Frequent conflict is a new requirement for startup leaders

Tech has a homogeneity problem. Karla Monterroso — a longtime leadership coach, racial equity advocate and the founder of Brava Leaders — jumped on Equity last week to talk about how that issue was complicated by a bull cycle that saw power in visionary pitches — something now tested by a bear market in which talent is constantly turning over and founders have to make critical decisions with second- and third-order effects.

It’s the last day of the TechCrunch+ Cyber Monday sale! Head here for details, and don’t miss out!

Monterroso argued that a diverse workforce needs more than well-intentioned leaders to function properly. The skillset of a founder in 2022 comes with emotional intelligence on how to handle conflict, a mature understanding of power and the ability to offer context around decisions in a way that empowers their staff.

“We’re going to need leadership that is actually much more comfortable with complexity.” Karla Monterroso

To me, the takeaway from this episode is just how big the startup founder’s job is today, regardless of stage or scale.

My entire conversation with Monterroso lives now wherever you find podcasts, so take a listen if you haven’t yet. Below, we extracted a few key takeaways from the interview, from tech’s allergy to conflict to the consequences of widespread layoffs.

What do you commonly see needing to change within organizations seeking to create a more diverse workforce beyond hiring? How do you begin to fine-tune your culture so your diverse workforce is taken care of?

Frequent conflict is a new requirement for startup leaders by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

Climbing the Career Ladder Part 2: Senior, Product Lead and Product Director Roles

You’ve spent a few years learning your craft and establishing your skills as a product manager, so where do you go next? This second part in our series looks at what’s needed of the senior, product lead, and director roles of Martin Eriksson’s foundational post Product Management Job Titles and Hierarchy. If you missed it, [...]


The post Climbing the Career Ladder Part 2: Senior, Product Lead and Product Director Roles appeared first on Mind the Product.

Conversations, Conflict and Leadership – Roman Pichler on The Product Experience

Throughout their careers, whatever question either Lily or Randy has had, Roman Pichler’s probably had some great advice on the topic! A longtime consultant, author and teacher, we grabbed him for a chat focusing on some of the lessons contained in his fourth book, How to Lead in Product Management.

Quote of the Episode

A successful outcome for a negotiation is finding a solution that is mutually agreeable and sustainable and addresses the needs of the two parties. Models like the Behavioural Change Stairway model or the model that was developed at Harvard, they both assume that negotiation isn’t a fight where we try and win and get the better of the other person, but it’s really a conversation… and it requires the willingness of both parties to open up

Listen if you’d like to learn more about

  • How to be a good leader
  • Creating goals and objectives
  • Component teams vs Feature teams
  • How to deal with conflict and build trust
  • Being empathetic

Links mentioned in this episode


The Product Experience is hosted by Lily Smith and Randy Silver.

Lily enjoys working as a consultant product manager with early-stage and growing startups and as a mentor to other product managers. Lily has spent 13 years in the tech industry working mainly with startups in the SaaS and mobile space. She has worked on a diverse range of products – leading the product teams through discovery, prototyping, testing and delivery. Lily also founded ProductTank in Bristol, the Product Managers’ meetup with regular events and talks on Product now with 800+ members and growing. Now the Product Director at Symec, Lily also runs ProductCamp in Bristol and Bath.

A recovering music journalist and editor, Randy has been working as an interactive producer and product manager across the US and UK for nearly 20 years. After launching Amazon’s music stores in the US and UK, Randy has worked with museums and arts groups, online education, media and entertainment, retail and financial services. He’s held Head of Product roles at HSBC and Sainsbury’s, where he also directed their 100+-person product community. Now a trainer, Discovery and Leadership consultant, he’s spoken at Mind the Product Engage (Hamburg and Manchester), the Business of Software, Turing Festival, a number of ProductTanks (London, Zurich, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford, and Brighton… so far!) and at conferences across the US and Europe.

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Our theme music is from Hamburg-based Pau, featuring ProductTank Hamburg’s own Arne Kittler on bass. Listen to more on their Facebook page

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The post Conversations, Conflict and Leadership – Roman Pichler on The Product Experience appeared first on Mind the Product.

