PM Hack Panel Notes

Two weeks ago, I got to go PM Hack for a hot second, a hackathon for PMs and aspiring PMs put together by Jason Shen and Johanna Beyenbach and hosted by Wayup. I’m really bummed I actually only got to stay for maybe half the day because my actual PM job called me in on a Sunday, but it was definitely unique and one of the cooler initiatives I’ve seen to get people’s hands dirty on Product Management work. In a previous life, I’ve gone to hackathons as a developer, and there is something really inspiring, educational, and rewarding about working with a group of strangers to create something workable in a matter of hours or days.

One thing I did get to stay for an enjoy was a panel by some esteemed folks in the business so to speak – so I thought I’d put down my notes here to keep top of mind:

pmhackpanel.jpg

Some awesome Product Managers: Elan Miller (Midnight), Inga Chen (Squarespace), Lauren Ulmer (Dormify), and Joan Huang (Flatiron Health)

  • Emotional intelligence > IQ in PM roles
  • You need to understand yourself and your vision first
  • Constant tension at work between tending to firedrills v longer range thinking -> one key to working on this is working internal marketing for buy-in on longer term strategy
  • Good pms are always obsessing or communicating and good listening
  • Status update at right level of context – know how to communicate to junior level devs to executives
  • Saying no is a part of your job
  • Your job is to also bring the team and org together
  • Be cognizant of what step of the product life cycle are you able to work in and think about what is possible to change and is it possible
  • Team Cultures (build it out) + Users (joy)
  • Managing different dependencies across teams is key
  • Your job is to also define and interpret metrics correctly
  • The bigger the org the more stakeholder communication versus direct time to users
  • Be careful not to over optimize for the negative vocal batch of users versus the majority of users
  • As with everything, it’s right place right time with right skill set so you gotta angle to make to happen
  • GV Design Sprint can be a useful problem solving process
  • When you’re interviewing for a PM job: communicate you know a company’s business when you interview :
    • Mini deck to intro yourself, how you can solve company’s problem, and show you’ve done your hw and are more than your resume
    • Understand levers to business model (how does business makes money)
    • Apply to fewer jobs and make sure you’re interested in problems the product is trying to solve
    • Find side projects outside of your typical product development life cycle
    • Treat yourself as a product
    • Having a POV and being polarizing can be an advantage
    • Remember you can help them with particular problem you’re trying to solve even if you aren’t from that vertical – you could be bringing a fresh perspective to their problems
Advertisements

Oct Learning

Just my “three key points” notes from various reading I thought was work helpful this month:

PSFK Advertising Playbook Overview

  1. Experiential marketing now is the most critical tool
  2. Shift from ads to customer relationships and decline of online ads
  3. Emotional connections realign brands -> engineered enjoyment, contextual calibration, and third space communities are opportunities

 

Knowns vs Unknowns — Are you building a successful company or just typing?

  1. First known unknown is that you envision a product that solves a problem that a small group of users have
  2. Engineer’s primary job isn’t really writing code per se, but improving product for you users
  3. “What I often hear from CEOs is that “my CTO thinks we need to rebuild the backend so it’s scaleable.” The reality is that if you haven’t yet solved for the product’s scaleable and repeatable growth, you don’t know what the backend needs to be. If you’ve hired people that care more about the programming languages/frameworks and not the KPIs of your product, you’ll constantly have this internal battle. Remind them that writing software is the easy part. Building a company that scales isn’t.”

6 lessons learned about technical debts management in Silicon Valley

  1. Product always needs to be improved and have tech debts happening at once (80/20 rule)
  2. Top Down vision on the importance of these debts “It is not about the money you can make, it is about the money you won’t lose”
  3. Before you kill features, identify who are using it, find an alternative, and explain why you are killing a feature

IGNORE EVERYTHING BETWEEN THE CLOUDS AND DIRT

  • “This is because the vast majority of people tend to play the middle—they focus on the vague minutiae that doesn’t matter”
  • Two things happen when you’re too focused on the middle:
    • You’re only successful to a certain level and then hit a plateau
    • You get stuck in one of two extremes: you get stuck either because you become too romantic on ideals and neglect the skills you need to execute or you get tied up in minutiae or politics and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Unit Economics

