Interview with Jeff Lash: Author of How to be a Good Product Manager

The second interview in the series is with Jeff Lash author of the blog "How to be a good Product Manager" - Jeff has a wealth of experience managing various on-line products and has produced a number of articles and podcasts on the topic. If you want to be good at product management continue reading Jeff''s interview.
1. What's your academic background/training?
I was originally interested in advertising and studied marketing in school. However, I had always had an interest in technology and computers, so I got involved in the (at the time) burgeoning world of online business. At the time, I learned a lot of what I did on the job -- everything from graphic design to server administration, back when one person could do all of those thing.

2. What did you do before you where a product manager?
I spent a number of years working in information architecture and user-centered (IA & UCD)design. I worked to help clients and project teams to better understand their users, their needs, and come up with products and interfaces that were useful and easy to use.

3. Where did you work before you worked for Reed Elsevier?
I worked in the Usability Services department of MasterCard International, working on various external-facing products and consulting with many internal teams on user experience design.

4. What inspired you to become a Product Manager?
I have always enjoyed the process of understanding customer needs and translating that into a well-designed product. I realized that if my ultimate goal was to build the best products possible, one way to do that was to be a user experience designer and help teams to accomplish that -- but another way to be in a product management position where I could achieve that goal from another angle. There were also aspects of the customer experience that I could better impact from the product management side rather than from a user-centered design position.

5. How did you make the move from (IA & UCD) to becoming a product manager?
A lot of the skills, techniques and methods learned and used by user experience designers are the same as the important parts of being a product manager. I was fortunate to work on a number of projects as a user experience designer that allowed me to understand and get involved in aspects of product management. Those gave me a much better understanding of -- and some great experience in utilizing -- the traits of a good product manager.

6. What do you like best about your job?
The most important part of product management is still my favorite -- spending time with customers, watching them use my product and competitive products, understanding more about their needs, and coming up with ideas to solve their unsolved problems.

7. What do you least like about your job?
There are small frustrations with any job. Probably the part I like least is the fact that there's always much more that I want to be able to do with my product than we can accomplish at one time. Product management -- and all management -- is about prioritizing limited resources. It's just a fact of the job, but there's a huge backlog of work to do that would benefit customers and ideally I'd like to be able to get it done today!

8. How do you keep up with the latest technologies?
It's a challenge, the scale and speed of technology changes is increasing exponentially. I try to read as many blogs as I can manage, read general consumer and business magazines, and learn from colleagues. I try to use as many new web sites as possible -- I always sign up for the "notify me when this service is available" email notifications, since there's too many to remember. As much as I try to stay ahead of the curve, though, I can't keep track of everything. My feeling is that if something is really going to be important, I don't need to be the first to find out about it, since I'll probably hear about it soon enough if enough people are talking about it.

9. Describe your Product Management job in one sentence.
Understand customer needs, figure out ways to meet those needs, work to get those solutions implemented, and provide and communicate them to the market.

10. What's your dream product to manage?
There isn't one specific one. My products -- MD Consult and First Consult ( -- are used by physicians around the world every day to answer their medical questions and improve patient care. It's very gratifying to work on a product and for a company that has such an impact on the lives of so many people all over the globe. My "dream" product would probably be something in that same realm -- something that can have a real impact on the most basic aspects of people's lives around the world. The computer developed out of the One Laptop Per Child project ( is the first thing that came to mind.

11. How would you describe managing product development before you /your company adopted agile?
In a few words -- less efficient and productive. There was more of some things -- more unnecessary documentation, more process for process sake, more overhead -- and less of others -- less communication, less trust, less effective working relationships. We got projects completed and created good products, though it took longer and was more painful than it needed to be.

12. How has using agile (scrum) changed your working day?
I'm much more involved with our engineering team on a day-to-day basis. I know much more about what's going on with the product and with projects in development at any point in time. I don't think it's any more or less time consuming than any other process, though I feel like my time is much better spent.

13. What would be the top three attributes you need to do your job?
Integrity, communication, and curiosity. Without integrity, you can't galvanize support from the various different departments and groups who need to work together to create and keep developing your product. Communication goes along with that: keeping people on the product development team informed, keeping your stakeholders engaged, promoting the benefits of your product internally and externally -- these are all essential and often-overlooked aspects of the job. Curiosity is crucial to help you understand the real roots of the issues your customers are going through, why they like/dislike your or any other product, or why a technology is being used in a certain way. With the iceberg metaphor, curiosity is what helps you discover the 90% of an issue that's below the surface.

14. What's the key attribute you need in order to work with the development team?
Respect. If you don't respect their skills, experience, and knowledge -- if you're constantly trying to overrule their technical decisions or arguing with them about issues that are really their responsibilities -- then you'll never get any credibility. At the same time, if they don't respect you -- if you don't spend time with customers, if you don't have a vision for your product, if you keep changing your strategy -- then you'll never get anything accomplished.

15. What do you do when you're not managing products (outside interests)?
I try to keep my blog How to Be a Good Product Manager updated on a regular basis. I've been biking a lot more lately, and when I get a chance, I like to play Wii -- it's an amazing product and so well designed. I love Nintendo's strategy of letting Microsoft and Sony fight it out for the hard-core gamers while they went after the much bigger market of non-gamers (like me). I never was big gamer, but the more I play Wii the more I am impressed by it.

1 comment:

  1. Hey - didn't you used to be the "Angry Product Manager" and have a different blog address?