I How I Got Fired From My Product Manager Job

I had to say goodbye to my product manager job because I got fired
I had to say goodbye to my product manager job because I got fired
Image Credit: Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

So before we dive into my tale of woe, let’s first make sure that we are all on the same page at least in terms of vocabulary. When you lose a job, there are a couple of different ways to have this happen. One is that you get laid off. This generally happens when the company is forced to reduce its workforce because they’ve run into financial problems or a contract got canceled or they are closing a branch office. Multiple people generally get laid off at the same time. You get the point. When you get fired, it’s a lot more personal. Everyone else is still going to have their job but you are not. You have been told that you are no longer wanted and you need to pack your things up and get out. This is what happened to me. I got fired.

Exactly How Does A Product Manager Get Fired?

Sigh. So I guess I’m going to have to share my story with you. Let me start out by saying yes, this is all my fault. I would like to be able to point fingers and say “it’s not fair” and blame someone else, but this time around I believe that I have to shoulder the blame. I brought this upon myself. My story starts when I got hired by a midsized defense contractor that employed about 300 people. I was working in one of their branch offices that had about 30 people working in it. My last contacting gig had gone away unexpectedly and so this was a nice change – full time employment with a stable company.

The reason that they hired me was because they had gotten themselves into a bind. They were primarily a body shop – they provided IT workers for the Army, Navy, Marines, etc. The government had realized that the military was buying stacks and stacks of computers to talk to different countries when they would work together on the battle field and this company had come up with a clever way to shrink all of those computers down into just one small stack. What this meant for the company is that they now had a product and, hat’s off to them, they realized that they needed a product manager. This is why they brought me in.

I started work full of great hope – new company, new product, new opportunities. From a product manager perspective, things were a bit weird. No real competitors, no real marketing, no real sales, no real pricing. This was about getting the government to buy what the company made. What I did need to do was to find out what their product development definition was and launch a new product. That was no big deal to me, I had done that before. I started things out doing what I believe are the two most important things that a product manager can do: learning about the product and learning about the people. The product was a very sophisticated collection of 5 pieces of hardware and 15 pieces of off-the-shelf software that all had to be custom configured in order to create a super secure system. It took time for me to be able to understand how the various pieces fit together, but I did it. Along the way I meet and made friends with the engineering team. We all got along very well.

As I think back about it, I think that things started to go poorly for me right off the bat. I made mistakes. There are two mistakes that stand out in my memory: I fell asleep at work and I read the Wall Street Journal. Neither of these is all that terrible; however, what I had not realized was that I was being watched. I was placed into an office that I shared with the company’s CTO and their head engineer. As I sat at my desk in the first few days, there was not a lot for me to do as I attempted to find my away around. It turns out that the CTO, sitting on the other side of the room, was watching me. I was burning the candle at both ends and I must have nodded off a few times (you know how that goes – you’ve done it too) and when I completed a task, I’d open the paper and read for a couple of minutes before starting my next task. No big deal – or so I thought. The CTO decided that I was not working as hard as he was. Bummer, but not that big of deal at the time because I didn’t report to him.

Time moves on. The company goes though a small reorganization and now I’m reporting to the CTO. The reorganization happens on a Friday and on the following Monday the CTO calls me into a conference room and tells me that he’s writing up an “Employee Corrective Action” form for the things that he had observed me doing during my first couple of weeks with the company. A month and a half ago. Dear God in heaven – how embarrassing is this? This isn’t going to look good on my product manager resume. Ok, so I can put up with this – it’s just a bump in the road. However, the next day the CTO calls me into the same conference room and writes me up again, this time because an assignment that he had me do for him did not meet his expectations. Two days, two HR write ups. Let us agree that things are not going so good for me right now. Oh, and as we talk about the second write up my boss uses an analogy that talks about if you were playing basketball for the Pistons and you just couldn’t keep up, then maybe you should quit the team and go do something else. What could he have meant by that?

So the way that this story ends is a bit anticlimactic. The CTO pretty much said that he wanted me to show my value to the company by being able to complete a project that would be useful to all. He handed me a project, really didn’t discuss what he wanted, and let me work on it. As you can well imagine, what I produced was good work – but not what he wanted. was pretty much my “three strikes and you are out”. Yes, he had set me up and no, there was nothing that I could do to prevent me from being set up. My time with the company was effectively over.