  1. “Unit economics are the direct revenues and costs associated with a particular business model expressed on a per unit basis.” Eg Lifetime Value, Customer Acquisition Cost (CPA)
  2. What you want to do as a product manager is increase average rev per user (ARPU), increase customer lifetime, and drive expansion revenue from existing cusotmers
  3. Make sure you know what your most profitable segment is and what their composite is of the user base

pm@olin: Buildiing (Class 5)

  1. Understand your personal work and productivity style
  2. Understand the style of your team and tailor your project management to the team – being cognizant of your personal style
  3. Understand your software processes (eg. Waterfall or Agile) and bug triage

Offshore Development: Pluses and Minuses for Product Managers

  1. Hard part is to learn and understand the team and learn what makes them tick and how you can leverage all this and control for issues such as different work cultures and different accents over conference phones
  2. Get to know them and make sure they know you
  3. Keep them informed, establish routines (especially communicating with remote team lead and holding them accountable, hold all-team meetings semi-frequently), and leverage tools

How we develop great PM / Engineering relationships at Asana

  1. Semi-formalized way for sharing leadership and credit
  2. Remember mantra product owns the problems and engineering owns solutions
  3. ‘Clarify roles and reinforce them with mutual respect’

Learning Tracking September 2017

I’m trying to give myself at least half an hour during the workdays (or at least blocking two hours or so a week at least) to learn something new – namely taking classes on Treehouse, which I still have a membership to, reading job related articles, and reading job-related books. Tracking notables here as a self commitment and to retain in memory.

Treehouse

UX Basics Key Takeaways

  • Gather data about user behaviors, goals, and needs
    • Do this with user interviews, quant data (logs and analytics), and surveys
    • Be sure to analyze behavior types, and not just audience segments
  • Always answer the Q: “What is it the product we are working on provides for this behavior type?”
  • Manage content inventory: What exists (eg form values), gaps, and analyze

Ajax Handling Errors Key Takeaways

  • XHR request object contains important info about errors

Articles + Three Takeaways

Paying Down Your Technical Debt

  1. “If the debt grows large enough, eventually the company will spend more on servicing its debt than it invests in increasing the value of its other assets.”
  2. “Accumulated technical debt becomes a major disincentive to work on a project. It’s a collection of small but annoying things that you have to deal with every time you sit down to write code. But it’s exactly these small annoyances, this sand grinding away in the gears of your workday, that eventually causes you to stop enjoying the project.”
  3. Becomes a source of fear, dread, and loathing for teams so you should periodically service your debt

Evidence Based Scheduling

  1. Break tasks into hours (nothing longer than 16 hours) so it forces you to figure out what to do
  2. Keep timesheets tracking data for historical use
  3. Simulate the future

“But you can never get 4n from n, ever, and if you think you can, please email me the stock symbol for your company so I can short it.”

Reddit and Facebook Veteran On How to Troubleshoot Troublemakers aka “Debugging Coders”

  1. Job is not getting stuff to do people for you, it’s figuring out how to do something together.
  2. ‘The exact behaviors that make it so that the organization can stay alive, move fast, be scrappy can be exactly the same actions that cause a negative disruption later in the life of your company,” says Blount. “Troublemaking brings signs of large tectonic shifts, releasing pressure into the atmosphere. Specific rumblings are almost all borne fundamentally of some kind of frustration: moving too fast, not moving fast enough, taking too few or too many risks. These are signals — and opportunities — to assess underlying changes and growth in an organization.”’
  3. For nostalgia junkies (people who like the company that ‘way it use to be’), focus on the question: “What about next week bothers you?” and for the Trend Chasers – gotta measure the risks, what happens with this route over the next year, deploying it and rolling it out?

How do managers* get stuck?

  1. Failing to manage down: need to delegate, train team, pay attention to process, and say no
  2. Failing to manage sideways: build peer relationships, look for additional tasks, create a vision, become someone you’d like to report to
  3. Failing to manage up: attend to details, complains but doesn’t fix, drags outside of comfort zone, show yourself professionally to higher ups

How do individual contributors get stuck?

