Product management in a crisis

I was writing a series of articles about the relationship between product management and the other areas of the company. I already wrote about:

I still have a couple of articles to write in this series, but I want to pause and write about the impact of a crisis on product management and digital product development. It not only seems to be good timing, but I also wanted to share some real-life examples I’m experiencing at Gympass.

COVID-19 crisis

Now we are facing COVID-19 crisis. Another crisis as many others, but this one with a huge impact on people’s daily lives. To help remember, here’s Wikipedia’s list of economic crisis and a list of health crisis, including the Spanish Flu that happened more than 100 years ago with 500 million people infected – about a quarter of the world’s population at the time.

Crises have a big impact on business. In a crisis, people and companies spend less, demand for certain types of products and services plummet and, depending on the crisis, some companies may even have to cease operations altogether.

That’s what’s happening now, people have to stay at their homes due to social distancing and many businesses need to stop or to change the way they operate. Some can’t remain open like barbershops, gyms, dance houses and others that require close contact, while other can operate only by delivery, like markets and restaurants.

Product management in a crisis

In a 2016 article, I explained that product management “is the function responsible for making the connection between the company strategy and the problems and needs of clients using the digital product. It must be, at the same time, helping the company to accomplish its strategic goals, and solving the problems and needs of clients.

In a crisis, what is the company strategy? What are its strategic goals? First thing is to preserve cash. As people say, “cash is king”. Good times or bad times, a company needs cash to pay wages to workers for the labor, pay suppliers for the supply and pay its tax debts.

In order to continue to receive more cash, the company needs to be solving a problem or addressing a need of its clients. In a crisis, the client’s problems and needs will probably change considerably. The company needs to identify and adapt to these changes as fast as possible.

When COVID-19 crisis hit the market, companies started to look into these two perspectives:

  • preserve cash;
  • identify and adapt to changes in customer problems and needs.

For the first measure, to preserve cash, all the usual suspects apply to many companies. Preserve or even advance revenue streams while looking into all costs with a magnifying glass.

On the revenue side, some companies, like travel agencies, offered to exchange existing travel booking for future bookings with an increased value. For instance, if you have a trip scheduled for March or April, some companies are offering that you can rebook it late for the same amount, or even for a bigger amount, say 120% of the amount you paid. Some companies are offering special discounts if you pay in advance, like a barbershop that are offering discounted prices if you book a dye hair session for July.

On the cost side, some companies are realizing some costs while keeping the offices closed, but that may not be enough. Unfortunately, that may not be enough and some companies may have to lay off part of their employees. Very sad situation but many times it’s unavailable.

The role of the product manager

The interesting side comes when the company focuses on identifying and adapting to changes in customer problems and needs. That’s the main role of the product manager.

With COVID-19, customer problems and needs changed really fast, and the product manager and the entire product development team (product managers, UX, and engineers) have to be even faster in order to adapt the product to these new needs.

I just heard about an interesting offline example. A pizza house added to its product portfolio a new type of pizza, the do-it-yourself pizza. They send the pizza disk pre-baked plus the sauce and all ingredients separately to your home, so you enjoy the pleasure of building and baking the pizza yourself.

Street stores are having to adapt themselves to e-commerce way faster than they were planning since now all buyers are at home and don’t visit stores.

Schools and art event coordinators now are adapting to e-learning and event live streaming.

Real-life example

Here at Gympass we have 3 different customers and all of them deeply impacted by COVID-19:

  • gyms in many cities were closed to help in physical distancing measures applied in many cities to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and consequently are losing recurring revenues from users who are not visiting the gym;
  • users, the employees of our clients, cannot go to gyms anymore and have to stay at home, but also have to somehow stay active, but their first reaction is to cancel or pause their Gympass membership since they won’t have access to gyms for a while;
  • corporate clients, whose employees are at home and don’t go anymore to gyms, while HRs are concerned about how to keep these employees engaged and productive.

So all 3 of our customers, gyms, user and corporate clients, had huge changes in their problems and needs and we had to be very fast to adapt to those changes.

At the end of 2019, after some product discovery work, we decided to explore the idea of offering to our users wellness services beyond access to gyms and studios.

Our first challenge was to find partners who were willing to test this new concept with us. We were able to partner with NEOU8fittech.fit and Zen App. Thank you, partners! \o/

We built a pilot to be launched early March to a very limited audience to test real user interest in this offer. The pilot was a very simple order form, where we presented the value proposition of Gympass Wellness, the name we gave to this new service, and a place for the user to register and to put their credit card info.

We had just launched the pilot internally (eat your dog food!) when the COVID-19 crisis arrived. We were able to adapt in record time our pilot to be offered to our entire user base so they can not only remain active but also take care of their nutrition and their minds during these very challenging times.

With Gympass Wellness we were able to address both users and our corporate clients’ changing problems and needs during the crisis.