What Could I Have Done Differently?

Ok, so I admit it. I screwed up. I set the CTO against me from the get go and then I ended up in a situation where he decided that I had to go. This is a mistake of my own making. What could I have done differently? Outside of the obvious – don’t fall asleep, don’t read the paper it turns out that the solution to this problem is actually pretty simple. The first thing that I should have realized is that I was dropping into a company that had a specific way of viewing the world. They were really a body shop – they provided IT workers who would do a specific job for the government. What this meant is that the people that they hired provided an immediate return on their investment. They produced tangible results from day one.

One of the challenges of being a product manager is that the things that we do don’t have an immediate pay off. Just to make things even more challenging, we often don’t do things. Instead we get other people to do things for us. You should be seeing my point – I was not able to produce results like the other people at the company were. I did have a chance to get a lot of things started. I was working to create a system by which the company could support its products after they were sold. I was creating a list of features that could be added to the product in future releases. I was creating a system that would allow customers to easily customize and order the product. However all of these product manager projects take time. None of them would have a payoff for at least six months and it turns out that I didn’t have six months to spend.

So given all of this what should I have done. In hind sight, it’s pretty simple. I should have realized that as the company’s first product manager nobody there was going to have a clue as to what a product manager really does. What this means is that I was going to have to act like people that they do know – temporary IT workers who produce results immediately. What I should have done was to create two lists. One list was the list of standard product manager tasks that take a long time to complete from start to finish. The other list would have been of “short term wins” that I could have been doing and showing to others to let them know that I was adding value to the company right now. Everyone would have been impressed with the product programs that I set up over time, but they needed to see success right now to know that they had made the right decision in bringing me in now.

What All Of This Means For You

So what what should you take away from my sad tale? Well, if you work in a small environment where there is a good chance that people will be watching you to see what kind of work you produce, no matter what your product manager job description says you can’t just focus on the traditional product manager tasks. The reason is because what product managers do can take too long to set up if you are working with people who don’t understand what product managers do. You won’t have the time that you need to be successful.

Instead, you are going to have to adjust to the work environment that you find yourself in. If the company is used to having their employees produce results on a daily or weekly basis, then that is going to be what you will have to do. You are going to have to find product related tasks that you can accomplish quickly. Once you complete something, you will then have to take the next step to get the word out about what you have accomplished. You are going to have to become your own best cheerleader. Nobody else is going to do this for you. If you want to hold on to your job, everyone has to be able to see that you are producing results right now and not have to wait until sometime in the future to see what you can do.

The answer is that no, this is not fair. If anyone can tell you this, it’s me. We might be the best product managers in the world but if we are working for a company that wants to know what we’ve done for them lately, then we are going to have to deliver. In the end, and I’d still have a job if I had known this, we product managers are responsible for understanding the environment that we are working in and adjusting our working style to match it. If you can do this, than unlike me you’ll have a good shot at having a long and happy product manager career.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If your company doesn’t understand that product manager tasks take time to complete, how can you still show value?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So I’m not sure if you are aware of it, but it turns out that all of the people in the world can be divided into one of two different groups. These groups consist of people who like to get their morning coffee from Dunkin and people who like to get their morning coffee from Starbucks. Traditionally once you’ve picked which group you want to belong to, you will never change your mind. The product managers at Dunkin have decided that they want to grow their market and so they are preparing to change their product development definition and do battle with the Starbucks product managers in order to see if they can win some more customers over to their way of doing coffee.

The post I How I Got Fired From My Product Manager Job appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

The Magic in Conflict by Shaun Russell

In this keynote from MTP Engage Manchester, Shaun Russell explains why product people need to lean into conflict.

Key Points:

  • Conflict aversion is learned behaviour
  • The path of least resistance is rarely the right direction
  • The stakeholder and product manager relationship should be transparent
  • As product people, we must lean into conflict

Shaun describes a great product manager as “someone who can throw a well-placed, well-measured tantrum about the important things”. He describes how, as product people, it’s our role to hold the product accountable by asking difficult questions like “should we build this?”, “will it work?”, and “do our customers really need it?” Such questions will often lead to conflict – something we have to learn to embrace because “conflict is where the magic is”.

