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Product Management Training: Train your teams, not just your people

There is no ‘I’ in team. —Verron Law, American former baseball pitcher for Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Product” is a team sport.

Few of us work alone. Certainly, those of us in a product management or marketing role. Despite this, product management training often doesn’t reflect the team aspect of the field.

Products are designed, developed, and delivered by teams—

  • product managers

  • designers

  • developers

  • marketing

  • sales professionals

Most professional training is focused on how one person or one role does their one job.

Sales training often focuses on skills for individual salespeople—how to prospect, how to uncover client needs, how to negotiate—without taking into account the integrations with other roles such as sales engineering, SalesOps, marketing, or product management.

Development methodology training typically focuses on the engineering team with a limited explanation of other roles; those other roles are usually explained in other classes with additional certifications.

This is often true in product management training as well.

“Here’s how you do interviews. Here’s how you create personas. Here’s how you write stories.” And too often, “Here’s how you prototype the solution.” (Note: prototyping is not product management.)

However, the best interviews, best personas, and best stories come from teams: product managers, designers, and developers.

Learn with a Team

Consider the popular track events in field competitions. In many ways, running is a solo activity.

Track teams still work out in teams.

Individuals challenge others to do their best work and to put in their best efforts.

Running relay is something else. A relay race is a competition where members of a team take turns completing parts of the course.

But in relay, they don’t practice running; they practice hand-offs.

It’s rather amazing how challenging it can be to pass a baton from one runner to another. The second runner must accelerate to match the first runner’s speed. The first runner must ensure the baton is firmly grasped by the second runner before letting go.

Most runners also call out instructions and must do it while both are running in a marked exchange zone. Drop the baton, and you’ve lost the race.

The best results come from teams that collaborate and communicate.

Why Product Management Training Fails

That’s why training so often fails. Organizations train the product team in one method, the development team in another, and the go-to-market team in another.

And that’s okay—it’s critical that each team know how to do their work best—as long as they know how to adapt the method to their organization.

What’s needed is clarity on how to coordinate between methods and between roles.

Collaborate with teams to get clarity on roles.

Before you start collaborating, meet with Customers

It’s critical for product managers to have first-hand experience with customers. But others need this information as well.

Customer interviewing is a team sport. When visiting a customer, the product manager should take along a colleague.

This could be someone from

  • product marketing

  • UX design

  • development

Your colleagues will hear things you didn’t hear. They’ll go down paths you hadn’t considered. And everyone on the team hears the clients’ words directly without going through the editorial filter that we all have.

Tools needed: Interview Guide (and an open mind)

Collaboration Meeting (1) with Executives

Before embarking on a development project, product managers should collaborate with their leadership team.

  • Document what you’ve learned in your interviews

  • Share a few stories

  • Summarize your product idea in a one-page canvas

  • Get feedback

Then get executive buy-in before moving to the next step.

Tools needed: Product Canvas

Collaboration Meeting (2) with Development

How can you innovate with a Jira ticket? No. The least relevant part of a story is the card.

  • Discuss the persona and problem with the creative team.

  • Have a collaboration meeting with your designers and developers to share context.

  • Write stories with clarifying information together.

  • When your team creates a solution, use a “demo” of the work to verify they’ve achieved the agreed-upon acceptance criteria.

Tools Needed: Product Canvas, personas, roadmap, prioritized stories.

Collaboration Meeting (3) with Marketing

The most common launch failure is the “throw it over the wall” launch.

When the product team decides the product is ready, they simply release it to customers. Yikes!

Just as product managers collaborate with development, they should collaborate with marketing in the same way, using much of the same information.

  • Plan release and launch in parallel.

  • Discuss the personas and market segments.

  • Share the problems you intend to solve with new product functionality.

  • Determine the right messaging.

Tools Needed: Product Canvas, personas, roadmap, launch canvas.

Collaboration exercise: Focus on conversation.

I personally hate irrelevant team-building theater such as “trust falls.” I once did a “ropes course” with the company leadership.

Our VP of Development said, “Trust me. I won’t drop you… today. That doesn’t mean I won’t destroy you at work tomorrow.” Ah, what a great team experience!

You know what works. Conversations. I love real conversations. Try it sometime.

Here’s an illuminating team-building exercise to try: draw what I’m describing without seeing what I’m seeing.

Break into teams of four. One person is the team leader with a simple drawing of shapes—circles, triangles, squares, lines. The other three in the group cannot see the drawing but must attempt to draw what the team leader describes—without asking questions.

You’ll find that one-way communication fails.

To find creative, innovative ways to solve customer problems, have a conversation.

Continuous collaboration for successful product management training.

Friends build products; enemies build documents about products.

Practice those handoffs—or, as I prefer to call them, the handshakes.

Product teams, like relay teams, must practice their specialized skills and coordinate handoffs between teams.

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ They think ‘we;’ they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. —Peter Drucker

Provide context, not detail.

The more they understand, the less detail needed. The less they understand, the more detail needed.
Context vs Detail

Looking for how to improve your product management training results? Read our free eBook "Why Traditional Training Fails."


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