What about the gyms? By being closed, they are losing revenue. Their customers are not visiting them anymore so the regular gym users are prone to cancel their subscription while those who used to visit gyms using Gympass won’t visit the gym during the crisis what will cause a loss of revenue for the gyms as well. To help our partner gyms we decided and implemented in record time 2 solutions:

  • Provide gyms a white label app they could offer to all their members so they can deliver value to their clients helping them stay active while at home;
  • Provide a platform for gyms to schedule and stream live classes to all Gympass users so they can keep their instructors employed while providing Gympass users with exclusive content.

As I mentioned, all these solutions were implemented in record time, which was needed to provide solutions as fast as possible.

Perfect is the enemy of good

As mentioned earlier, when a crisis hit the market, companies need to look into these two perspectives:

  • preserve cash;
  • identify and adapt to changes in customer problems and needs.

Even though product managers and product development teams have an important role in the former, their main role is in the latter.

In order to identify and adapt to these changes in customer problems and needs, the product development team needs to change its behavior with the rule in mind that “perfect is the enemy of good”. In all moments of product development, this rule is valid. The most important thing is to have your product in front of real users in their own context so the product development team can deliver value to their users as fast as possible and can learn from real users using their product.

However, in a crisis, this rule is even more critical and key. We need to deliver solutions to our users’ changing problems super fast. It doesn’t matter if we didn’t do the best discovery process, or that the solution is a very simple web form that we will have tons of manual work afterward, or that the solution will generate many technical debts. The main thing is that we are able to deliver a solution to the new problems and needs that our users are facing in a crisis.

That’s the role of the product manager and the product development team in a crisis.

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What’s the best ratio between Eng, UX, and PM?

There are many articles we can find from different product development teams around the world showing benchmarks of Eng:PM and UX:PM ratios. There’s a recent article from Ken Norton, partner at Google Ventures and formerly head of product management at Google and Yahoo!, where he shares the results of an informal survey he did on Twitter:

“A significant majority of the tweets recommended something in the range of 5-9 engineers for every 1 PM. There were reasons why people recommended going higher or lower, but it seems to be a sweet spot. Thinking back on my own experience, my highest-performing teams also fell within that range.”

“When it comes to designers, I’ve preferred a ratio of 1:1 with PMs for user-facing product surfaces. Product teams work best when the dedicated triad of PM, designer, and tech lead form the core.”

So it seems the general recommendation is 5 to 9 Eng per PM and 1 UX per PM. 

Some real-life numbers

At Gympass we’ve been working to increase the number of engineers per product managers. In our recent efforts, growing the team from 32 to 85 people in 5 months already increased the Eng/PM ratio as well as UX/PM ratio. Our plan is to reach the end of 2019 with almost 200 people in our product development team, with even more engineers per product manager and a better balance between UX designers and product managers.

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All benchmarks are clear when they explain that every product manager should be paired with one UX, especially for customer-facing products. In our case, we have 3 different types of customers (end users, gyms, and corp) what reinforces the need to keep the recommended 1 UX designer per product manager ratio. 

At ContaAzul we already had a good Eng/PM ratio when I joined in Aug/16. However the UX/PM ratio was below market standards. Especially if we take into consideration that one of the 4 core values at ContaAzul is to deliver Wow to customers. For this reason, we worked on increasing the UX designers to product managers ratio so we could increase the Wow delivered to customers.

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At Locaweb many products we built were for software engineers. Web hosting, database hosting, SMTP, cloud and dedicated servers. For this reason, the number of engineers per product manager is bigger than ContaAzul and Gympass. It’s even bigger than the recommended upper limit of 9 engineers per product manager. However, we can see an interesting fact in UX designer per product manager ratio. As seen in Aug/15 numbers, an increased ratio of Eng/PM forces an increase in UX/PM compared to the recommended 1:1 ratio. When we look at Jul/16 numbers, if we add more engineers per product manager, getting to almost 12 Eng/PM, we had to increase the UX/PM to almost 2:1. We had to pair 2 UX designers for every product manager so they can cope with all discovery work that need to be done so engineers can build the right product. Considering engineers as delivery and UX designers and product managers as discovery, that makes me think that we need around one discovery person for every 4 delivery people.

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Share your numbers!

In your company, how many engineers per product managers and UX designers per product managers do you have? Share your numbers in the comments below so we can build more data to help us discuss product development team structure best practices.

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The role of the Product VP/Head

Being a head of product encompasses many different aspects and skills, and that’s the reason why I’m writing an entire book about this topic. However, since this is a question I get asked frequently, I’ll make a brief introduction to the topic that may be useful for people considering this step in their career as well as for people searching for a head of product for her company.

Expectation management

Whatever the road that got you into the possibility of filling a head of product position, either by you considering this your next career move or by you having the task to find someone to fill this position, it is important to have clear what is the mains responsibility of this role: expectation management. It will be something between 60 to 80% of the head of product time. 

