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Three Mindsets that Can Cripple Product Managers, and Why we Need to Forget the Funnel
I gave a Product Makers talk recently that covered some reasons that product managers might find it hard to make progress and demonstrate forward momentum. I invented a little canvas to help frame some of my slides, and now I’m sharing it with you (get it here!):
The idea of this canvas is simple; to provoke thoughts about your current state, what behaviours that state drives, the results of those behaviours, and what you might do differently.
BECAUSE: We are most comfortable with technical topics
WE: Spend all of our time talking to the developers
THEREFORE: We miss non-technical issues or someone else takes ownership
INSTEAD: We track how much time we’re spending and where we’re spending it, and make sure an appropriate amount of it is spent working with other functions.
The simple act of tracking time buckets is helpful; you’ll be surprised how much time you spend doing certain types of tasks! In any case, it’s essential that you’re honest with yourself, take time to identify what’s holding you back, and try different solutions to change it.
New Podcast Episode: Moving to Customer-Led Growth by Forgetting the Funnel
I read Forget the Funnel recently. It’s a short, actionable book that tells us that the traditional sales funnel is irrelevant for modern-day SaaS firms, and champions the concept of Customer-Led Growth and Jobs to be Done for product marketing. I, naturally, couldn’t resist the chance to speak with the authors, Claire Suellentrop and Georgiana Laudi. We went deep into Customer-Led Growth and why it’s time to throw the funnel away for good.
Check out the episode on your favourite podcast app, or get it right here.
The Funnel is no longer fit for purpose
Marketers have been trying to cram leads into the top of the funnel for 100 years but it doesn't serve the needs of modern marketers in recurring revenue SaaS businesses. We need to consider the customer journey pre and post-acquisition.
Three Mindsets that Can Cripple Product Managers
One thing I touched on in my recent talk, and has come up a few times recently, is the concept of the mindsets that product managers and product leaders can adopt in their work, and how these can hinder their effectiveness. These mindsets are pretty common, but I’m not just picking on other people here. Reflecting back on my career, I can pinpoint occasions where I’ve lived all of these and, in all of these cases, it was to my detriment. These mindsets are “Messiah”, “Martyr” and “Victim”.
Let’s dig in.
The Messiah Mindset
You walk into a new company, perhaps after somewhat of a successful career to date. Maybe you worked for a big tech firm or a unicorn. You had some early successes. You have got product management. If people don’t want to work the way you think is best, you’ll correct them. You can fix any company with your ideals, experience and credibility. Anyone that disagrees with you is an unbeliever and you will win them around with the awesome power of Product Thinking™
This probably lasts a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, before the initial novelty of having you in the company starts to wear off. There’s always a honeymoon period when you start any new job but, after a while, you’re just part of the furniture. People also start getting a bit fed up with the preaching, the idealism and the desire to change everything all at once. They stop listening, and you’re left wondering why nothing’s working like it did in your last job.
The Martyr Mindset
You are a valuable member of the team and you are doing good work. You’re volunteering for a lot of work that you don’t really need to be doing, because it feels good to be busy, and you love getting great feedback and plaudits for going above and beyond. You are struggling to make real progress on big initiatives because you’re involved in anything and everything but, hey, half the time you’ll just get told what to do anyway. You like to grumble but it feels good to grumble.
This can last a while, and you’ll continue to be praised for the efforts you put in. But you start to notice that, for all the rowing you’re doing, you’re in exactly the same spot that you started in. Your colleagues start to realise that, sure, you’re a hard worker and you love getting stuck in, but nothing’s getting any better. People start praising you less and bypassing you more.
The Victim Mindset
Nothing that you do seems to make a difference anymore! You feel that everything would be a lot better if people listened to you, but they never listen to you, so you stop even trying to say things. You’re demotivated because you don’t see any chance to change things that, to you, seem obviously broken. It’s almost like the leadership team doesn’t even care about product management. Every single thing that happens that you disagree with is being done to you. There’s no way to change anything.
This can also last a while, but you’ll find yourself getting sucked into a downward spiral of negative thoughts. Each spiral makes you feel worse, and makes it harder to get out; you’re caught in a defensive whirlpool where it’s you against the company. But, you don’t want to be seen as a quitter, so you try to stick it out. Your reputation takes a hit, your imposter syndrome grows and, eventually, you’ll go and find another job. But, because you left it too late, you just take the first one you get offered and compromise on the wrong things. The cycle starts again.
It doesn’t have to be this way
I’ve seen these mindsets again and again. I’ve suffered from each of them in my career. I try very hard to not get sucked into them anymore. Here are my thoughts on some principles to adopt:
Be humble - It’s unlikely that you’re the smartest person in every room.
Be adaptive - Be strong on principles, but flexible on details.
Be inquisitive - Try to find out why the company works like it does today and what decisions led to the status quo.
Be accepting - Other people are going to have other ideas. Give them a fair hearing, and don’t automatically assume their ideas are bad.
Be pragmatic - Sometimes, you have to hold your nose and do something you don't like. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Be patient - Even small companies can take time to change, especially if they don’t see the need to change.
Be a good product manager - Prioritisation is our game. Make sure that you’re spending your time and energy on the most important things.
You may have your own principles too. And, yes, it’s hard because humans are complicated bags of meat with feelings, biases and triggers. But, it’s always important to try and to examine how your own behaviour is contributing to your current situation.
I have to acknowledge that some companies out there have utterly broken cultures and working practices. In some cases, these may legitimately be bad enough for you to just want to walk out. Hopefully, you would have spotted some of these things before you started! But, in any case, I always think it’s worth trying to succeed, whilst having clear boundaries about what you won’t accept. This helps you avoid panic-buying your next job when it’s way too late.
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