Every Product Managers wants to be great at what they do and succeed. There are lots of good PM’s out there in big and small tech companies but how does one become a great Product Manager and what does it mean to be outstanding in product management? George Zeng from Facebook gave a talk about this, and he also talked about how you can achieve and maintain a successful PM career.
Product Manager at Facebook for Acquisition Solutions Ads. Prior to being a Product Manager he was the co-founder, CEO and Product Lead at AirCare Labs, the Head of Sales for Southern China at Groupon, the Senior Associate at McKinsey & Company and an Analyst at Goldman Sachs. He holds an MBA and Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Finance and Chinese language.
Unusually good performance
“In order to obtain unusual results, do either unusual things or usual things in an unusual way.” If you’re always doing the usual thing in a usual way you’re never changing anything and that doesn’t inspire people. If you change either the things you’re doing or the way of doing them to the unusual you get something new and good out of it.
George talked about the difference between usual and unusual things and the way of doing them. We have picked the best bits of his talk for this article.
How to do the unusual
If a student that studies the average amount and gets a B he/she is doing the usual thing in the usual way. If another student spends all of his/her time in the library studying and only gets A’s he/she is doing the usual thing but in an unusual way.
If a good-looking and popular student is running for the president and wins he/she is doing the unusual thing in a usual way. However, if you want to be the one doing the unusual things in an unusual way you have to do something different. For example, you can teach yourself to code, create your own bestselling game, sell it and by the time you go to college you have already accomplished something.
The unusual in Product Management
There’s a picture on the wall at Facebook that says “Understand, Identify, Execute.” This is the framework of building products. Building products is about good executions. You have a plan and you execute on the plan. If the execution isn’t good you don’t know if the strategy is good.
In addition to having the right plan you have to identify the right opportunity to execute on. Without the right opportunity you can’t build anything impactful or meaningful. You also have to understand the goals you’ve set.
When you have all the three principals taken into consideration you have the pieces to build great products.
Speed as the primary execution strategy
Speed is important because it allows a Product Manager to experiment, refine and have a margin of error in the execution. It also allows more time and output for the PM and his/her team. Execution speed “10x” allows time for the things like continuous roadmapping, dialogue with stakeholders and other non-urgent activities that would not be possible otherwise.
Hacking the time and using it in the most efficient way is the key to achieving the “10x” execution speed.
How to improve efficiency and be a great PM
So how can one become a great Product Manager? Here are a couple of tips that might help.
Meetings. Product Managers have a lot of meetings – save time by batching them.
Deep work. Optimize your time for deep work.
Co-develop. Co-develop products – build the right products for the right customer and obtain quick adoption.
Time. Time-shift schedule (saves time, for example, when commuting.)
Machines. Use 2-3 monitors, use Windows for Outlook/PowerPoint/Excel and Mac for coding, automated email rules.
Relationships. Invest in relationship building.
Health. Stay healthy by eating well, placing your screen at the right height, and consider supplements for vitamins, for example.
Read. Read a lot regularly, learn, research, tech things to yourself and talk about what you’ve learned with other people and deepen your learning.
Questions from the audience
How do you get into deep thinking quicker?
You have to find what works for you. For me, I’m able to do a lot of deep thinking early in the mornings and that’s why I wake up at 5am. Literally all of our product strategy and product specs are written between 6 or 7 and about 9.30 in the morning for the team where I work. I also find blocking time to be important.
There are a lot more tactical things that you can do to get into deep thinking quicker so for some of the bio hacking stuff for me has helped immensely with energy and concentration that helps me get into deep thinking quickly. Some things like time management techniques like Pomodoro or other techniques also help where you balance deep thinking with not being fatigued. There are different things you can do but I don’t have a magic bullet for you.
How can meetings be better organized/optimized?
Meetings end up being potentially a huge drag on Product Managers’ productivity. There are a bunch of different ways how they we can hack or optimize this. A few ideas I have are to shorten 30 minute meetings to 15 minutes. I’ve been very intentional about how many meetings I have and who to involve in those meetings. If you involve everyone in the meetings it’s a bigger task.
Also sending agendas upfront helps. There are a whole bunch of different ways that you can optimize this. Sometimes objectives go directly against each other. For example, one of my intentions of building very strong relationships through one-on-one directly increases the number of meetings I have. Meetings are difficult because I don’t know how you can get rid of them entirely because there’s still a unit of order of communication and getting some very basic work done.
How can I get unusual results if I’m usual intelligence?
Let me give you an example of things you can do assuming the usual level of intelligence. Firstly I think people sometimes measure intelligence in two dimensional of a way. You can be intelligent in multiple different ways so I wouldn’t necessarily penalize yourself because you might be very intelligent in a way that a bunch of people here are not.
Tech and engineering tend to over emphasize on the rational and logical but there are other creative forms of intelligence as well. Even if you do assume based on the level of intelligence I don’t think the heart of doing unusual things or things in an unusual way is intelligence. I think it’s creativity.
For example, let’s say that it’s creativity and initiative. Let’s say that you are in a small town and you want to go to college but your real passion is for music. I actually think I heard of a student that went and volunteered at a local radio station and ended up rising through the ranks into hosting her own show. Is that something that fits into the model of intelligence of a student getting an A+ in computer science? It’s something that’s creative and that took an initiative that has nothing to do with how good you are at math.
So again I think the unusual things and the unusual framework is more about creativity initiative than it’s about pure intelligence.