Ask Women in Product: How do you find your wins as a PM when you’re not producing working code?

Photo by Masha Manaenko via Twenty20

Answer from Lisa Mo Wagner

Lisa Mo Wagner is a Product Manager at Zattoo. You can find her on Twitter at @lisamowagner.

Focus on outcomes, not output

Start by not focusing solely on shipping features. John Cutler refers to this condition as being a Feature Factory, “a storypoint machine where the company only cares about how much is being shipped.”

  • You’ll hear lines like these as reasons to build a feature: “The CEO wants it.” “My stakeholder asked for this.” Or “a more senior PM had this idea.”
  • Your team believes that you’re “done-done” when the feature has been shipped.
  • You have a timeline roadmap that looks like a Gantt chart (Tip: Janna Bastow explains why you should ditch them).
  • You never deprecate any features.

If your goal is not to ship working code, what is your goal?

I currently have a more senior role with a focus on strategy and planning. I do not work as part of a cross-functional team; instead, I work with several squads and I do not have any “code deliverables.”

1. Nurturing team health

Whether you work with a newly-formed team (as I did) or with a mature product organization, there will always be moments when things feel a little chaotic and hectic and the team is under pressure to deliver on time. These moments are stressful and can have bad long-term effects if left unchecked.

2. Translating strategy, giving direction, communicating the purpose

Let me say right away that this area is especially hard to measure.

3. Discovery, running workshops, and experimentation

Product discovery, as defined by MixPanel, “is a method of deeply understanding your customers to develop products that perfectly suit their needs.”

4. Creating and refining structure/processes

Never create processes for the sake of it. You’ll want to create structure through processes only if you have a specific goal in mind.

5. Education, coaching, and professional growth

I set goals in this area for myself and sometimes together with my manager.

6. Removing dependencies or other impediments

As a product manager, you also deliver value by keeping the team on track. While the goal is fairly straightforward (e.g., “empower a team to do their best work”), measuring this can take a bit of effort.

Define what success looks like for you

For each of the areas above, you’ll want to start simple, define what success looks like, then find out if you’re on the right track by quantifying it. You can do this by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Where am I (or where is my team) now?
  • Where do I/we want to be?
  • How do I/we know there’s progress on this goal?
  • How do I/we know I/we got there?

Conclusion

Whether or not your deliverables as a product manager includes working code, such tangible outputs shouldn’t be the only things that you, your team, and your success are measured by. Consider which of the six areas outlined above you’d like to focus on next, identify outcomes that you want to achieve, then decide how you will gauge your progress against those outcomes. If you regularly invest the time to work through this exercise, you’ll have no trouble finding your wins.

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Women in Product

Women in Product

A global community of women working in Product Management.