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Good product people simply care

Like many others, I entered the product management world because of an interesting opportunity, even though I came from a different background.

It all began when an intuitive HR manager tried to explain to me what it meant to be a product manager as she believed I would be a good fit for the role. Being a biomedical engineer, I originally contacted her company for a research & development position as they worked on VR simulation of surgery and I believed in their vision. After chatting to me for a while, she said I can continue perusing more engineering roles, but I should try going for her open product position as they needed people who can speak “both tech and medicine”. She described the role as having a lot of responsibility, wearing multiple hats and always looking after your “baby” – creating a product and helping it find its place in the world.

Product is an intense and exciting ride

After a few nights of contemplating the gravity of making this career change, I decided to go with my heart. I joined the company and embarked on an amazing journey, one that included ups and downs and multiple plot twists. I worked with extremely talented people who shared my passion and allowed me to dream big and execute on that dream. Don’t get me wrong, we had our differences of opinion, but we all respected each other and had an equal voice, and most debates led to brainstorming sessions which yielded much better solutions. We spent days and nights together testing and fixing things before important demos. We were “one team-one dream”, and it was all about teamwork and sharing the goal of producing the best product for our customers. I travelled the globe to meet with some of the busiest surgeons in the world – our potential early adopters and advocators, to learn from them and get first-hand user feedback. I spent time with our sales team to understand their view of the market and train them as we launched the product. Call me biased, but together we created what we believed was (and still is) one of the best products out there. It was first of its kind and had tremendous potential to improve patient safety, which aligned to the company vision.

Regardless of background, all product people should share one thing

Jumping to today, in my current position I coach product people and delivery teams. I meet people who came to the product world from various backgrounds – usually tech, business and marketing, and all have different skills and past experiences. Some were put in a product position as part of a company’s Agile transformation and are not clear on what is the new role they now need to start performing. Regardless of how they got there, we discuss how might we help them and what are some of the capabilities and characteristics they will be better off having. While there are different (good!) frameworks and attempts to define this by the product community, they focus on similar categories – vision & strategy, stakeholder management, product delivery, communication, user research and few more. However, what the lists are lacking is something easy to understand but hard to measure – good product people simply care.

  • They care about the users and they are genuinely interested in solving their problems. If they really do, they will listen to feedback and ensure it is not just about releasing another feature but rather validating first that we are doing the right thing.
  • They care about their team and everyone that will help them execute on their big audacious goal. If they really do, they will see themselves more as servant-leaders than micro-managers with a task board, enabling others to bring their best version and encouraging them to create something that even they didn’t think was possible.
  • They care about the future of the product and measuring its success. If they really do, they will be focused on delivering value, getting involved with market research, putting metrics in place and using analytics.
  • They care about their company and its brand. If they really do, they will consider financials and ROIs, reputation and customer service, and won’t be afraid to challenge stakeholders if they can back themselves with data and informative decision making.
  • They care about other things as well, that list is quite long…

Let me clarify. A product person (product manager/product owner, let’s not open this can of worms) can arguably build a roadmap while ignoring actual user needs because a stakeholder said this is what we need to do. It might be successful, often it will not. He/she can focus on driving the execution and hit the mark but forgetting the dev team and the shared goal, thus losing important discussions that had the potential of driving better decisions. They can also be involved in discovery but not be interested in measuring anything after a release, not learning from user feedback. Most product people can perform aspects of the role based on their capabilities and desires, but the good ones truly care about their “baby”.

When your measure is subjective it is tricky…

Many of the product capabilities that appear in the available frameworks are subjective, which makes recruiting, assessment for coaching needs and even understanding of your own growth areas difficult. Caring as a measure is no better from that aspect. Can you measure how much a person cares? You can try to rate it on a scale if you really want to, but we can all agree it is less straight forward than measuring a hard skill and I probably wouldn’t recommend going down that path. Caring is one of those things you will expect to hear from others when they describe a person. It will be reflected in everything the person does at work. It is a mindset thing that you might be able to shift when you coach a person.

I can’t speak on behalf of all product people out there, but I can share one more thought – when they care you will often find that they still follow their “baby” years after they moved on to continue with their own growth journey, and they are excited to see it crossing another milestone.

My “baby” just received a great recognition and I couldn’t be prouder. Another one of the multiple modules we released was validated in medical research, now in the Urology space. A recent publication showed that it can help novice surgeons improve their skills – by practising performing a complex medical procedure on a VR patient instead of a real human. Imagine what’s it like to know that the product you helped bring to the world can improve the treatment of prostate cancer. As this condition affects one out of nine males, consider the possible impact. Click here to read more about 3DSystems’ RobotiX Mentor.

 

If you want to talk about how to help your product people care more, contact me or Hypothesis directly.

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Inbar Rubin

Inbar Rubin

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