Shaun asks us to think about the last MVP we built, was it really the minimum viable product or was it a compromise? The MVP exemplifies conflict management; it’s something we build when choosing to test an idea in order to learn, even though we risk failure or unwanted cost.

The Path of Least Resistance

Shaun has found himself adopting different forms of avoidance throughout his career, developing what he calls “conflict anti-patterns”.

The first of these is mediator, where you look at the different perspectives of your users and the needs of your stakeholders and the capacity of your developers and try to find a single answer, a compromise. It’s the path of least resistance, but one which rarely provides the best solution. Shaun notes that, when compromise is the goal, the solution seems simpler so we often take on too many projects at once and not do any justice. Compromising shows stakeholders that you can’t truly manage your product. Once it’s realised that compromise is your only weapon of negotiation, stakeholders will know to fight you for scope or quality on their terms. Avoid being the mediator.

Data-driven Dismissal

The second is intellectual, a product person who uses evidence and runs AB tests to say what is true or what is not. Shaun tells how he met a stakeholder who told him, “I will be the worst customer you have ever had”. They discussed requirements and the stakeholder’s suggestions for improving the product and Shaun disagreed. He used tests to prove the stakeholder’s needs and suggested changes were not suitable. But a year later, working on a different product, Shaun looked back to find all the changes he’d dismissed had been made. Here’s what he learnt:

  1. Evidence doesn’t stand up for itself – you are required to produce it for stakeholders but also show the business why it’s worth acknowledging (otherwise they’ll forget).
  2. You have to back it continually – retesting and reassessing ideas is imperative when they keep coming back.
  3. You need to be open to change – it’s your job to build the best products, sometimes that means looking to be proved wrong.

Shaun saw a pattern of conflict avoidance when he accepted the statement “I will be the worst customer” at face value. He says it’s important to learn how your stakeholder perceives your relationship because we should aim to be a team, working together. Having shared goals, clear upfront communication, and being able to tackle conflicts as soon as they occur are some of the best ways to align and build better products.

Vision-based Bias

The third role is that of the deviant – a product manager with power and vision and the final say. Shaun was working on a website which showcased discounted clothes and wanted to launch a tool specifically for Black Friday. When asked to justify the decision to build this feature with a five-day timeline, unstable data sources and a lack of real evidence, Shaun thought: “I’m the product manager, I have had enough of being pushed around by the business, we are going to launch.” The resulting build was, he says, unusable, infeasible, and unviable.

Shaun says you can’t ignore stakeholders and puts forward the case for transparency. He asks: “Why can’t we just be honest about what we really want to achieve?” If we do this we can openly discuss conflicts, identify risks, and then use evidence in order to further clarify decisions made. Using tools such as the Opportunity Solution Tree, a KPI tree, or even just a whiteboard and Post-Its, we can bring structure to user and stakeholder needs before we look at solutions – and avoid getting attached to our own biases.

It’s human to find our own conflict anti-patterns, but as product people, we must lean into conflict and find the right solutions that will bring about success.

The post The Magic in Conflict by Shaun Russell appeared first on Mind the Product.

Managing Conflicts Effectively by Parul Goel

The age-old issue of conflict in the workplace: there are many reasons why we choose to avoid it, but what if we engaged with it effectively instead? In this ProductTank San Francisco talk, Parul Goel, Group Product Manager for Marketplaces at PayPal, evaluates workplace conflict following a particularly challenging conflict of her own.

When Parul accepted a promotion at PayPal, she was “in a good space”. With growing responsibilities and a larger sphere of influence, she felt motivated and capable: excited to make a difference. Then, conflict hit her out of nowhere – catching her by surprise when all else was well.

The conflict came from the engineering team and it began when she addressed the timeline aspect of the product roadmap. Her colleague Mike, a new engineering manager, refused to answer her questions about the timeline because “the leadership says so”. Parul thought her engineers deserved a better answer than that, but she did not act on it; she stayed quiet, and kept her anxieties private. As time went on, the conflict got worse. Her colleague began interrupting her. He also challenged the priorities she set for the team.

