I'm the Shoes of Prey Product Manager, and recently started here in July. A while back Michael asked me to write a blog post on some of my "early learnings" as I'm transitioning into the new role. At the time, I figured I'd put something down on paper once the learning curve had flattened out a bit. As it turns out, that hasn't happened quite yet, but I'm happy to report that my learning here at Shoes of Prey appears to be perpetual.
I love a good challenge--in fact I'm usually bored in the absence of one, which is why I've extended a short-term internship into this full time position here in Sydney, 7,000 miles away from my home in San Francisco. I spent the last 6 years of my career in healthcare consulting, for US hospitals, at San Francisco-based Triage Consulting Group. There I fulfilled a hybrid role, spending half of my time managing client-facing consulting teams and the other half managing an internal team of consultant-developers who built and maintained a complex array of homegrown financial analysis applications.
I'm overjoyed that Product Management now encompasses 100% of my daily efforts. I'm also happy that there is no shortage of both big challenges and big opportunities here at Shoes of Prey. I'm learning a ton as I transition into this role, mostly thanks to the superbly talented group that I call my teammates, as well as the small size of our firm.
This talented team leads me to my first "early learning" in my role. The lesson comes from Silicon Valley blogger Andrew Chen, who sees a major function of the Product Management as an "editor". Here at Shoes of Prey I must deeply and continually understand our customers, but also need to grasp and embrace the story that Shoes of Prey seeks to tell this audience. With such a bright group of engineers, creative copywriters and graphic artists, marketing specialists, and shoe crafters, the challenge is less to come up with brilliant ideas, but rather to elicit, synthesize and execute these ideas from the team around me. What's great is that I'm often not saying "no" to bad ideas, but rather "not yet" to good-but-less-urgent ones. With so many interesting ideas floating about our office, my job as editor/storyteller is to edit in those ideas that show the greatest promise and that are congruent with the Shoes of Prey story. As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey puts it, ≈ "to minimize the number of details, and then make those details perfect".
Then I need to execute those details, which is where I actually spend most of my day-to-day time. That's where managing the classic project management triangle of cost, time, and quality comes into play. Luckily my anal-retentive attention to detail and obsessive compulsion to organise are actually strengths. But the other edge to the sword is striking an appropriate balance between perfection and production. So in my sometimes painful pursuit of perfection, I've found it absolutely necessary to keep my eye on the time and cost corners of my project management triangle.
My third lesson comes from Joel Spolsky, author of Joel on Software, who nails my role in his description of Product Managers. Joel recommends that no one report to a Product Manager, and that this person's leverage to accomplish goals must rest solely on (1) the quality of their ideas and (2) their ability to laterally manage disparate functions, personalities, and viewpoints. My job has not just been to load, update, and administer our JIRA project management platform (although that's a large part). My job is more importantly to sell each of my teammates on our priorities every month, to convince them of the value of each initiative, and illustrate how their contribution to a project fits within the bigger picture of the company's vision. This has been the only effective way for me to ensure that assignments are completed, and that the baton on complex projects is swiftly passed from teammember to teammember.
My final "early learning" is still very much a work-in-progress, and I realise this each time I start planning our goals for the following month. As part of my role, I assist the leadership group in assessing our prior month's success, reporting on our performance and progress, and then developing our company goals for the next month (or quarter). It can be a struggle to pull myself out of the details of our current objectives, and refocus on that bigger picture. It's a colossal shift from obsessing over visitor interaction workflows or button padding, to then think about longer-term goals and set or adjust strategic direction.
Yet this is one of the fantastic, mind-stretching challenges of the position that I greatly enjoy, as it is critical for any startup to frequently evaluate progress and then swiftly and decisively pivot to better fit the business model to the environment.