  1. “Everyone has at least one area that they tend to get stuck on. An activity that serves as an attractive sidetrack. A task they will do anything to avoid.”
  2. “When you know how people get stuck, you can plan your projects to rely on people for their strengths and provide them help or even completely side-step their weaknesses. You know who is good to ask for which kinds of help, and who hates that particular challenge just as much as you do.”
  3. “Knowing the ways that you get hung up is good because you can choose to either a) get over the fears that are sticking you (lack of knowledge, skills, or confidence), b) avoid such tasks as much as possible, and/or c) be aware of your habits and use extra diligence when faced with tackling these areas.”

Run Towards Something, Not Away. Learning from Talks Summary: C-Suite Meet with Jacki Kelley, COO, Bloomberg Media

I went to the C-Suite Meet with Jacki Kelley, Chief Operating Officer, Bloomberg Media with She Runs months ago in May, but I’ve thought a lot about her advice and carried these notes in my bag and mentally for the last few months.

The biggest takeaway, “Run towards something and not away.”  

This year, I had the opportunity to buy a dream co-op in NYC and job opportunities that would have paid more than I am making now. I walked away from those because deep down I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, remembering these words and with the encouragement of friends and mentors. It was really difficult, especially as a daughter of immigrants and as someone who never thought I’d have what I have now and these opportunities. Sometimes the opportunities are wrong. Listen to your gut.

Much better opportunities and life paths have presented themselves to me in the interim, and I’m so glad I did the hard thing to walk away.

This piece by public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates resonates me with a lot:

Some people come up expecting to win. We came up hoping not to lose. Even in victory, the distance between expectation and results is dizzying for both. The old code remains a part of you, and with it comes a particular strain of impostor syndrome. You have learned another language, but your accent betrays you. And there are times when you wonder if the real you is not here among the professionals, but out there in the streets.

Obviously, I have to caveat that the specific experience he writes about has clear differences from mine, I’m from a much more privileged context, but it expresses the disorientation of how I feel in my circumstances now as Manhattan professional versus what my life could have easily been had I taken a few wrong turns and people didn’t intervene at key points in my life. (And to all the Women of Color who might be out there reading this, yes I still feel like I don’t fit in these spaces everyday, and probably never will. I still do it for the culture though).

My mentor told me in my moments of self-doubt this year, “There’s better for you. And you deserve it.”

I think most of us at least moderately-successful professionals will come upon these inflection points, where you can feel like you need to check-off certain life boxes (degree, house, ring, kids) or are presented with opportunities that are good for the money, but don’t feel right. Most people chose to do what they think should do because of societal or cultural expectations, because it’s hard to walk away from that. I’ve done that before, taken jobs to just to get away from a current situation, and and almost did all that again this year, but I’m glad I held out for the better even though it’s caused considerable existential dread, Asian guilt, and feeling of being ungrateful, especially in these sour times we live in politically and economically.

Some other key points from the talk/handwriting clarification:

  • She also mentioned “Life is not a to do list. Smell the roses.” Cliché, but at this phase of my life and career, I’m no longer in my frenetic twenties grasping at opportunity, but rather settling into a life and career that’s a marathon and not a sprint, and to enjoy the journey.
    • Also be there for the stuff that matters and plan out personal and professional life in tandem. She specifically mentioned planning out having kids (this isn’t something that’s a make or break for me), but we have all different milestones and wants to not be neglected
  • Sponsors v Mentors: need to find both. Sponsors are those people who advocate for you in your company or industry. Coaches/Mentors are your sounding boards and give advice, etc
  • Build cultures and processes to remove obstacles and allow people to do their best work
  • Understand people’s desires in a company and try to align with your goals and that of the organization
  • Ask yourself, how have you invested in someone you believe in?
  • Pick Learning > Promotion
  • Find work you love with people you love to work with
  • Connecting data, communication, and media is the key to survival for agencies (I’m not as bullish on this one and the agency model as it is, but it’s an insight worth thinking about)

Weekly Data Decomp: Country Quiz

Weekly data visualization decomps to keep a look out for technique and learning.