Still, Parul made excuses for him. Her first thought was “I can ignore it – he is new, he will learn”, but her colleague’s disregard of transparency and co-operation bothered her. Something didn’t make sense: Parul had been with the company and team longer, she knew what the product did – why did she allow herself to be dismissed? When she looks back, she realises she was hesitant to engage with the conflict.

Why Don’t we Engage in Conflict?

Parul identified three reasons why she avoided conflict with her engineering manager:

  1. Credibility Issues. Parul sees herself as a generalist at work. During the conflict, she questioned her credibility to challenge her engineer because he was a specialist.
  2. The Brand. Marketplace PayPal is a brand which Parul “protects with her life”. On this occasion, she didn’t want to be confrontational in case her behaviour tarnished the brand.
  3. Stress. As a non-confrontational person, Parul went to great lengths to avoid a dispute. While some people thrive off arguments and debates, others, like Parul, feel anxious of conflict and are quite weary of it. To combat the stress, she ignored the conflict in the hope it would go away. Although this may work for smaller conflicts, the same cannot be said for large ones; Parul soon realised that big conflicts don’t go away, they escalate.

Addressing the Problem

After several weeks of ignoring them, Parul chose to address her problems with Mike. What should have been a straightforward conversation about roles and responsibilities was more difficult because Parul failed to address the conflict. She realised that she needed to do something, and decided to address it thoroughly and in person.

What are the main takeaways? As well as learning about conflict and time, Parul realised something remarkable: the reasons she avoided conflict were exactly the same reasons that should have concerned her with it.

  1. Credibility. As a product manager, Parul is a generalist. While specialists “have the pieces of the puzzle”, general product managers “have the board the pieces go on”. Parul reminded herself of her credibility as a manager of the product when she addressed her colleague.
  2. The Brand. Parul was concerned about her engineer’s opinions during the conflict, and felt preoccupied by the thought of being “nice” for the sake of herself and her brand. However, she enabled her colleague to steamroll her repeatedly. Not managing that can also tarnish the brand, so she knew she had to act.
  3. Stress. According to Parul, you give up your power when you give up your voice. Avoiding stress by avoiding conflict can cause greater stress further down the line, so deal with the conflict as early and appropriately as you can.

Overall, conflict management can be challenging and uncomfortable but it is also necessary and appropriate. When conflicts are resolved, teams make greater progress.

The post Managing Conflicts Effectively by Parul Goel appeared first on Mind the Product.

Make Great Products by Mastering Conflict and Communication by Shaun Russell

Product management is notoriously difficult to define. We are generalists, and we work with many others. We take responsibility for the lifecycle of our product. These statements apply to almost all product managers, but they paint an incomplete picture.

It’s not Enough to be a Generalist

It’s not enough to be a generalist or to work closely with a wide range of people. It’s not enough to shepherd your product from cradle to grave. I’ve seen many product managers match this definition, but fail to be effective.

These product managers are just going through the motions. They fill in gaps where Design, Analyst, or QA resource is missing. They carry out orders on behalf of leadership, and satisfy the surface need for a decision-making process that consults everyone. And when it doesn’t work out, their final triumph is being easy to blame.

These product managers are hiding in the shadow of how things were. Back when projects still cascaded from the waterfall, when the only value calculation that mattered was business value, and when teams were not yet ready to be empowered. They hide in the shadow of how things were, because it’s safer there.

Step out into the Harsh Light of day

Diagnose critical assumptions, test them upfront, and make them known to others.

Squirm as your prototype collides with the reality of a usability test. Make failure possible by defining success metrics that actually hold your product accountable.

Start the difficult conversations. Be candid with your stakeholders. Call an early end to meetings when they have already fulfilled their purpose. Cancel meetings altogether when they long since stopped fulfilling any purpose at all.

Compel others towards a single purpose. Set an example by soliciting feedback, especially when you think you could have done better. Challenge your team to do the same. Build feedback mechanisms into the technology, the process, and the product.

Question orders from above when they are inconsistent, infeasible, or unclear. Make your voice heard. Influence decision making with evidence, with storytelling, and with your own particular brand of courage.

Call out the elephant in the room. Give him a name. Introduce him to your colleagues. Find him somewhere else to stay.

Step out of the safety of the shadow and embrace conflict.

