2021 Reflection – I lived

2021 Reflection – I lived

This is a long due reflection blog post. It’s already March, and so you can even say that it’s long overdue. I wrote the first draft during the last days of 2021, but life get in the way and I haven’t got a chance to review and edit since then. But it will surely bug me if I don’t publish it, so here it goes.

Highlight

  • As a Product Manager,
    • I transitioned from software engineering to product management. I’ve been enjoying what I do.
    • I talked to more than 20 users. Got out of the building (and my own head).
    • I crafted two product strategy.
    • I built an internal user research knowledge base for team members to contribute and access user research artifacts.
    • I helped implement usability testing in my product team. I think directly watching people struggling to use your product is motivating.
    • I put into practice the following frameworks and methods: Job-to-be-done, North Star Metric Framework, Opportunity-Solution tree, Continuous Discovery, User Story Mapping, Six Minds.
    • I delivered a lecture at RMIT university on the topic of collaboration in software development.
  • As a blogger,
  • As a career moat builder,
    • I joined the Commonplace community and conversed with a bunch of interesting people.
    • I delivered two sharing sessions on Personal Knowledge Management.
    • I successfully evangelized Obsidian and PKM to at least 2 people.
    • I implemented a GTD-based productivity system in Obsidian. It’s been keeping me (relatively) relaxed and mindful.
  • As a person,
    • I renovated and moved into a room in my house temporarily.
    • I convinced my parents to accept me moving out (if you know, you know).
    • I reconnected with an old friend at the beginning of this year.
    • I made 2 new friends towards the end of this year.
    • I started running regularly (2 – 3 times a week).
    • I survived Covid.

What I learned from my mentor

I used to be a software engineer. Back then I was working with my boss who was a product manager. I was lucky enough to see that both of us were still learning how to do product properly despite the gap in our working experience. He demonstrated his humility and principles through every decision and discussion that we’ve ever had together.

Being exposed the mindset of “this is difficult, nobody knows for sure what to do, and so we must stay humble” on regular basis proved to be extremely useful. It is the precursor to the idea Get everyone out of the building, which is my nuanced interpretation on the famous “Get out of the building” piece. Embodying this mindset and playing out its consequences has been the most important thing that I’ve learned so far.

What I learned from my teammates

I onboarded an Associate Product Manager this year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to help her at first, because I didn’t have much mentoring experience. It also didn’t help that I caught Covid just two weeks after her onboarding. It’s an understatement to say that we got off to a rocky start.

But we did get off to a good start again after I recovered from Covid. And it continued to be fine. But then I started asking myself “How can she be successful at her job without me?”. It’s a subtle but noticeable shift from a get-things-done perspective to a more sustainable one. As I began to take myself out of the equation, I started to see things that weren’t obvious at all. For example, due to my background in software engineering, I’ve always been comfortable enough to switch between technical and business lingos, in and out of different contexts within a single conversation. But my APM doesn’t have such a background, therefore it became extremely important that the engineering team communicates to the product team in more deliberate and conscious ways (and vice versa). since a misunderstanding has in very real consequences.

I also befriended a product designer who suggested doing usability testing, an advice that I’m sure glad we followed. It’s an integral part of how we do product development now. He helps provide a user-centric perspective to product decisions, and is always eager to provide disagreement when it’s needed. This is a good thing. Research has shown that pretending to disagree, or playing Devil’s advocates do not work to help avoid Groupthink. What works is authentic dissents. Having someone who genuinely disagrees is very under-appreciated. If such a voice is somehow implicitly or explicitly silenced, it gets increasingly more difficult to do something as complex as product development.

I’ve also had the chance to witness the growth of my fellow product managers. It’s a reminder that we’re not alone in this journey. It makes me happy to see my non-technical friend succeeding at her job. Lacking a technical background can also be an enabling constraint, as it enforces a different way of thinking and communicationg that’s also very valuable. There’s no one right way of doing product, and having multiple perspectives is important to fight against the first villian of decision-making: narrow-framing. Having people who are unlike you and trying to mainain a non-judgemental attitude means creating an environment where you can be challenged and grow as a consequence.

Conclusion

2021 was a big year for me. I jumped into product management. It wasn’t easy but I think it was a good journey. I don’t think my life has been easy, but it certainly seems worth it. As a final remark, this song seems oddly appropriate:

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