, to being flexible and hopefully kind of learning new things out of that process. I actually think that’s a very common mistake that people also do make in that they come up with a process and they hand someone a book, and they say, “Go to it.” And then they say, “And I’m gonna go back to my office and go to work.”

It doesn’t work that way. It has to be something where you have to work with your new employee, whether you’re the manager or the manager’s manager, really to work with everyone to help get them through it, get them acclimated to the organization, to the products. Get them trained and up to speed on everything. And if you’re in an organization that just kind of hands you the book, I think that actually speaks to some of the big mistakes that people do make in product management.

I’d say most simply that you kind of have those normal mistakes, the mistakes in hiring, where the person just gets strapped in. There’s no training, there’s no guidance, there’s none of that, to the other types of big problem … you run into this in large companies a lot. Also, I’ve been in many startups where I’ve seen this happen as well, where they hired the wrong person. It’s not anyone’s fault, but we also don’t have to wait nine to 12 months to 18 months to make a decision to fix the problem.

It could be as simple as just moving them to a different role. Maybe they’ve got a great mind that you’ve got a way to use somewhere else in the company, or maybe it’s just not a fit. There’s not a place for them, and the best thing you can do is help them get on with their next thing. If it’s not a fit, do right by everyone. Make some phone calls also. Help them get that next job. Don’t just kick them to the curb, ’cause mistakes were made all around. That’s just kind of on the hiring side.

New hires, I find a lot of the time if you’ve been doing product management for a while and you might have gotten stale at your last organization, or especially even more so when you’re new to product management, it’s really about … I find a lot of people, they just focus on the features too much, and what feature do we have to do next, or customer XYZ asked for features A, B, and C, and oh my god. It’s about really, you gotta change that mindset where you’re focusing on the problems, focusing on what are the goals we’re trying to accomplish.

That feature might be great, but it might be a feature in search of a problem, in search of a goal. So write it down somewhere. Maybe that goal will appear some day and you’ve already got the solution. But don’t jump to the solution before you know what you’re trying to do with the problem.

Also, relying too much on gut. The number of times I’ve asked people, “So why did you go with that?” “It felt right.” Now, things can feel right, there can be gut instinct where this underlying data or underlying information … maybe you’ve spoken to a lot of customers, but at the end of the day if it’s just purely gut and there’s nothing else behind it, ah, that’s one of those things that I think can make some heads explode, and I think that’s one of the things when you’ve got a new hire to help them realize, you’re not gonna sell it, you’re not gonna get buy-in. You’re not gonna get stakeholders to back you if it’s just a gut feeling as to why you need to do that feature.

That’s where you have to have data. Maybe you have to talk to customers. I spoke to three people, and here’s the problem, here’s the trend that I’m seeing. But you gotta have something. You can’t just be on gut. And the number of startups, the number of companies that I’ve heard gut being the driver, just … it’s this very similar thing. The outside world as well as your new hires, you gotta make sure that gut can be part of it … you’re hiring someone who has background and experience, and at the end of the day, it’s that background and experience that forms the quote unquote, “Gut” of it, and then it’s also the interactions they’re having with their customers, the data that they’re seeing. So at the end of the day, if it’s truly gut, man, let’s get some data, let’s talk to some people.

And then also, I find a lot of new hires a lot of time, they feel like they started with such a strong mandate. They just hired me for this new position, I’m gonna be in charge of video, and I’m gonna go do it, do it, do it, and they totally forget about consensus. They totally forget about bringing along stakeholders. They totally forget about all the other people that are gonna make them successful.

A little bit more common with junior people, but anyone can get caught up with the we’re gonna go change the world with this new feature or with this new product. It’s very easy to get swept up with it, but you can’t forget all the other people who are gonna be there to help you be successful. So if you don’t pay attention to them when you start that new job, that new product management job, man your job’s gonna be so much harder than it needs to be.

Mike Fishbein: Jeremy has shared a number of common mistakes while hiring and training new product managers. I then asked him pointblank how he recommends product managers get better at their jobs.

Jeremy Horn: It’s interesting, like people often say, “What product management books do you read? What podcasts do you listen to?” I’ve found that to become a better product manager … I’m going back to something that I mentioned a few times before. You treat everything as something that you can improve. So you gotta figure out a way to measure something. You gotta figure out a way to test it, to evaluate it, and then repeat. Try something.