Conflict is where the magic is.

Uncomfortable Creatures

In my talk at MTP Engage, I explain the defining role of conflict in Product Management. The talk includes:

As I elaborate in the talk, it is crucial to understand that reckoning with conflict is uncomfortable work. It takes resilience to surface problems, rather than minimise them.

For this reason I use a guiding principle: keep going until it’s uncomfortable.*

This, to me, is the defining feature of a product manager. Someone who harnesses conflict to take themselves, their colleagues and their product beyond the comfort zone, and on to greater things.

What conflicts are you avoiding?

* For clarity, this is not about overworking; it is not the “crazy-busy” product manager. It’s quite the opposite. A crazy-busy product manager is someone who is failing to examine and address their root problems, and is suffering as a result.

The post Make Great Products by Mastering Conflict and Communication by Shaun Russell appeared first on Mind the Product.

Product Management Fears and how to Face Them

In general we product people are a courageous bunch, but beyond our confident exteriors can reside a few honest (and I would argue, healthy) fears with which we wrestle, whether we admit to it or not!

I have a secret, not one I talk about often, if at all. Yet it preoccupies me as I commute to work, eat my lunch, or sit in the office… what if I am the only person who struggles with product management? Everybody else has it all sewn up don’t they? Don’t you?! Building the best products, working with the best people, utilising the best processes… I wish I was like YOU!

Well, in reality I am just like you. In reality we all struggle with various aspects of life, relationships and career. And I’d like to think that product people are among the more open professionals out there: we can be honest about our struggles, face up to our fears, and seek wisdom for our weaknesses.

So what are these fears? There will no doubt be different fears for different people, but, in my experience and from observing others, I have noticed three main fears:

  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Fear of inadequacy

Fear of Conflict

Not everyone fears conflict. There are certainly some people who love a good argument or “robust discussion” and who aren’t shy about making their thoughts known, however forcefully. But this can be a stressful experience for those of us who prefer a calmer, more reasonable and level-headed approach to disagreement – or even fear disagreement altogether!

Unfortunately disagreement is a fact of life, and as product people we must embrace it. Especially when the stakes are high and passionate committed people are working together. Therefore it’s how we handle it which matters – and we do well to remember that not all conflict is bad.

There is a lot of good which can arise through conflict, and the sheer process of strong minds wrestling with each other’s ideas to find the worthy winner. Not only does it bring new ideas or information to the table, it can and will challenge our beliefs and conclusions. This is necessary for a thorough understanding of the decision we are making, the problem we are dealing with, or the opportunity we are pursuing.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, defines trust as foundation of any strong team – the foundation upon which constructive conflict can take place, as a “passionate pursuit of truth or the best possible answer”. It is only on that basis that we can truly commit (even if we disagree), then hold each other accountable and focus on shared outcomes.

I’ve learned over the years to embrace conflict in pursuit of a better product. There are still times when I wince at tension in the room, but I actively strive to stop my previous uncomfortable experiences from colouring the present – and when required fight for the good of my product!

Additionally I try to look constantly for new ways to handle the friction and not to repeat past mistakes. I try to keep the following points in mind:

  • Be an active listener. Actually listen to what is being said, and seek to discern the intent of the other person – instead of merely getting hurt by something that has been said, or spending all your mental energy thinking of something to say which might diffuse the situation. Then you will be in a better position to put forward a meaningful response and head towards agreement.
  • Employ evidence. Bring metrics and analysis to the table. Use objective facts to limit the discussion of unfounded problems or ideas.
  • Remember the context. Some decisions are bigger than others. Big decisions need more effort than smaller ones. For example, do we change the checkout form layout? Needs little wrestling with in my opinion – experiment and see! Do we change the entire checkout flow? Now that’s an expensive job worth considering in depth.
  • Disagree and commit. Even if I don’t fully agree it is often better to disagree, commit, and move on – we can always revisit once the results are in… but don’t hold a grudge!
  • Take it offline. When a discussion or meeting does become heated, sometimes the best approach is to halt the discussion and resume at a later date – usually with fewer people – once all parties have had time to calm down and regain objectivity.

