After a year's worth of lessons learned from all the good and bad product decisions I made as my company's Head of Products, I recognized that I would need even more help from the larger community of Product people in the months and years ahead.
As I learn more about what it takes to be a skillful Product Manager, I am continuously humbled by how much more there is to know. I try to expand my understanding by consuming product-related books, articles, podcasts and the like, but I have really come to appreciate in-person exchanges with peers of all experience levels.
And I am fortunate enough to live and work in a large enough metropolitan area to supply many hundreds of these peers. I had only begun to explore the human resources available in this city since moving back several years ago and I am now intent on fully tapping into this fertile (and accessible!) product population.
What drove this decision
I believe that if you actively look, you can always find opportunities for growth, both in your own personal career and with the teams with whom you work in your organization. I was actively seeking both.
I found myself craving fresh ideas and new resources. I wanted expert guidance from outside the company to grow my own skill set as Head of Product - and I would be growing my own Product Team at the same time. It was clear to me that, to improve my prospects, I should better connect with the product community.
The decision: Advance my own professional product capabilities and better address the expanding needs of my company by tapping into the rich pool of talent and experience all around me.
In my own observations over this past year, I began to realize just how large the local Product community was and how fast it seemed to be growing:
- Most of the 30+ new PMs I met seemed to have their own circle of peers with little respective overlap among them.
- My own inbox had accumulated a plethora of local, product-related new stories that would make it seem like this city was a breeding ground for "successful" product startups.
- And one of the local meet ups in which I regularly participate reported to have over 1,1,00 members (although no more than 60 or so ever showed up at a given event.)
I was determined to infiltrate this sizable community using a number of different tactics to track down the right resources to help me with my own product plans.
Plan of attack
I had already put in a lot of effort over the past year, trying to extend my network of Product Managers, both locally and long-distance. But most of those encounters had been introductory and brief. In this new campaign, I had much more specific intentions and would need to precise.
Proactively expand my personal network of product people
One of the activities I enjoy is sitting down, in person, with Product folks I've never met before. And whenever I come in contact with any smart person, I try to make a point of asking them if they know and would introduce me to good Product people.
This past week, I got introduced to a senior PM who is working right up the street from my office. We met for a quick chat over coffee and immediately hit it off, finding common ground with familiar product stories from our respective day jobs. It turns out we were both connected to some of the same people in the community, but he also acknowledged the need to proactively reach out more to our peers. Despite the overlap in our mutual professional networks, the proximity of our offices, AND the fact that I had recently attended an event in his company's space, we would likely never had otherwise met!
This meeting confirmed for me that, if I wanted a potent peer group to draw upon, I would need to drive the outreach myself and continuously build my network the old fashioned way.
Start recruiting for a new PM to join the team
For too many months now, I had been struggling to balance my strategic product work as an executive in the company with the day to day story-level work as a Scrum Product Owner for one of our Engineering teams. I needed to offload the latter so I could better concentrate on the former. In short, I needed to hire a new team member to free me up.
So, with this in mind, I went back out to the community to talk to current job hunters. In the span of a single week, I tracked down four Product Managers who were all looking for their next gig. Two were pursuing senior roles and two were focused more on entry-level positions.
I inquired about the state of the job market and their own personal challenges with finding good opportunities. I tried to get a better understanding of what I would be competing with compared to how other companies were hiring. I wanted to understand whether or not the recruiters were effective. I was also curious about the different interviewing techniques they had encountered.
As a result of these discussions, I was a little less optimistic about my chances of hiring my new PM. These were talented product people and for different reasons, they had all been struggling more than I would have expected. In the end, I would have to adjust my own expectations and prepare for a longer recruiting campaign.
Create my own discussion group for practicing PMs
Product-focused community events seemed to be proliferating. I had attended recently a new Product meet up nearby that was just getting off the ground. I tracked down and spoke with the group's organizers to get a better sense of what they were trying to offer to the local community. This week, I ran into another, would be event organizer who had similar plans for launching his own product-specific get-together. Ultimately, these event organizers here in town are increasing the number of opportunities for Product people to engage with their peers. I certainly appreciate those efforts but still felt like there was a gap around engaging in more personal interactions on a regular basis.
these event organizers here in town are increasing the number of opportunities for Product people to engage with their peers.
I will certainly continue to attend and support these product events, but I had been thinking about creating a very different forum. So, in this past week, after several months of planning and preparation, I successfully piloted a new, unique gathering with a small subset of local Product Managers of all experience levels where peers could comfortably share their product-specific stories.
For this initial meeting, I hand-selected a small number of PMs who I had met in my travels over the past year but who, for the most part, did not already know each other. But what they have in common are a sense of modesty (no giant egos), a passion for product development, and intrinsic curiosity - and I found that that set of traits ultimately made the group-based conversation easy, inclusive, and informative. At the end of the night, I walked away satisfied with the outcome of the pilot meeting and now am encouraged to extend the experiment next month with an even larger group of like-minded participants.
After a year of writing about my Product experiences, I am still surprised by the sheer breadth of this role and that awareness continues to be reinforced as I speak with more Product Managers. This past week, I chose to engage with the larger community of Product people outside my company and outside my existing professional network. As I look to broaden my circle of peers, I am taking advantage of opportunities to grow my own skills and to grow my company's Product team.