I’ve heard from some product managers that they want to become head of product because they view this position as a great opportunity to have a strong say about or even lead the building of the product vision and strategy, especially if you are in a company which is purely digital or at least a born-digital traditional company. This is true, but I have to say that this is no more than 10% of the head of product job. And even these 10%, it is not a solo endeavor. You’ll have to build it collaboratively with your product’s main stakeholders, especially the company founders who are the first product managers of any company. 

The other 90% of the head of product responsibility is shared between helping product managers in their development – something between 10% to 40%, depending on the seniority of your product managers – and expectation management, which normally takes 50% to 80% of your time. By expectation management, I mean managing the expectation of all of your product stakeholders, internal and external. 

It is important to have this time sharing clear before you decide to accept the head of product role so you understand what other areas and your team will expect from you decide to take the job.

I’ve normally seen people filling out a head of product position coming from three main backgrounds, either she is someone leading engineering, or someone leading product design or marketing, or a product manager that will start to manage other product managers.

CTO/Tech head filling the product head position

If you are a CTO or an engineering leader and were asked to step in as head product, chances are that you were asked to fill this position in addition to your existing responsibilities. I advice against this role superposition. Depending on team size, and your seniority, it’s better to have the product development team with 2 or more leaders, reporting either to the CEO or some other very senior position in the company. If you have up to 30 or 40 people in the product development team, it’s ok to have only one person leading the entire team. More than that, it’s good to split at least between a head of engineering and a head of product. In this product development leadership design, the UX function reports to the head of product. Depending on the size of the product development team and the relevance of design to your product strategy, the team can be lead by heads of engineering, design, and product. Depending on the scope and complexity of your product, you may have more than one head of product, one for each distinct context. For instance, here at Gympass we have Rodrigo Rodrigues as the CTO, Claudio Franco as the head of product for consumers and me as the head of product for companies and partners.

UX/Product design or marketing leader filling the product head position

UX and marketing are 2 areas who are very close to product management. While UX works together with product management in product discovery activities, marketing works together with product management in activities to tell the world about the product and its features and to increase its user base.

As I mentioned previously, UX can report to the head of product. It is a common team design. Both for a UX leader assuming the head of product as well for a marketing lead assuming this position, it is important that the product head understands not only the similarities but also the differences between the two functions and their role and responsibilities in the success of the product.

Product manager filling the product head position

This may be a natural career path for a product manager. As she gets more senior, she may become the go-to-person for other product managers in search for advice. So the 10% to 40% of helping other product managers part of the head of product position may come naturally to her. However, there’s still the 10% of vision building and 50% to 80% of expectation management to be considered. 

The vision building should not also be something new to a senior product manager. She already does that for the product or part of the product she takes care of, so it shouldn’t be something new to her, only a bigger scope. Remember to work on building a high-level vision and let the details be worked on by the product managers. Building the details of a product vision is an important role of product managers. 

The remaining 50% to 80% of time spent in expectation management shouldn’t also be extraneous to the product manager aspiring to become head of product. Actually, she already does that for her own product or part of product that she takes care of. From her team members, to people from other areas, to C-level all the way to the founder of the company. Here again we are talking about an increase of scope. And again we need to let product managers do stakeholder anxiety management as well, so they can develop these skill. But don’t forget that as head of product you’ll be the go-to-person for C-level people and the founders.

If you don’t want to manage other people, that’s fine. It’s always possible to have space in your team for a more senior product manager position. Some companies call it principal product manager. I’ll talk more about this role in a future article.

The first step for a product manager to become a head of product is when she continues to work with her own team (product engineers and designers) and oversees the work of a product manager in another team. One possible name for this new position is group product manager, since she is managing a group of product or parts of a product. As all goes well, the next step is to hire her replacement for the existing role she still plays as product manager. Freed from her daily job of managing a product, she will be able to manage 2 or more product managers.

Leading Product Development: the art and science of leading digital products

Even though I’m talking about digital product development, which is based software engineering, normally considered a science, I do believe there’s a part of art leading product development teams. Asking Google what is art, we get some interesting answers:

  • “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” To develop a digital product we need creativity and imagination in order to build a product that will empower its users to do something. Empowerment is the process of becoming more cofident, which is an emotional power. And digital products have interfaces with humans, which can be admired. So it’s easy to see the process of building a digital product is a work of art.
  • “a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.” Building good digital products requires practice, lots of practice.

On the other hand, when asking Google what is science, we also get interesting answers:

  • “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Many product development teams have been building digital products, sharing their experiences and creating and improving the body of knowledge on how to build digital products.
  • “a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.” we are building this body of knowledge as we experience new processes and refine existing ones. Digital product development is a brand new science, and there’s a lot we don’t know yet, but we’ve been putting a lot of energy on building this body of knowledge so the next generations of digital product developers can always start one step ahead. This is how all sciences are built, one step at a time, one generation building on the steps of the previous generation.

The book is focused on the head of product role, but it will be useful to anyone within a digital product development team as well as for anyone who is not in this team but works in a company that has, or plans to have, a digital product development team.

