Nov 14

All The Responsibility, None Of The Authority Podcast – A Roll-Your-Own Product Management System of Record

I’ve posted the latest episode from the All The Responsibility, None Of The Authority podcast on how to be an effective product manager. The topic for this episode is something I’ve written about a few times – the product management system of record.

We do a lot of stuff in the course of being product managers, but most of our output – customer interview notes, value propositions, sales support materials – has no defined place to live. This means it’s difficult to collaborate around the information, and it’s difficult to get evergreen value out of it. In this episode I outline a system of record for all this product management output that your product management organization can create out of existing tools, like a wiki. (At least until someone builds a commercial system for us.)

Episode Topics

  • Why we need a system of record
  • What to put in it
  • How doing a little extra manual work will pay off in making us much more effective
  • How to start creating a system of record for customer interactions using a wiki
  • Potential risks and disadvantages of my proposed wiki-based, “baling wire and chewing gum” system of record

Please let me know what you think in the comments on this post.

Show Notes

  • There are no special notes or links for this episode, but when I get videos and further instructions up, I’ll update this article to link to them.

The feed for the podcast is http://nilsdavis.com/feed/podcast. It should be available on iTunes in a few days, and I will update this article when that happens.

I hope you enjoy this episode! Please let me know what you think, and if you’d like me to cover any particular topics. Feedback is really motivating!

Oct 14

PM Tools Should Help Us With The Hard Things We All Do

What are some of the annoying, hard things you have to do as a product manager? Here are two common situation from my experience. I wish the PM tools out there would step up to helping me do these more easily.

I sometimes get features that are only partially implemented, with respect to the original story or requirement. If the tool automatically understood in its guts that a requirement can be partially implemented, and that it might need to be decomposed along those lines so the remaining parts of the feature could be implemented later, it would be a big help. Perhaps a wizard that guided me in decomposing the requirement. It could ask questions like ‘is this requirement 100% completed?” If I say “No,” then it asks “Is it partially completed, and if so, what part? What’s the value proposition of that part?” “Do you want to take any of the existing requirement and turn it into a new requirement for implementing later?” And so on.

Of course, I want the tool to maintain the relationships in the process. E.g., the new requirement should be related to the original, probably with an “Enhances” relationship. Or it might be a “Delighter” relationship. (Because what didn’t get done is usually the “nice to have” portions, not the “table stakes” portions.)

Another thing – I need to write a datasheet entry for the feature, or a release note. Why do I have to go to Word to do this? Why doesn’t the tool have a place for the datasheet blurb related to this feature? And then the ability to write a draft datasheet based on these entries for the features implemented in the upcoming release?

I have to do these things anyway, and often I just try to do them in my head, which means that the next thing that I have to pay attention causes this one to drop on the floor, which means I have to rediscover it later, at a great cognitive cost. Since I have to do it anyway, let’s have the tool become the capture spot for it – which means it needs the right semantics to capture it, and it probably needs to remind me that it needs to be captured, because after all, “I am a product manager, big of head, and I will remember.” Which I won’t, really.

Feb 14

How to Augment Your Cognitive Capacity and Intellect

An old, outmoded model, but it looks good!

A good (product management) system can augment your capacity and your intellect.

Augmenting yourself

Like all knowledge workers, our most precious resource is cognitive capacity, and we lose it constantly throughout the day. If you’re like me, you end up handling 15-20 different activities and interruptions every day. Each of those requires a mental context switch, and context switches are expensive. Typically, you can’t avoid them, so anything that makes them easier will make your life easier. A good process, and the associated tooling, will do that.

There are three main ways process and tools help product managers out with the cognitive load problem (and help you seem smarter – thereby achieving a personal goal!):

  • Offloading memory
  • Enabling deeper analysis and investigation
  • Offloading process steps/status

Offloading memory

The less I have to remember – why a particular feature (“chunk of value”) is important, who suggested it to me, who made the most recent comment about it, even the reason we’re scheduling the next release – the more cognitive capacity I have left for doing the more interesting parts of the job, like creating more value, defining market positioning, or talking to customers.

As Amy Hoy (http://unicornfree.com) says:

  • Almost all productive people are far too busy to remember everything they do each day because they’re Getting Shit Done.
  • Almost all people are numb to their own pain.
  • Their most dangerous problems aren’t the minor irritations that sting, but the dark shadows that lurk below the surface, unsaid, unnoticed, unmanaged

Enabling deeper analysis and investigation makes you a smarter product manager

And it’s not just your memory that benefits, but your intellect as well. Even a simple and obviously valuable query like “what features were requested by both customer X and customer Y?” is typically beyond the capacity of a normal person’s – even a PM’s – memory.

But if that information is in the system, and it’s easy to retrieve, I don’t have to remember it. And, as a bonus I can use it for analysis and investigation that I couldn’t do if the information were all in my head. That means I’m smarter.

Offloading product management process steps/status

Tools also help you with processes, per se. For example, if you’re developing your product in a traditional manner, you spend months building it, and then a few weeks launching it. Every few months you have to remember how to do a launch, remember what went wrong (or well) in the last launch, and decide how you’re going to do it differently this time.

A system that not only keeps a list of the steps required for launch, along with who is responsible for each, and a history of what happened last time, means you don’t have to invent this every time, and you can learn from history. Again, you’ve offloaded the process into the tool, leaving more room in your brain for the good stuff.