This week is the Guardian’s How Well Do You Know Your Country Quiz

Decomposition of a Visualization:

  • What are the:
    • Variables (Data points, where they are, and how they’re represented):
      • Numerical values on a x-axis scale using position
      • Lines showing gap in perception
    • Data Types (Quantitative, Qualitative, Categorical, Continuous, etc.):
      • Continuous
    • Encodings (Shape, Color, Position, etc.):
      • Position
      • Line Length
      • Color Hue for position
  • What works well here?
    • Showing difference between three possibilities
  • What does not work well and what would I improve?
    • Being able to compare with a filter of different countries side-by-side
  • What is the data source?  Do I see any problems with how it’s cited/used?
    • Ipsos Mori survey
  • Any other comments about what I learned?
    • I like how this is a combination of what would traditionally be a survey or quiz with data visualization elements for interactivity and exploration

 

Weekly Data Viz Decomp: Global Sea Ice Level

Weekly data visualization decomps to keep a look out for technique and learning: Global Sea Ice Level I found on Reddit’s DataIsBeautiful 

Decomposition of a Visualization:

  • What are the:
    • Variables (Data points, where they are, and how they’re represented):
      • Months on a radial axis
      • Sea level area scale on radial area
      • Lines along radial to represent sea ice level
    • Data Types (Quantitative, Qualitative, Categorical, Continuous, etc.):
      • Quantitative, Continuous
    • Encodings (Shape, Color, Position, etc.):
      • Color hue and position for line
  • What works well here?
    • The animation and showing the change through time is particularly effected as the overall area shrinks
    • The color hue change to a lighter color for current years is particularly effective
  • What does not work well and what would I improve?
    • The colors seem to be a little off theme – maybe personal nitpick but I would have picked a blue hue or something that relates to the water more
    • No sure how much the seasons adds to this chart, but I like the use of the area on this chart rather than one with a simple xy-axis
    • Maybe add an interactive filter for years to see contrast
  • What is the data source?  Do I see any problems with how it’s cited/used?
    • Cites what looks like a scientific journal – would have liked a link or publication, but I’m not familiar with this subject area
  • Any other comments about what I learned?
    • Makes me want to use a radial chart for something when I get a use case for it

 

Weekly Data Viz Decomp: The Guardian’s Premier League Transfer Window Summer 2016

Weekly data visualization decomps to keep a look out for technique and learning.

This week’s viz: Premier League: transfer window summer 2016 – interactive

Decomposition of a Visualization:

  • What are the:
    • Variables (Data points, where they are, and how they’re represented):
      • Bubble size for size of transfer
      • Color hue denoting transfer or out of team
      • Position for date close to transfer window
    • Data Types (Quantitative, Qualitative, Categorical, Continuous, etc.):
      • Qualitative and categorial
    • Encodings (Shape, Color, Position, etc.):
      • Shape, position, size, color hue
  • What works well here?
    • Showing a small multiples type view for each team and their transfers
  • What does not work well and what would I improve?
    • Having the totals summary numbers on the side of the charts is a little unorthodox and unintuitive
    • Bubbles seem to be placed arbitrarily without thought to the y-axis, even though the x-axis has meaning
    • Not immediately clear why some players are featured and noted in tooltips versus those that are not
  • What is the data source?  Do I see any problems with how it’s cited/used
    • Seems to be original Guardian data collected about the English Premier League, but not as clearly stated as I’d like to expect
  • Any other comments about what I learned?
    • Example of something pleasing to the eye in terms of color hue and perhaps some flash factor, but perhaps not that functional to explore upon closer examination.
      • Certainly sense for the purposes of the Guardian though in putting out this story and is a technique I’d borrow if I had a use case
      • Good for showing a bigger picture view
    • Probably not worth it in terms of the work it would be taken incrementally as filters are difficult to work and can be computationally expensive, but the nerd in me would have liked to search for the player