The book will be divided into 3 mains sections:

  • Concepts: people who know me, know that I’m a big fan of starting any new endeavor with a ubiquitous language, a term Eric Evans uses in Domain Driven Design for the practice of building up a common, rigorous language between developers and users – in my case, between author and readers. For this reason, I’ll start the book defining some concepts such as roles and responsibilities of a head of product, team structure, career ladder, and Y career for product managers.
  • Principles: every company has its own culture and within each company, every department has its own culture as well. Here I’ll talk about the culture I believe it’s mandatory to create successful digital products. And also, what are the 2 key values that every product development team must have.
  • Tools: here I’ll talk about the tools I’ve been using in my almost 30 years of product development leadership career and passing to other leaders so they can use with their teams. The tools I’ll talk about include vision, strategy, team structure, metrics, and ceremonies. 

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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The need for domain experts

Conta Azul is a platform that connects Brazilian small businesses to their accountants and everything they need to run their businesses. It connects small business owners to their bank in order to provide centralized finance control of their businesses. It connects them to the government in order to generate invoices and better control the taxes they need to pay. It connects them to fintechs in order to provide financial services like payments and credit. And it also connects them to many types of systems such as CRMs, e-commerce providers, and niche specific ERPs through it APIs. For the accountants, it provides a CRM so they can manage their customers as well as a cloud-based accounting system, so they can work in the same version of the finance and accounting data their customers are managing.

In order to cope with all the complexity of accounting and tax management, Conta Azul has some Product Managers who are expert in taxes and accounting. Some of the product managers there have a business accounting degree and before joining Conta Azul they worked as accountants and made the career change to product manager at some point in their work life.

Complex domains may require dedicated domain experts

Accounting, finance and tax management are very complex domains. Even though we had at Conta Azul some product managers with expertise or even a degree in those domains, we perceived that’s not enough. We needed someone dedicated to helping us cope with this complexity. And when I mention “we”, I’m not talking only about the product managers, or the product development team, who needed someone to talk to about the complexities of these domains so they can implement it into the product. I’m talking about the entire company. Customer support needed a go-to person to talk about complex issues that the customer brought. The marketing team needed someone to help “translate” the technical wording of accounting, finance and tax management to a more understandable language. Salespeople needed to talk to an expert to understand the complexities and be able to fit customers’ needs and problems into the product they are selling.

For this reason, we created what we called the compliance team, with experts in accounting, finance and tax management. In my view, it makes sense to have this team as close as possible to product managers. This team will serve many areas of the company such as customer support, marketing, and sales, but being closer to the product development team will make it easier for the team to build a product not only more compliant to regulations but also easier to understand and to use. 

Wikipedia brings a good definition of this role:

A subject-matter expert (SME) or domain expert is a person who is an authority in a particular area or topic. The term domain expert is frequently used in expert systems software development, and there the term always refers to the domain other than the software domain. A domain expert is a person with special knowledge or skills in a particular area of endeavor (e.g. an accountant is an expert in the domain of accountancy). The development of accounting software requires knowledge in two different domains: accounting and software. Some of the development workers may be experts in one domain and not the other.

At Conta Azul this team reported into one of our Group Product Managers, who was responsible for leading other product managers, so leading people was not an issue for him. Actually, it was an interesting new challenge, to lead other people that were not product managers. 

Even though I recommend this team reporting the product development team, it is ok the have it reporting to another area in the organization, as long as it stays as close as possible to the product development team.

What types of product may require domain experts?

Recently I talked to some people from companies that also have the need for domain experts. One offers credit to users and the other one offers insurance, both very regulated markets that require dedicated experts to support the entire company to deal with their markets complexity. Other examples are banking, medicine, aviation, law and so on.

Besides being complex, some markets probably are regulated by the government and may be subject to auditing and changes by the governing entity. This only supports the need for a dedicated person or team to help cope with this complexity and constant change. It may be tempting to join the two roles, product manager and domain expert in one person but I recommend not doing this for two reasons. First, it is not easy to find someone who is both a good product manager and a deep expert in a certain domain. The second reason is that each of these roles has a lot to do in their day-to-day jobs.

If you are in a traditional company who is building their digital product, most certainly you already have domain experts in your company. You just need to bring them closer to the product development process.

On the other side, there are markets that are less complex and minimally or not regulated at all. If your digital product is within these markets, normally the product manager can be also the expert in the domain. Some examples are content publishing, advertisement, marketplaces, CRM, etc. Note that I said that the product manager CAN be the domain expert. However, if you believe that your product and the context where your product is used are complex, even being in a non or minimally regulated market, feel free to add domain experts to your team.

Digital Product Management Book

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my book Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product, based on my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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More on diversity

I’ve already written about diversity and why it is so important for product development. As a quick summary of that article, there are two main reasons that motivates building diverse product development teams:

  • Diversity brings new points of view. 
  • Just as the customer group that uses your software is diverse, so should your team. 

The second reason was discussed at length in my previous article and in many other articles about diversity on the internet, specially on gender diversity. For this reason, I’d like to go a bit deeper on the first reason.