I never like saying fail fast, I say what can you do to learn quickly. How can you maximize your learning about something? And so that goes to yourself as well when you’re thinking about product management. What can you do to maximize what you know about product management? And I’ve found that it’s not so much about books, and there’s great books. Everyone knows Steve Blank, Eric Ries. Those are kind of your cornerstone go-to books, and there’s some newer books that are out there, and they kind of help build a lot of good foundational knowledge.

But what I’ve found in what I do is I spend a lot of time just reading everything else. So I read about other industries, I read about technology. I look for people who are talking about business management. I look for as much information as I can absorb, not as this is how you have to do it, but just another perspective. I’m always looking for new perspectives. And as soon as I’ve got something that goes, ooh, that might be interesting, I’m gonna go try it. Maybe I’ll experiment on one of my teams or myself, and we’ll see how it works. If it works, great. Maybe I’ll incorporate it into a larger thing. If it doesn’t work, man, hopefully I can figure this out quickly that this isn’t working.

And so I’ve found a lot of … following a lot of blogs and getting a lot of perspectives, and also talking to a lot of people, that’s where the product group comes from. That’s what the product mentorship program is all about. You gotta talk to people, and not just the people in your domain. One of the cool things when I created the product group was, it wasn’t about talking to other tech people. It wasn’t about talking to other tech startup product managers. The idea of the product group itself was to get different product people together in a room, across industries, across size of company, restaurants, lawyers, physical products, digital, small, large, finance, nonprofit, all kinds of product people, all with really a passion to make products better.

And what you find is, when you bring together all these different minds, into the same place, you’re gonna get fascinating crosspollination. I’d say some of the best lessons I’ve learned are from an E-Commerce product when I was working on a video product, to a restaurant that it was a featured product one time at the product group where I learned a new way to manage my teams.

And so these were all product management lessons I learned, but I got them from other industries, and I think people should always be much more open to hearing from other industries, hear about how a wearable product is done. There’s a really cool wearable product that had come through the product group where they ran into this problem with gold plating.

Now, I don’t know anything about gold plating. I don’t know anything about their specific type of problem. They were having contact and electrical issues. But then they talked about how they solved it. And I know myself, I know a lot of people at that meetup, there was a lot of takeaways. And there may be 10% of the people were dealing with physical products. A lot of people were in the startup world, a lot of people were working at large companies, but there were takeaways that they got out of the process and how someone in another industry solved the problem that, ooh, I might be able to try that to my website, to my mobile app.

And so when you’re trying to figure out how you can better yourself as a product manager, it’s about talking to people, but really looking for people in different industries, in different areas, so you can kind of get that crosspollination. And I think when you get those kinds of perspectives together, that’s where you really get some very interesting … that’s where you get new ideas. That’s how you can see those new opportunities that are out there.

But yes, you focus on not just the product, but the process, the people, and you gotta study all of it. There’s no just, I want to get better at managing a product, so let me look at products. There’s a lot of people involved. There’s a lot of process involved, even when you’re going lean, even when you’re doing agile perfectly, which maybe you are. But you gotta look at all of these things, and you have to say, “Hey, maybe I could do this better. Let me try this differently.” And that’s also why, going back to one of your earlier questions, when I’m hiring a product manager, what am I looking for, that’s when creativity comes in so handy.

Whether something, as some people might say, stale as a process, or as heated as dealing with people, I’m looking for someone who can come up with creative solutions, things that I haven’t come up with, and hey, let’s try it, let’s see what happens. Let’s see how people react. Let’s see how the product reacts. Let’s see how the customers react. That’s how you become a better product manager. It’s really kind of taking that philosophy of, let’s try something, and iterating on it, to really every aspect of your life, your career.

Mike Fishbein: Today there are a ton of courses and certifications out there for product managers. I know Jeremy has also been a professor in General Assembly’s product management program. What’s his view on whether product managers should take a course and how they should find the right one for them?

Jeremy Horn: What pulled me back into the whole teaching world, and I taught way back in the late 90s, but what pulled me back was when General Assembly kind of reached out to me to develop their product management curriculum.

So it’s interesting as kind of the person who created the product management courses that are kind of taught at General Assembly now, I think I have somewhat of a unique perspective. You take the course because you want to learn the material, because you want to refine your understanding, because you’re trying to augment what you can do. I don’t tell people to take a course to get certified. I don’t think certifications are really worth their … much weight at all. If your company’s willing to pay for it, great. Otherwise, it’s really about if you want to learn a new skillset.

