Product management. It’s a way of life, not just a role

I recently attended a lecture given by acclaimed magician Walt Lees. He was talking about how to develop as a performer; how to improve a magical routine and to deliver a better performance.whitegloves

Top athletes often talk about how they improved their performance by competing with (and against) better people. In his autobiographySteve Redgrave says he always wanted to be rowing in a boat with stronger oarsmen so he could improve his own performance – even at his competitive peak. Others talk of surrounding themselves with the best talent so that they can feed from each other and raise their games.

I’ve always found that being surrounded by experts – really talented people – my own performance has improved.

But Walt had a different view of this. He argued that it was difficult to learn from exceptional magicians, and that the best way to learn magic was by watching it performed badly. His thinking went along these lines:

  • When you see something performed badly, you notice what’s wrong. It gives you the opportunity to identify areas for improvement in your own performance.
  • When you see a poor performance, you understand how it makes you feel. It might make you disappointed, angry, frustrated or even annoyed. The important thing is that you remember how it made you feel. And that provides the motivation to improve it yourself.
  • When you see something performed beautifully, you don’t notice many of the little nuances, the details, the subtleties which make it so good. And if those are not part of your own performance, it will somehow be lacking.

It made me wonder about whether this thinking could be applied to my own work, increasing the opportunities to learn from others. Importantly it reminded me of something which I had previously written, but hadn’t clearly verbalised:

Product management is a way of life, not just a role.

Developing and managing a product requires many skills. It touches a wide range of stakeholders and presents many varied challenges. As such, the job description is difficult to define in detail, other than to say it is to represent the consumer throughout the development of the product.

The best product managers see problems everywhere. They see things which others miss. Areas for improvement. Elegant solutions. Tiny detail. And much as it might be a cliché, those problems represent opportunities too.

The more we look, the more it becomes apparent that there is usually something to be learned from every product we experience.

The next time you experience a product which is somehow lacking, here’s what I suggest:

  • Ask yourself what you could do to improve it.
  • Ask yourself what the impact of that would be – for the consumer and for the business.

But most importantly, ask yourself why that improvement wasn’t originally implemented.

  • Perhaps it was a genuine oversight, completely missed by everyone concerned.
  • Or maybe it represented too much risk at the time.
  • Or it was too costly to implement.

In teaching me another way to improve my performance, Walt Lees has also reminded me that there’s often more than meets the eye.

What do you think? Please comment and let me know.

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