Perspectives diversity

In my previous article I explained that “having a more diverse product development team brings new insights and new ways of thinking, which will help you develop a better product. It is no wonder that the product development team is made up of software engineers, user experience designers and product managers. Each one has a different perspective of what a good product is and these differences are what help create a better product, when the differences are well worked out by the team.”

Sometime ago I heard the following phrase:

The fact that two people disagree doesn’t necessarily mean that one of them is wrong.

It really made me thing on diversity of perspectives. This has to do with empathy, one of the 7 essential characteristics of a product manager. Empathy is the ability someone has to walk on someone else’s shoes in order to understand her aspirations, motivations, needs and problems. What is her context? How does she see and hear things? What makes her understand things in that perspective?

There’s a nice tool called empathy map that has the purpose to help teams gain a deeper insight into their customers. 

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People have different backgrounds, different histories, different knowledge. We must recognize and respect these differences and understand that sometimes we won’t get to an agreement, but that is ok, as long as we respect each others perspective. Maybe we can create a third perspective from the two different ones. Maybe we can decide to try one of them, or both and see and compare the results.

As long as there are respect and empathy, diversity brings lots of good results for everyone.

Digital Product Management Book

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my book Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product, based on my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Seniority levels

That’s one topic we hear almost daily in every company: seniority levels. There are many situations when this topic arises. Hiring, performance evaluation, raises, promotions, bonus, etc. The more senior and employee, the more you expect from her. After all, she has experience and knowledge to deal with the toughest situations at work. My experience has shown me that we need to analyze seniority based on 3 dimensions:

Time

We normally assess seniority based on time. For instance, if a person has 10+ years of experience, she is senior. However, time alone is not enough. If she did the same thing during those 10 years, without questioning herself and continuously searching to improve, to get better and to try new things, she didn’t evolve as a professional. She didn’t put new tools in her professional tool belt, so she won’t be able to face new situations and use her tools, acquired through her experience, to face the new situations.

Knowledge

So, besides time, we should also consider knowledge. We can translate knowledge as the set of tools a professional has in her tool belt. If a person as only one tool, she will only use that tool to solve all problem. Is like that saying that for a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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The more tools someone has, the easier it will be to face new situations and find solutions. That’s the reason why consultants are so versatile. They work for short periods of time in different customers, facing different problems and they have to come up with ways to solve new issues since every new customer they work at has different problems and contexts.

Sometimes, a consultant with 3 years of experience, working in 6 different customers, will have much more tools in her tool belt than someone that stayed in the same company for 10 years. The consultant will most probably be more senior than the person who stayed for 10 years at the same company, doing the same job and solving the same problems without questioning herself and continuously searching to improve, to get better and to try new things.

In order to evaluate someone’s seniority – including when we are self-evaluating our own seniority – we need to look into years of experience and the quality of the knowledge accumulated during those years. However, that’s not enough.

Behavior

Behavior is one dimension of seniority that is normally not discussed when we are evaluating someone’s seniority, but it is as important as time and knowledge. Sometimes I have the impression that it is even more important than time and knowledge.

Behavioral seniority means that the person knows how to behave appropriately:

  1. being ethical, being a person of integrity and having the right intent;
  2. having alignment with company’s core values and culture;
  3. having alignment and commitment to the company’s purpose;
  4. having alignment and commitment with the company’s strategic objectives.

I’ll give some examples and counterexamples of behavioral seniority to make the concept clearer:

  • Targets: all companies have targets. All companies have objectives that are quantified and targets are defined to help hit these objectives. A very well known method to set objectives and quantify the results is the OKR. Some companies even use these targets to set the variable remuneration of their employees, a.k.a, bonus policy. Invariably after targets are set, thing changes. And even when all is stable, there may be a need to do work not related to the target. Someone with behavioral seniority understands that things change and that her work is not limited to the targets previously agreed on and will do what’s needed. Someone without behavioral seniority will say that she can’t change or do anything else beyond what’s defined as her target.
  • Whining: as we all know, things go bad sometimes. This is the way life is. And there’s always some people who complain. And the fault is always someone’s else and there’s always lots of excuses to explain why things do bad. Complaining without doing anything to help solve the situation is a typical behaviour of someone who lackw behavioral seniority. A senior person when faces things going bad, try to understand what happened, without looking for culprits, try to fix it and to understand how to prevent the issue to happen again.

Hopefully, with those two examples and counterexamples, it is clearer what behavioral seniority means.

In my view, this is the most important dimension of seniority. If you have someone with knowledge seniority and many years of experience, but lacking behavioral seniority, not only she will have greater chances of being a bad performer, but she will also mess with her team’s performance.

Seniority levels

So next time you are evaluating someone’s seniority level – including when you are self-evaluating your own seniority – you need to look into years of experience, the quality of the knowledge accumulated during those years and behavioral seniority. Only then you’ll be able to fully assess the seniority level.

