5 Critical Product Management Skills

(1) Writing

Communicating with team members, vendors, customers, etc., is an ongoing part of product management. It is one thing to text your friends and not worry about sentence structure, grammar, or spelling. It is another thing when you are writing an email to your team, developing a business plan, or creating product training – your writing is what will empower your message. A few simple rules to remember are: use the active voice (not passive), keep sentences and paragraphs short, avoid adverbs, and practice every day. Yes, practice every day. Writing is a skill and like any other skill it gets better with daily practice. The following books will make you a much better writer.

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (http://amzn.to/2D4iH1U)

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (http://amzn.to/2D7sc0g)

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley (http://amzn.to/2D34xNV)

(2) Market Research

How do you develop the best product in its class? You get out of the office and talk to customers. You interview retail store owners, your customers, and your competitor customers. You create questionnaires, gather data, and use statistics to understand what the data is communicating. Sitting in an office all day and staring at spreadsheets or creating PowerPoint presentations is a big part of the job. However, the only way to beat your competitors and excite your customers is to understand what customers want, how they use the products, and their pain points. The way to do this is interact with them and learn first-hand. Learning the intricacies of market research is a powerful tool that keeps giving. Check out the following books to improve your skills.

The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires: How to Get Better Information for Better Decisions by David F. Harris (http://amzn.to/2CYshPR)

Marketing Research Essentials (6th ed) by Carl McDaniel and Roger Gates (http://amzn.to/2D64PU1)

(3) Creative Thinking

You have to continuously develop new ideas. Tattoo the Japanese term kaizen, meaning continuous improvement, in your memory. The only way to improve yourself, your products, current processes, or solve problems is developing new creative ideas. The best way to develop creative ideas is with a structured and disciplined approach. Using creative thinking tools such as SCAMPER, random word, or biomimicry avoids wasting time “brainstorming” or haphazardly thinking of new things. It sounds counterintuitive, but the best ideas are developed with a structured process, tool, or technique. Read the following books to improve your skills.

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko (http://amzn.to/2DnNIe2)

Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edward de Bono (http://amzn.to/2CV4HDw)

(4) Storytelling

How do you get a new product concept approved from executives? How do you convince salespeople the new product is exceptional and will beat the competition? The best way to build a movement is exciting people. And the best way to excite people is with a compelling story. Creating a compelling story is not easy. It takes practice and a lot of work. Impart visuals, video, audio, and other tools to pull your audience into the story. Video customer testimonials and share the feedback with co-workers. The following books will help build this skill.

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam (http://amzn.to/2DrdCh5)

Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (http://amzn.to/2EBxDAY)

(5) Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is something everyone needs to be good at, but most of us have never formally learned critical thinking. If your advertising agency tells you the new TV ad concept will improve brand awareness by 64%, you better ask how this will happen. How do they know this? Where is the data? How did they collect the data? Critical thinking is putting your skeptic hat on and dissecting what someone is telling you. It is not about attacking someone or their argument, it is pausing, stepping back, and asking questions to ensure nothing is missed. In this age of fake news and the allure of Big Data, critical thinking is vital to ensure the best decisions are being made. The following are a few excellent books to reference.

A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston (http://amzn.to/2Ft35Tj)

Critical Thinking for Marketers (Volumes I and II) by Terry Grapentine and David Dwight (http://amzn.to/2FvUNdt)

Musings from TJ

“You’re nuts to go down there!” was what I kept hearing from co-workers regarding my plan to visit Tijuana and walk around. Sorry to disappoint, but Tijuana (TJ) is not the scary, crime-ridden city from 30 years ago. It had a rough patch in the mid-2000s, but is now a great place to wander around in relative safety. The people are helpful, there are cops everywhere, and the foodie culture is growing (good or bad).

There are multiple ways to sightsee TJ, but we chose the simple method – park in San Diego and walk across. We tried to book a walking food tour but were out of luck, so we did our research, printed out some maps, and headed across. (Yes, we printed out our maps since we are too cheap to pay for international roaming on our phones, or too lazy to just get some extra browsing time for the day). Either way, it was nice not dealing with our phones all day, except to take pictures.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, creativity, innovation, and inspiration come from experiencing new things. The best method to get inspired is visiting new places. What better than visiting a new city just a few hours from home? After we parked our car in San Diego ($25 for the day), we walked about 5 minutes and entered the Mexican immigration center. After some quick paperwork, passports stamped, we were in Mexico. Yup, that easy.

Walking from the immigration center to downtown TJ took about 15 minutes. Tijuana has always been a tourist city, so there are lots of souvenir shops, barkers trying to get you in their restaurants, as well as many California license plates cruising around.