Pragmatic marketing, or a course at GA, or take a course at the new school, or wherever it is you want to take a course. It has to be about you improving yourself. Don’t think about it as, hey, this is gonna get me a new job, or this is gonna get me promoted. Think about it … hey, the way I do road mapping doesn’t work right now. Ooh, this course will teach me a different way of road mapping than I’ve approached before. I’d like to learn that. And so you really need to kind of take more that approach to the courses that you select or where you end up going, and I think that’s the philosophy people should take when they’re thinking about what class they might want to take or where they might want to do it. It’s really about improving your skills, as opposed to getting a job. Product management is a tough field to break into. If you’re trying to break into the field, you gotta talk to the people in the company you’re at. You gotta talk to the people at the next company you’re going to saying, “Hey, can I start as … I know you’re trying to review me for business analyst. Is this a path to product management?” If they don’t say yes, “What job is a path to product management for you guys?” That’s really more how you have to approach it.

You have to be very open about transitioning, and you can transition into it from any career, but don’t get fixated on, hey, if I can do road mapping, they’re gonna hire me. They’re not, ’cause you gotta get through the interview and you gotta tell me what business that you deliver today that you’re gonna be able to deliver for me tomorrow. Now, road mapping, cool. I can teach you my way of road mapping. That’s great, but I want to know what business that you can deliver for me, and that’s not something that you … You learn framework in a class, but then you have to apply it in the real world, and you gotta find a job where you can actually apply it. It doesn’t have to be product management. It could be business analyst. It could be a junior position. It could be a UX role. It could be a more technical role, anywhere that you can kind of tease out that business value to show that you can apply those concepts. That’s what gets you into that next job.

Mike Fishbein: We’ve talked a lot about common training mistakes and how to get to the next level as a junior products manager, but now I want to take a look at how a more senior PM can take the leap to becoming a leader in his or her organization.

Jeremy Horn: I think when you’re senior product manager, I think when kind of going back, also, to a lot of the mistakes I see happening in a lot of places, I see a lot of people building up a team and just not managing the team, not being there to support the team. I think the advice I have in general is just kind of fairly universal. It’s not necessarily I think this is for … How do you help a junior product manager just be better at their job? I think these are universal concepts you can apply to any job that you’re doing. It’s about empowering the people under you. It’s about supporting them. It’s about, hey, when you have the one-on-one, it shouldn’t be your agenda. It should be the employee’s agenda, and what their problems are, and what their concerns are.

That’s the point of the one-on-one. You have all the rest of the week to take whatever time you want of theirs and tell them what to do or what your thoughts are on something. That one-on-one is for them, and it’s to help them out, but that’s not product management. That’s just good management. That’s good management of employees. It’s about being a good sounding board. It’s about providing the right level of feedback. It’s not about saying, hey, you screwed that up, ’cause hopefully if you hired well, they already know they screwed it up. If they ask for advice, give them advice. If they say, “Hey, how could I do this better?” Give an opinion. If you don’t know, say you don’t know, but here’s some ideas that I might have that you might want to also consider.

It’s about helping the people. It’s about helping junior product managers, junior employees avoiding roadblocks, but also at the end of the day, again, just like the rest of the product management process, they can be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong. Unless it’s something catastrophic and you know it might go a little wrong, let it go a little wrong ’cause sometimes it’s the best way your employees are gonna get better. Oh, that’s not gonna work out well. Okay. So, you know what? They can go do it. They can make the mistake, but they’re gonna come back to you saying they learned. That lesson is gonna be so much more valuable than you telling them not to do it in the first place. I let people be wrong, as long as it doesn’t kill the company or anything like that, but again, it’s about teaching process and methodologies, but helping people and letting people adapt them. Just ’cause I have a process, just ’cause I have the ways I like doing things doesn’t make it the end.

Hopefully for you, it’s a starting point. Now make it better so that I can make my process better. It needs to be that kind of two way street where you can’t have a rigid … Whether it’s process, or people, or products, you have to make it set. Everything kind of can feed on itself and improve on itself. I think if you have an environment like that where people feel like, hey, I can screw up, it’s okay. They’re like, hey, two weeks, we lost two weeks. That’s all we lost. It’s fine. Or, hey, this road mapping process wasn’t working, so I changed it and I do this now. What do you think? Wow, how cool is that. I never thought of that. Now I’m moving that and putting that in my class. If you have an environment like that, that’s where you’re also gonna attract great people and you’re gonna retain great people in that process.

Mike Fishbein: Jeremy has given us a framework for thinking about training and being trained in product management. Next up is the benchmark. Let’s hear how Jeremy reflects on the next series of questions we ask all interviewees to ask themselves.