Digital Product Management Book

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my book Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product, based on my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Mentoring

Few weeks ago Débora Alcântara asked entrepreneurs here at Linkedin what person would they choose as a mentor if they could pick anyone in the world. I was flattered to be cited among mentors such as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Simon Sinek, Walt Disney and Luiza Helena Trajano.

People who know me knows that I like terms clearly defined, so here’s the Wikipedia definition of mentoring:

Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé or the mentee)”.

From the above definition it’s clear the unidirectional nature of mentoring, i.e., knowledge flows from “the mentor” to “the mentee”.

I’ve been providing and receiving mentorship during my entire career. Even when I was a student I provided and received mentorship. I guess one receives mentorship since she is born. Since the beginning of my career I had the opportunity to provide mentorship to the people I lead and most recently I’ve been asked to mentor entrepreneurs and product managers to help them in the next steps of their endeavours. It makes me very happy to know that I can be of help to someone by sharing my experience.

However, my mentoring experience have shown me that Wikipedia’s definition is somewhat incomplete. Wikipedia defines mentoring as transmission of knowledge. My understanding is that mentoring is more than a transmission of knowledge. Mentorship is an exchange of knowledge. Even considering that one of the people involved in the mentoring process is more experienced in a certain aspect, topic or area, the other person may be experienced and knowledgeable in other related aspect, topic or area that can bring new insights. Or the other person may use her newness to the theme being mentored to bring a new aspect to light that the mentor didn’t notice.

So next time you are in a mentoring situation, especially if you are in a mentor position, think about it as an exchange of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support relevant, useful, and valuable both to mentee and mentor. I have the impression you’ll enjoy even more your next mentoring session.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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New book

Back in March I was invited by DanMarcell and Bruno to be part of a very interesting project they were initiating called PM3, an online product management course in Portuguese with 40+ hours taught by top tier Brazilian product management professionals. I accepted the invitation and taught 3 classes:

  • Introduction: covering topics such as what is product and product management, the difference between a product and a platform, and the life cycle of a product.
  • Skills: where I present not only the skills need by a product manager but also some leadership tips to lead by influence and I describe how product managers relate with other areas.
  • PM leadership: roles and responsibilities of a Product Management leadership position and the concepts, principles and tools that support these roles and responsibilities.

Both Introduction and Skills classes were somewhat easy to prepare since they were based on material from my books on Product Management in Portuguese (there’s an English version being translated) and on Startup also in Portuguese.

The third topic on PM leadership that we recorded last Saturday was not that easy to prepare. Even though I knew the topic from my 25+ years of experience, I’ve never set time apart to organize my learnings in a way I could pass it to other people so it definitely took me some considerable more effort to prepare this class. And I’m grateful to DanMarcell and Bruno for that because by making me put the effort to organize the knowledge on product management leadership make me realize that I have material to complete my trilogy. As everyone knows, a real book author has to publish at least a trilogy! 😛

Joking aside, during the preparation of the material came the idea of writing a new book called “Software product development management: the science and art of leading software product development teams”. My plan is to launch it by mid-2019. I have some of the material already published as articles here on Linkedin or in my blogs. I intend to release the book simultaneously in English and Portuguese.

Please feel free to comment below or send my an email with any topics you want me to cover in this book, so I can check if I’m not letting any important topic out.

Now, let the writing begin!

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Fail fast vs learn fast

I recently attended a 2 day MIT course on how to create high velocity organizations. The course was taught by Professor Steven J. Spear, author of “The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition.” This is one of those very dense courses, full of content, but it can be summarized in one paragraph:

High-velocity organizations are able to learn very fast, especially from their failures, and to absorb that learning as an integral part of the organization’s knowledge.

A high-velocity organization has 4 capabilities:

  1. Be prepared to capture knowledge and encounter problems in your operation.
  2. Understand and solve these problems to build new knowledge.
  3. Share the new knowledge with the whole organization.
  4. Leading to develop skills 1., 2. and 3.

The classic example is Toyota, with lean manufacturing and the concept of stopping production whenever failures are encountered, correcting failures and using failures as a learning opportunity so that failures do not happen anymore. This ability to learn from failures is what gives Toyota the ability to stay ahead of its competitors for so long.

Another good example is Alcoa that had a 2% work incident rate per year which was considered normal. Alcoa has more than 40,000 employees so 2% of work incidents per year means that 800 employees per year have some kind of work incident. That’s a pretty impressive and troubling number. To combat this problem they implemented a policy of zero error tolerance. Prior to implementing this policy, errors was seen as part of the job. Now employees are encouraged to report operation errors in 24 hours, propose solutions in 48 hours and tell the solution found to his colleagues to ensure that knowledge was spread across the organization. This caused the risk of incidents to fall from 2% to 0.07% per year! This decreased incident rate meant less than 30 employees per year had some work incident problem after the zero error tolerance policy was implemented and Alcoa achieved an increase in productivity and quality similar to Toyota.

