Discover more from Greek Product Guy
Learn frameworks, then strip them down
Be pragmatic with your product management craft
I came across the world of product management when I decided to launch a startup back in 2011. The first two books I read were “Four Steps to the Epiphany” and the “Art of Start 2.0”; The former was an amazing framework for running the marketing function before you launch your idea, and the latter was a very practical set of topics for a startup. This is how I learned that project management shouldn’t end by the time of delivery and that ideation wasn’t a disconnected process from execution that was called usually “brainstorming”, things I wasn’t taught during my undergrad program, even on the MBA a couple of years later.
Becoming a Product Manager in Greece back then was a challenge. Startups like Taxibeat and Workable were just getting started, and Skroutz was primarily a price comparison site. The only resources available were books and blog posts from Silicon Valley. I went on a reading spree, applying what I learned as I went. However, finding people to share practical product management insights was a struggle.
Build your toolkit
In 2018, I joined Orfium and discovered that traditional product management norms didn't quite fit. Orfium, a bootstrapped company, had achieved profitability through a significant shift from B2C to B2B enterprise solutions. Their approach involved swift deliveries that, while impactful, didn't easily scale. As we expanded our solutions and teams, I realized that the frameworks that worked for me didn't necessarily work for my team. People tended to rely on the way of working that unlocked this amazing value.
While the intuitive approach worked well initially, it became clear that it couldn't keep pace with the company's growth. At some point, I had to step in to address product and operational challenges, but this time I focused on the outcome of my work rather than prescribing and communicating frameworks.
Some successful framework-related approaches I experimented with included:
Organizing a workshop with key stakeholders to define long-term product vision and annual goals, with the team's active participation. I came into the meeting with a suggested solution, but everything was discussed under the broader scope, and the solution was refined collectively.
Creating an end-to-end value chain and mapping it according to user jobs-to-be-done to avoid redundancies and clarify product architecture.
RICE prioritization helped stakeholders feel heard and included in the process and established trust because of transparency in how decisions were made.
When problems started to pop up, it was clear that a broader product strategy was missing. Developing a broader product strategy with a vision type, aligning it with current opportunities, and communicating it formally drove things beyond their current state, and inspired teams.
Running a book club instead of asking my team to try frameworks, with the most engaged team members reading a framework book and sharing the knowledge.
Aligning teams at both functional and product levels through workflow mapping exercises across multiple products, enabled them to spot inconsistencies and issues they might have missed while working on their individual areas of focus.
My journey with various frameworks taught me several lessons about not using them blindly:
It's challenging to recommend frameworks in advance to individuals who aren't actively seeking solutions or aren’t deeply curious about product management.
Frameworks often reflect the unique context of the organizations or environments where they were developed, making them less transferable to different situations.
Many frameworks are rooted in the success of specific companies with effective business models and an initial user base, which might not apply universally.
Frameworks seldom document failures or their evolution phases. It would help if you often adapted them to the specific context you're working in.
Frameworks developed by studying other teams or companies may lack the full picture and often come from a consulting perspective.
Some frameworks are essential tools to develop specific product management skills but are marketed as structured systems.
In essence, my experience underscores the importance of tailoring product management approaches to the unique circumstances and goals of each organization rather than relying solely on pre-established frameworks.
Deliver value with your team
While frameworks offer structure and guidance, it's the people you work with who truly drive success. Here's what I've learned:
Team Trumps Framework - No matter how well-crafted a framework may be, a strong, cohesive team can overcome almost any challenge. A team that communicates effectively shares context, and collaborates cohesively can often find more innovative and adaptable solutions than rigidly following a prescribed framework. However, immature or junior teams benefit the most from frameworks but tend to stick to them and create bureaucracy.
The Power of Context Sharing - In the world of product management, sharing context with your team is paramount. It ensures that everyone understands the bigger picture and can make informed decisions. Without context sharing, even the most robust frameworks can lead to confusion and misalignment.
Delivery Matters Most - When it comes down to it, what truly matters is delivery. Prioritization, strategy, and discovery are essential, but they are all in service of one goal: delivering value. If you can consistently deliver, things tend to improve, and your team gains confidence in your leadership. Then, you can measure your impact and iterate. But if it takes too much time to deliver, frameworks are useless.
When things get messy, someone has to lead - in critical situation, a leader with authority may have to step up and drive the process, instead of using a framework. You can’t move an organization just because you have followed a framework properly.
Embrace Speed, Especially Early On - In the early stages of development, speed is a competitive advantage. Rapid delivery allows you to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and gather user feedback promptly. Thus, choose light frameworks that also embrace uncertainty, like “now-next-later”.
Strategic Prioritization Over Granular Data - Prioritize tasks strategically rather than getting bogged down in gathering excessive granular data. Overly detailed prioritization may indicate a tendency to play it safe rather than embracing calculated risks.
Follow the Vision and Iterate - A well-defined vision is the compass that guides your product. Using frameworks without a vision will drive the teams into feature factories.
Remember, you are in this to deliver value and make a meaningful impact. Embrace the power of teamwork, keep your eyes on the vision, and continuously learn and adapt. By delivering value together with your team, you not only achieve success but also foster a collaborative and dynamic work environment.
Build your toolkit, work with people
While studying, experimenting with, and understanding frameworks proves valuable in the realm of product management, the true essence lies in developing a personalized understanding of their application. Knowing when and how to leverage each framework is crucial. However, the ultimate key to successfully managing teams and driving results is grounded in the nuanced aspects of human interaction, team dynamics, and effective communication.
Note: This post is part of the Pragmatic Product Manager series.