I would encourage you to do the same. Don’t let the fear of a tense atmosphere or a hard conversation a stop you from building the best possible product. There will be times when we need to fight for it!

Fear of Uncertainty

FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Not just in politics or mainstream media, but also in product management.

Don’t let fear of uncertainty stop you from being an effective product person. Handling uncertainty is one of the reasons we have our roles, so let’s embrace it! While you don’t have to be a soothsayer to be a good product person, we have many product discovery tools and techniques at our disposal. They can help us to avoid building a product which doesn’t work, and which nobody will use, or committing ourselves to months of solid development before we see results.

Fear of Inadequacy

Perhaps you’ve never experienced fear of conflict nor fear of uncertainty. Perhaps you have it all sewn up. Well, excellent! I’m really pleased for you.

However, it is my suspicion that fear of inadequacy might be one of the largest but least-acknowledged fears among product people. Kudos to people like MTP’s own Martin Eriksson who embrace this fear as “imposter syndrome” and bring it out into the open.

It’s on that basis I happily confess that quite often I feel like a fraud, or an imposter who doesn’t know what he is doing. Yet experience has taught me -especially since leaving my comfort zone last year – that this is unfounded.

Early in 2018 I left my role as a product manager for a group of online retail brands and joined a young cryptocurrency startup. I felt it was a brave move for me to leave the predictable and familiar for a new emerging industry, swapping traditional retail and manufacturing models for SaaS, and acknowledging there was only a finite runway before we needed to start making money. My journey has not been a smooth one, but throughout my instincts have usually been right, and my training and previous experience have helped me to define the way forward.

So, if you’re feeling the same way can I suggest three ways to help overcome this fear of inadequacy?

1. Get Into a Community

Leave your echo chamber of one and find others in the product community. Regular ProductTank meetups are a good place to start. I find our local Bristol group an excellent source of wisdom, inspiration and general camaraderie – my thanks to Lily, Darwin, Philip, and Irving for making it what it is!

It’s in groups like this we find others to spar with – “iron sharpeneth iron” as the Bible tells us – those who will perhaps (gently) knock off some of our rough edges, or help us refine our thoughts. Be open, share, ask questions, take feedback, and learn.  You’ll see possibilities you’d not thought of and be inspired. You’ll help others, and inspire them too.

We don’t need to suffer alone – instead let’s embrace it together!

2. Don’t Compare Yourself With Others

There is only one you and you’re most qualified to be you. Be yourself because everyone else is taken.

You may not have all the experience someone else has, but you have unique experience and a unique skill / personality combination.

Only you will fit where others can’t! And in the process let those who are more experienced inspire us to grow and develop.

3. Just Keep Learning

Harness your fear and use it to drive your learnings. Let us embrace what we don’t know and use it to increase our breadth or depth of knowledge. Often this can take a degree of humility, but when we are new to a product, or operating with people or problems outside our experience, we are uniquely placed to ask silly questions that others may be too embarrassed to ask.

I find the first few weeks on a new product or in a new business to be the easiest time for “stupid questions”. But at other times, if something just doesn’t make sense, it can be hard to swallow your pride and ask for clarification. But it will only be more embarrassing later when it turns out you’ve delivered something no one actually asked for…

Finally, don’t be afraid of making mistakes, or even the dreaded failure. Mistakes are valuable learning material and bad ideas are not to be despised as they often bring us closer to good ideas. Some may say I made a mistake by joining the cryptocurrency industry just before it crashed. I would disagree. If my objective had been to make millions in cryptocurrency, then I might be sad, but my objective was to push myself outside my comfort zone, work with new people, try new things, and build a new product. I did all of that and have learned plenty in the process (including a few other mistakes) so I am not sad.

Onwards and upwards to the next challenge.

Don’t Fear Delivery

Therefore, let us focus on our passions and what makes us unique. Let us learn what that is and harness it to deliver results. And then it will be those results which speak volumes, they will demonstrate the value of our learning and illustrate the capacity of what we are able to achieve.

Let our fears drive us forward: learn new things, leave our comfort zones, and embrace new experiences.

And to those who feel perfectly adequate, who love uncertainty and thrive on conflict – beware! Don’t become complacent and plateau, you could very well be overtaken by the inadequates who embrace and harness their fears!

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