How to be a better Product Manager

Graham Jones co-founder of Lane4 an international performance development consultancy gives several tips, in his recent article “How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better”, published in this months addition of Harvard Business Review, on improving your management performance – many of the tips are applicable to Product Managers. The article draws several parallels between successful sports and athletics personal. The tips are very applicable to Product Managers.

The first point that Jones puts forward is that the real key to excellence in both the sports and business world is mental toughness and the ability to thrive on pressure.

Loving Pressure
Product Management by its very nature is a job that is highly pressurised. You may be at a trade show and all of sudden the (beta) product your demonstrating gives up the ghost. How do you cope? It’s not always possible to ship spare equipment to annual exhibitions – such a situation will call for the product manager to quickly think on their feet. Or suppose your release gets unexpectedly delayed, a senior stakeholder has promised a major client that new feature in order to secure a purchase order or sponsorship deal– the lucrative deal is under threat and your mail box and voice mail gets flooded by a host of complaints and questions. To add to the pressure your company is desperate for revenue, times are hard – competition is tough.
Jones states that “You can’t stay on top if you aren’t comfortable in high-stress situations. Indeed, the ability to remain cool under fire is the one trait of elite performers that is most often thought of as inborn. But in fact you can learn to love the pressure…” The two tip that Jones gives is to: 

a) learn to compartmentalization – the sports person who loses a match on Monday must be able to put the defeat behind them walk onto the pitch the next day and play with the will to win.
b) Have a secondary passion that you can switch to – a hobby or charity you support. The ability to switch will help you avoid burn-out and therefore succesfully ride the storms of a commercail life.

Reinvent Yourself
I read a number of years ago that feedback was the breakfast of champions. Jones gives an example of Trampolinist Sue Shotton who reinvented her performance and as a result became world champion. One of the things that enabled her to achieve her ambition was her “insatiable appetite for feedback – according to Jones a quality he has seen in all top business performers his worked with. Product Managers who work in an organisation that values ‘lesson learnt’ or ‘scrum retrospectives’ can solicit or create an atmosphere for honest constructive feedback.

Celebrate the Victories
It’s important to celebrate victories but according to Jones it’s vital to be able to identify how and why you were victorious, he says that “The very best performers do not move on before they have scrutinized and understood thoroughly the factors underpinning their success.” It’s important that Product Managers know how and why they’ve achieved success. This gives them a better chance of repeating success at a later date.

Related articles: Ten Steps to Better Product Management


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