An important factor in both Toyota and Alcoa examples is that recognizing and learning from failures has to be part of the company’s culture. This is something a bit more common in internet companies culture, but not so common in traditional companies of a certain size. During the MIT course I shared a table with a Brazilian executive, from Grupo Globo, the largest Brazilian mass media group, a Spanish executive, from a AMC Networks International (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men), a German project manager living in Azerbaijan who works for Swire Pacific Offshore (oil and gas industry) and a Saudi Arabian MIT postdoctoral student on solar energy. All of my table mates were from more traditional industries. I was the only one from an internet, SaaS, born in the cloud company. Both Globo and AMC executives were there because they viewed both Netflix with its streaming video on demand and Youtube with its huge catalog of user-generated video as big threats, stealing their audience very quickly and they wanted to understand how they could defend themselves.

While the theme is somewhat obvious to internet companies, specially with the technology startup culture of failing fast. That’s what makes Netflix and Youtube be a threat to traditional media companies such as Grupo Globo and AMC Networks. However, even been part of internet companies’ culture, sitting there and discussing it with people from more traditional companies was a great opportunity for reflection on the relationship between failure, failure recognition, learning and high-velocity:

  • Recognizing failures and using failures as a learning opportunity should be well rooted in the organization’s culture. If people are not careful, as a company grows, it may lose that ability to accept failures as opportunities for learning. It is very common for companies as they grow to be more and more averse to failures and to create a culture that ultimately encourages people to hide mistakes and failures.
  • Another important point aspect learning from failures is to make this process a business standard. It has no use to fail, acknowledge the error, state that you will no longer commit that failure and, some time later, commit that failure again. This learning process from failures should be part of the company culture. Whenever a failure is identified, learning has to happen to prevent the failure from happening again. If the same failure happens again, something is broken in the learning from failure process.
  • Even in Internet companies I notice that learning from failure is more common in the product development team, since retrospectives and continuous learning are part of the agile software development culture. In other areas of the company, learning from failures is less common. This ability to systematize learning from failure should permeate the whole company.

Even though we hear a lot about the internet companies’ culture of failing fast, talking about failing fast diverges our focus from what is really important, learning fast. We must put our energy on learning, not on failing. Is the learning process that makes people and companies evolve. And it is the ability of an organization to learn fast, specially from its failures, that will enable this organization to move at really high-velocities.

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Liderando sob pressão

Estou preparando uma aula sobre liderança e o papel de head / vp de gestão e desenvolvimento de produtos para um curso online sobre gestão de produtos (a ser lançado em setembro de 2018).

Por esse motivo, estou revisitando e atualizando alguns artigos que escrevi sobre liderança. Este aqui é baseado em dois artigos, Under Pressure e It’s All About the People , ambos originalmente publicados em fevereiro de 2011. Mesmo vendo que esses artigos foram escritos com apenas 7 dias de diferença, só agora, mais de 7 anos depois, eu pude ver a conexão entre eles.

Liderando sob pressão

Não existe um ambiente de trabalho sem pressão. Não conheço nenhum local de trabalho em que as pessoas digam que as metas são fáceis, que não há riscos em entregar a meta ou que o projeto será entregue no prazo com 100% de confiança. Se a empresa está crescendo rapidamente, as pessoas precisam sustentar ou melhorar essa taxa de crescimento. Se a empresa está em crise, as pessoas precisam tirar a empresa da crise.

E isso é bom! Na verdade, esta é a única maneira de fazer as coisas! As pessoas precisam de pressão para fazer as coisas.

O que os líderes precisam saber sobre pressão? Pessoas, incluindo líderes e as pessoas que elas lideram, recebem pressão de fora (o objetivo, a data prevista, a falta de recursos), bem como de dentro (motivação, motivação, força interior).

Pense em pessoas e equipes como balões

Uma boa analogia que eu gosto de usar, especialmente quando a pressão externa aumenta, é que pessoas e equipes são semelhantes a balões. Precisamos equilibrar a pressão exterior com a pressão interior, com alguma tendência a ter um pouco mais de pressão do lado de fora para garantir o melhor desempenho. Se colocarmos muita pressão do lado de fora, sem fornecer às pessoas as ferramentas necessárias para aumentar a pressão interna, o balão explodirá, ou seja, o desempenho diminuirá, as pessoas ficarão incomodadas, às vezes até ficarão doentes (burnout) e provavelmente deixarão o empresa. Às vezes podemos ver algum aumento no desempenho logo após um aumento de pressão externa, mas não devemos nos enganar com esses resultados iniciais. Eles não serão sustentáveis se a pressão interna não for aumentada. Esse aumento no desempenho durará alguns dias e o desempenho diminuirá para níveis ainda menores do que quando aumentamos a pressão externa.