Jeremy Horn: How do I eat my own dog food? Well, I already spoke to a lot of the dog fooding that I do from the things that I wish I had had in creating the product group, the product mentorship program, to the teaching that I do outside of my organization, as well as inside the organization. Very specifically, a lot of that dog fooding has to do with really rolling out an OKR process across all my teams, teaching it, really being an advocate for very much of a goal-oriented world, product pages to help open things up and be transparent, and make your metrics clear and your risks clear, and everything about your product is just as clear as can be to your team, as well as people outside your team, really across your organization to what I call snippets. Some other organizations, they might call them snippets, as well, or just weekly updates.

Just help everyone understand what everyone did that week, what everyone is doing next week just to help create that transparency, again, whether it’s your team or someone else’s. You did something. What did you do this week? It’s just very similar to agile, but I apply that to kind of the product side of the equation, and like I said, the product group, the product mentorship program, the product associates, which helps people trying to break in the product management. Find those companies that are willing to help people break in the product management and really hire that first time product manager. So, yeah, that’s how I eat my dog food.

How do I get out of the office? Getting out of the office, for me, is a lot of different things. It’s my day job … Getting out of the office is sometimes just talking to other stakeholders within the company, but it’s also talking to a lot of the end users of these products, the customers, and it’s picking up a phone call, sometimes it’s working with the sales and [inaudible 00:32:46] people to find the right people to talk to and just picking their brain. What are their problems? Why do they like the product? Why won’t they use the product? And finding that out.

But, even more so, in my extracurricular, the whole getting out of the building process with the product group, I’m usually meeting anywhere from 5 to 10 products a week. I’m sitting down. I’m interviewing them. I’m figuring out what makes them tick. What makes the product tick, the person tick? What are their processes? What are their problems? What lessons have they learned? What was their journey to get to that moment where we’re now talking and I’m interviewing them? That is probably the most invaluable part of everything that I do in that I take a lot of those conversations, and I make a lot of notes, and I learn a lot from the people I talk to every week, and I apply it to my job. I apply it to my other side projects.

It’s about just nonstop reaching out to people. Sometimes I’m cold-calling people saying, “Hey, you look like you have a cool product. Can we sit down and talk over coffee? I’ll buy you drinks.” Or, with the product group, it’s someone reaching out saying, “I would be interested in being a featured product.” I almost never say no, and so I’ll sit down with you and we’ll learn all about it. Maybe you’re not a featured product, but hopefully we had a good time and we got to learn about each other a little bit more. More times out of not, even if you’re not a featured product, you usually had a pretty cool product that was fun to dig into and learn more about. That’s how I get out of the office.

What am I reading right now? Back in the day, I read a lot of business books. I read a lot of factual books, and biographies, and history. Now, I’ve kind of gone towards sci-fi. I’m almost always reading a science fiction book. I just read Seveneves from Neal Stephenson. It’s one of the newer books that came out. Now I’m re-reading Hitchhiker’s Guide ’cause I last read it when I was a little kid, and I figured, does it still hold up? Is it something I still like? I read a lot of science fiction. I try to do anything I can to kind of keep my creative side engaged and trying to come up with new ideas. For me, science fiction is the way I go about doing that. I don’t do a lot of the other stuff. The rest of my stuff that I read, with respect to product management, I get through some podcasts, but primarily through blogs, as I mentioned earlier, a whole variety of blogs that are out there.

What’s a recurring product management nightmare that I have? Oh, the nightmares. I’m sure there’s lots, but I think for any product manager, the real nightmare is, am I solving the right problem? Imagine spending six months fixing a problem and you find out no one cared, or, hey, some of it was nice. It was nice. Thanks for helping with that thing, but wow, that didn’t move the needle on customers. It didn’t move the needle on retention. It didn’t move the needle on acquisition. Wow, that’s a bummer. I think my big nightmare is more about, did I find the right problem? Am I solving it? Have I identified the right customers? It’s probably a problem that I’m working on, but is it the most important? Is it the most valuable? That’s the nightmare. That’s kind of the nightmare, the thing that can kind of keep me up at night, with respect to that.

Mike Fishbein: Listeners can find out more about Jeremy at TPGBlog.com. He’s actively looking for product mentors, and I encourage you to pay it forward, as well, by signing up at TheProductMentor.com. That’s our show. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time, this is Mike Fishbein from Alpha.

Jeremy Horn

Founder of The Product Group and The Product Mentor

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