I've been reflecting recently on the many lessons I have learned over the years about product management, mostly from the many mistakes I have made, sometimes making the same mistake several times (albeit in different contexts)! I realised that it's important to form good product management habits. So this got me thinking about Stephen's R Covey's book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (the 7 Habits) and how his seven habits could (loosely interpreted) specifically apply to product management. 

1. Be proactive

In the 7 Habits, this is about taking responsibility for your reaction to your experiences and taking the initiative to respond positively and improve the situation. Covey advocates spending your energy in your "circle of influence" (the areas of life where'll you'll have the most impact), as opposed to your "circle of concern" (things you are concerned about but have little control over). He says by being proactive you can increase the size of your circle of influence and thus have more impact.

I think this mindset is particularly important for product managers who face all sorts of seemingly insurmountable problems. Here at Clifford Chance Applied Solutions one of the challenges we have, working on multidisciplinary product development projects, is getting all of the right people (from inside and outside of our organisation) in the (virtual) room at the right time! It's easy to feel like giving up when a meeting has been re-arranged for the umpteenth time because the people you are meeting with have important emergencies to deal with. That's the thing about meeting with the right people, they are often the best people and already have a lot on.

What we try to do is ask ourselves "what more can we do?" and then think boldly and creatively. I've noticed that it's easier (i) to remember to ask this question and (ii)  to get better answers when it's asked in a small group. 

2. Begin with the end in mind

This habit is about identifying your key values that underpin your values and contribute to the vision you have for your life. Knowing your vision helps you navigate your life. Likewise in product management, knowing what outcomes you want from a product is key to helping you navigate its build and on-going maintenance. 

This may seem obvious, but, as an obvious thing in life, it can be difficult to put into practice. Setting a vision with clear outcomes is something I've seen skimmed over many a time and invariably, not paying enough attention to it results in an anodyne product vision which leads to an anodyne product. 

There's a clue as to why setting a great product vision is hard, in the 7 Habits - Covey suggests a thought experiment to help you find the vision for your life. He asks you to imagine your funeral. He asks you to think about how you would like your loved ones to remember you, what you would like them to acknowledge as your achievements, and to consider what a difference you made in their lives. When I first read the 7 Habits, I decided to do the experiment  "later". When "later" eventually came, I found it very hard to do...

3. Put first things first

This is is about prioritisation. Covey talks about thinking about the urgency and importance of a task. 

  • Urgent and important tasks should be done first. 
  • Important and non-urgent tasks should be planned.
  • Unimportant and urgent tasks should be delegated
  • Unimportant and not urgent tasks should be eliminated

Prioritisation is a key part of our product development process - we identify what product features are key, as opposed to nice to have, using the MoSCoW prioritisation which fits quite nicely into the four bullets above.

4. Think win-win

This is about seeking out a mutual benefit for all concerned. It requires:

  • an "abundance" mentality - a belief that there is enough for everyone. 
  • an ability to build trusting relationships.
  • the formation of agreements and systems and processes to support the win-win. 

For me, product management is about creating a win-win - creating a product that delights customers, so much so that they are willing to pay a fair price. 

Trust is also at the forefront of my mind. It's important to not over-promise features and functionality to customers, and deliver on what we say we will do. I also believe we have to trust our customers for example:

  • not to misuse trial access to our digital information products - we can't expect people to buy without trying.
  • if they tell us that they don't feel they are getting enough value from a product. It may be that they've simply can't remember how to get access to it - an easy fix. Or that the product no longer fits their requirements. This links to the next habit - seek first to understand then be understood. 

But as to the abundance mentality, I must admit that I am not in the habit of thinking there is an abundance when it comes to product development. There never seems to be enough resource, time, knowledge or customer feedback! But I am going to try thinking there is enough from hereon in.

5 Seek first to understand and then be understood

This habit is really important in product management. Despite saying "we are a customer-centric team", it's very easy to forget to ask enough questions to really understand our customers "jobs to be done" and the associated pain points when we are developing products. 

It takes time, a very curious mindset and a readiness to admit you don't know things to really listen and understand your customers' worlds. And sometimes there is internal organisational pressure to deliver something, anything (!) which makes it hard to take the time. But it's important  - see habit 3 put first things first. And if you have the end in mind (habit 2) you'll know it's wrong not to take the time.

6. Synergise

This is about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, teamwork. The other day some of my team and I started listing out all the different experts we'd need to build and launch a new product. There were more than 30 areas of expertise covering architecture, platform, coding, testing, configuring, releasing, legal/content, pricing, sales, risk, data privacy, marketing and customer support. It goes without saying if any one of the experts is missing, we will have a problem. It's crucial that we deploy all of the habits to get the most synergy out of the team.

7. Sharpen the saw

The chapter on this in the 7 Habits opens with a story: 

"Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

"What are you doing?" you ask ..... 

"I'm sawing down this tree."

"You look exhausted!" you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?"

"Over five hours," he returns, "and I'm beat! This is hard work."

"Well, why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?" you inquire. "I'm sure it would go a lot faster."

"I don't have time to sharpen the saw, " the man says emphatically. "I'm too busy sawing!"

This habit is about looking after and nourishing yourself. 

The below Steve Jobs quote about how hard it is to build great products reminds me about habit 7.