Como podemos melhorar a pressão interna? Ninguém pode impactar diretamente a pressão interna de ninguém. Isso só pode ser feito indiretamente. Aqui estão algumas ferramentas:

  • Precisamos contratar pessoas com a motivação certa, drive e força interior, e devemos criar o ambiente para que essas pessoas possam manter a motivação, o drive e a força interior corretos. Pense em alinhamento de objetivos, visão, valores, cultura e incentivos financeiros e não financeiros.
  • Devemos apoiar o equilíbrio certo entre momentos com pressão e sem pressão. Podemos fazer isso incentivando as pessoas a se afastarem da pressão no local de trabalho e a fazerem outras coisas que gostam, como exercícios, ioga, meditação, música, leitura, passar tempo com seus entes queridos, cozinhar, festejar etc. Por outro lado, devemos evitar trabalhar longas horas, durante a noite, nos finais de semana e feriados. Note que que trabalhar longas horas é uma tática que pode e deve ser usada, mas somente quando necessário. Se isso se torna a norma, e não a exceção, não estamos apoiando o equilíbrio correto entre momentos com pressão e sem pressão.

A analogia do balão funciona tanto para indivíduos quanto para equipes. Muita pressão sobre uma equipe sem a pressão interna apropriada fará o balão explodir. No caso de uma equipe, ela começará a apresentar um mau funcionamento, os membros da equipe começarão a apontar dedos uns para os outros e o desempenho cairá. Para aumentar a pressão interna de uma equipe e ajudá-los a lidar com o aumento da pressão externa, precisamos criar um ambiente que promova a criação de vínculos mais fortes entre os membros da equipe para que eles sejam mais eficazes em responder à pressão externa, sendo mais resilientes e mais adaptativos ao mesmo tempo. Respostas mais eficazes à pressão externa exigem uma combinação de resiliência e adaptação.

A analogia do balão também é boa para explicar por que as melhores pessoas decidem deixar uma companhia. Podemos pensar nessa situação como se houvesse mais pressão interna do que pressão externa. Se uma pessoa ou uma equipe tem mais motivação, drive e força interior do que aquilo que o líder lhes pede ou a estratégia da empresa exige deles, eles inflarão o balão até ele explodir. Então eles vão deixar a empresa. E isso me leva ao próximo tópico deste artigo.

Prioridade nº 1

E aqui está outro conselho muito importante para os líderes, devemos sempre colocar as pessoas como nossa prioridade número 1.

Muitas vezes, vejo empresas afirmando que o valorização da empresa, a receita, o crescimento, o lucro, o número de clientes, ou a satisfação do cliente é sua prioridade número 1. Todas são boas prioridades e cada uma é apropriada para contextos específicos em que uma empresa pode estar. No entanto, eu argumento que elas devem sempre ser prioridade número 2, porque nossa prioridade número 1 deve sempre ser nossa equipe. Sem as pessoas que trabalham conosco, será muito difícil, se não impossível, atingir qualquer outro objetivo que tenhamos.

Gastamos dinheiro e energia atraindo as melhores pessoas e convencendo-as a se unirem à nossa equipe para construir o que pretendemos construir para atingir a meta que estabelecemos. Pagamos a estas pessoas para estar conosco durante todo o processo de construção. Normalmente ficamos chateados quando perdemos pessoas da nossa equipe, especialmente se elas provaram ser realmente boas. Portanto, as pessoas da nossa equipe são como clientes, gastamos dinheiro e energia para adquiri-las e retê-las. Mas eles são ainda mais importantes do que nossos clientes, porque sem a nossa equipe, não há como sermos capazes de lidar com nossos clientes e alcançar nossos objetivos.

Isso não significa que precisamos ser “bonzinhos” com nossa equipe, ou que devemos dar tudo o que eles pedem. O que precisamos fazer é equilibrar as pressões externas e internas para que as pessoas possam melhorar continuamente. Se a pressão externa estiver aumentando, precisamos ajudar as pessoas e a equipe a aumentar sua pressão interna. Precisamos criar o ambiente e fornecer as ferramentas para que as pessoas fiquem mais motivadas, tenham mais drive e aumentem sua força interior. E se temos pessoas ou equipes com mais pressão interna do que pressão externa, precisamos dar a elas mais pressão externa, mais responsabilidades e objetivos mais elevados.

Resumindo

  • Não existe um ambiente de trabalho sem pressão. Pessoas e equipes precisam da pressão externa (a meta, a data prevista, a falta de recursos) e também de dentro (motivação, drive, força interior) para existir e fazer as coisas, como um balão.
  • A pressão interna e a pressão externa precisam ser balanceadas com alguma tendência a ter um pouco mais de pressão do lado de fora para ter melhoria contínua.
  • Sob pressão, uma pessoa e uma equipe explodem ou ficam mais fortes. É papel do líder ajudar a pessoa ou a equipe a perceber isso e trabalhar em conjunto com eles para apoiar o aumento da pressão interna.
  • As pessoas são a prioridade número 1 de qualquer empresa. Gastamos dinheiro e energia para adquirir e reter as melhores pessoas. Ter as pessoas como a prioridade número 1 é a chave para atingir qualquer outro objetivo. Isso não significa ser “bonzinhos” com as pessoas dando tudo o que elas querem, e sim que devemos ser capazes de equilibrar as pressões externas e internas para que as pessoas possam melhorar continuamente.

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