Our first stop was the Tijuana Cultural Center and museum (http://www.mexicoescultura.com/recinto/51716/en/tijuana-cultural-center-cecut-.html). There was an exhibition of local photographers and it was nice to check out some local history. From there we journeyed to the Museo de la Luca Libre Mexicana (http://www.mullme.com/). This is a new museum that houses an amazing collection of superhero memorabilia, various old-stuff from the past (e.g., comic books, milk jugs, radios, etc.), an unbelievable collection of Lucha Libre masks/billboards/art, etc. and locally made leather masks.

The museum was difficult to find. We asked multiple people and finally found it after about 30 minutes walking in circles (next time I will pay for cell service). When we entered, the manager greeted us and explained the facility (his English is great for all you non-Spanish speakers). The museum opened in April 2017 so they are still building a following. The owners got together and with their love of all things nerdy, decided to open a spot to display their amazing collections.

The museum was an old restaurant that they refurbished. The architecture was a blend of the past and present. It is really beautiful inside. I am not a big superhero memorabilia fan, but the various collections were impressive. A local artist painted the murals of various superheroes on the walls, ceiling, etc. The art was amazing and blew us away – I want to find that guy and hire him for some work. After the first floor collection, we journeyed upstairs to the Lucha Libre collection.

If you are not familiar with Lucha Libre, it is Mexican professional wrestling where many of the wrestlers wear masks. I used to watch Lucha Libre when I was a kid and am a big fan of Lucha Va Voom (http://luchavavoom.com/), so this was really cool. One of the museum owner’s has been collecting wrestling memorabilia for 44 years, and the collection is a historical lesson in Mexican wrestling. Parts of the collection included hundreds of actual masks, various action figures and toys, as well as costumes, pictures, hair samples (from bouts where a wrestler lost and had his head shaved), to old TV episodes from the 1950 and 1960s. There is even a real wrestling ring.

After spending a lot of time being a little kid again, we moved to the third floor. Housed on the top floor is a gallery displaying local artist Jorge Ayllón Gutiérrez’s leather mask collection (https://www.facebook.com/encuerARTE-222118024582954/). Many years ago, a friend bought me a leather mask from Mexico and I have a small collection from various travels (e.g., Italy, Japan). The collection was excellent and all pieces were for sale.

After the museum, we journeyed to the Telefonica Gastro Park (https://www.facebook.com/TelefonicaGastroPark/). It was about a 30-minute walk. The U.S. food truck trend is everywhere, and TJ is no exception (there were lots of food trucks in Russia when we visited earlier this year). The “park” is really a parking lot that houses multiple food “trailers”, a brewery, and plenty of places to sit and enjoy some great food and drink. The place is tourist friendly and the food was excellent.

After stuffing ourselves with great tacos, we headed over to Mercado Hildalgo (http://www.descubretijuana.com/es/atractivos/mercado-hidalgo). The place was crazy as everyone was there buying stuff for New Years. There were more California license plates than TJ. The Mercado Hildalgo is a collection of open-air markets selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, beans, spices, piñata supplies, etc. It was fun to walk around and sample the various items. Then, it was time to head back to the border.

On the way, we stopped by Container Coffee (https://www.facebook.com/conteinercofferoasterco/?rf=1756930457856837) for a great mocha latte (and to rest our feet). We then found the local tourist trap – zebra donkeys. TJ is known for zebra donkeys (white donkeys are painted with black stripes to show-up better in photographs). I am not a fan of using animals for tourist crap, but most of the animals looked very healthy, had lots of food and water, and had pads to stand on – not horrible. The stand that “grabbed us” were two funny local guys; one spoke pretty good Japanese so he bonded with my wife to practice.

For about $10 we got our photos taken, received a high-gloss color photo, and got some local perspective. We spent about 30 minutes hanging with him and hearing the struggles of kids growing up in TJ and trying to get a good education and well-paying jobs. There is a reason so many Mexicans cross the border to have kids.

As Joe Rogan always reminds his listeners, those of us who were born into the middle class (and above) are just lucky (and privileged). It was just a roll of the dice that we were born in stable families, in a safe place, with good schools and plenty of food, instead of being born in a ghetto or a worn-torn country. Like most places, when the hand you are dealt is not great, it is pretty damn hard to get ahead. There is nothing special about any of us; we are just lucky.

I then grabbed a Mexican Coca-Cola (cane sugar, not syrup), and waited in line to cross back to the U.S. About 45 minutes later we were back in San Diego. Too much fun, way too easy. Much better than driving.

As the New Year is a few hours away, think of what you want to accomplish in 2018. Think about how fortunate you are. And, if you are struggling, put a game plan together leveraging the internet, public libraries, free online courses, mentors, etc., to improve yourself. Moreover, experience new things, meet interesting people, and change your life and the life of others. Make this year count to destroy the negativity, hate, and lazy thinking of others. As Gary V says, “Crush It!”