There are certain phrases that make a product manager cringe. For me, it is when customers refer to the process of submitting feedback as throwing ideas into a “black hole.” Ouch. I never want a customer to feel this way. This is one reason why our team at Aha! created a new goal this year: zero unreviewed customer ideas. Seriously.
I have some bad news. And it will not be surprising for most product managers. Our job frequently involves telling people things they do not want to hear. In fact, I would say the job of a product manager involves more difficult conversations than most. Even communicating what some would consider very bad news.
It was my first week as a new product manager. There were already a ton of feature requests coming in from different teams. Most were partially defined and very few were prioritized. I was drowning in requests. There was also a pile of customer ideas that needed review, release timelines to plan, the list went on. Where to start?
I spent an hour driving three miles. Welcome to Los Angeles — that was my commute. I was working as a product manager at an e-commerce company on the west side. Some call the area “Silicon Beach.” Most days it felt more like “Silicon Gridlock.” But there was something that eased the frustration.
“What are you planning to deliver in the second half of the year?” We were wrapping up a meeting with our customer advisory group when someone asked me this question. As a product manager, I should have known how to answer. Unfortunately, I caused more confusion than good. Here is what happened.
I learned a hard lesson early in my career — one that I never forgot. I was working on product strategy for a media company. Third-party studies showed that prospective customers were interested in a new content format. So we decided to revamp the site. When the mockups were ready, we interviewed our existing customers to get their take on the new look. And boy, am I glad we did.
“What kind of product manager will you be this year?” This was THE QUESTION that smacked me early on in my career. I had just come back from a holiday break and was catching up with my boss. I wanted to give a strong reply, but I needed time to unpack the question.
Great product managers ask questions — lots of them. But product managers need to answer questions too. And the more complex the work, the more questions abound. When I was working at another SaaS company in the HR space a few years ago, this became very clear.
I received some harsh feedback relatively early in my career as a product manager. I had worked at a SaaS company for about a year and was the first product manager on the team. We had finally landed a massive software partner — and I was excited to walk through my plan for the product integration with my CTO.
Building a product that is meaningful and lasting is tough. It’s also a remarkable experience when it happens. Once you get a taste of product success, nothing else will do.
It was a big month. I was leading product for a Los Angeles-based SaaS company in the HR space. Our team had released five big new features and was starting to see engagement with the product. We armed our sales team with the features they needed to close some of the biggest deals we had seen all year.
It’s amazing what you learn when you stop talking at work and start listening. This is particularly true when you are meeting with the world’s best innovators and product builders. We get to practice our listening skills a lot because at Aha! we speak with hundreds of product managers each week.