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When Product Management Goes to Seed

It’s gardening season where I live. The vegetables are in place and early crops like lettuce, spinach and radishes have been harvested and enjoyed. Earlier this week, I was walking through the garden and saw radishes going to seed.

According to Using English.com, going to seed “implies a decline in quality or appearance.” From a gardening perspective, going to seed implies a regeneration process. One where a plant or flower produces seed to replicate itself.

In the world of product management and product marketing, I often see both sides. This post explores if you’re regenerating or if you’ve gone to seed.

Why Does Product Management Go to Seed?
Whether you’ve always wanted to work with products and influence their direction or the role was delegated (thrust) upon you out of necessity, desire is a motivating factor. It’s a motivating factor in any role, but I believe especially in product management and product marketing.

I was recently talking to a peer. When I asked if a person we both knew and previously worked with was still in product management, he responded, “Yes. He’s still taking up office space and collecting a paycheck.” Knowing this person, I decoded the response as this person had gone to seed and “declined in performance.” How does this happen to smart, skilled and well-meaning product professionals? I recall this person when they were actively engaged in market sensing, guiding a product roadmap, the champion for new products and development had great confidence in them.

Jeff Lash, one of the smart guys in product management shared, “If you want to be a good product manager, you need to work at it. Very few people are just naturally good at product management. Most things in life require skills, knowledge, experience, and hard work to succeed.”

I agree with Jeff and would add, if you need skills, knowledge and experience as a product professional, you can’t wait for management, your company or someone to plan and act on this for you. The responsibility is yours. I’m not diminishing the responsibility of your leadership nor organization, I’m saying you should take charge.

Over the years, I’ve led, built and enabled product management and product marketing. For those product professionals who were “regenerating and growing,” they asked, pushed and justified what they required. I worked one-on-one with them and fought for funding to obtain the education and skills required.

Growing Where You Are
The great thing about growing season, is there’s new varieties, it’s continuous and there’s always something new. Product Management and Product Marketing should be the same, and you need to understand not only the roles around you, but the attributes, strengths and capabilities of the varieties your planted near. What can you do to grow where you are? I’ve found the following are great ways to grow and cross-pollinate:

  • Assess what you Plant – The product management and product marketing varieties planted around you are all growing in different stages. Align yourself with those who offer something you don’t have.
  • Plant a new variety – Before you do the same things you’ve been doing, volunteer for an assignment in areas where you may not excel. Find a person (internally or externally) who is familiar with the activity and ask them to teach you all they know. Then get going. It will be interesting to see what blossoms.
  • Prepare the Soil – The amount of product management and product marketing content found in blogs, and discussions on Twitter and LinkedIn will prepare you for new growth and solid roots.
  • Fertilize the Soil – While there’s a lot of bovine by-product spread by some product professionals, we all need additional nutrients to assist in growth. Have you joined or created a local product management and/or product marketing group? Have you shared experiences and “spread” yourself around?
  • Bring on the Sunshine – If you haven’t attended a Product Camp, you have to. It’s like sunshine to new and growing plants. As an idea, forgo a few stops at your local coffee shop, place an empty jar on your desk with a label that says, Product Camp Fund. Ask your management team and peers to contribute. Promise you’ll share some sunshine when you return.
  • Thinning and Weeding – Thinning plants as they grow yields more. Removing weeds that distract or limit growth increase production. Do you weed and thin your garden regularly? Do you look for insignificant tasks to replace with actions or best practices that help you grow where you are planted? If not, look for ways to eliminate habits that limit your success. If you have great leadership in place, ask for their assistance in validating what you are thinning and weeding. If you don’t have a person you can use, ask someone in the product management community. We’re always there to help.

The Warning Signs of Seediness

When I looked closely at the the radishes that had gone to seed in my garden, I saw:

  • Undesirable and bitter vegetables.
  • Plants tipping over because their tops (heads) were too big.
  • Roots that were thin and grasping for nourishment.
  • Stragglers taking all the nourishment they could and not giving any fruit in return.
  • Standing alone in a row and ready to be plucked out and thrown into the compost.

Hopefully, none of us find ourselves going to seed, but regenerating and populating great product management and product marketing practices. Please comment and share your ideas on how you grow where you are planted and what you’ve done to prevent the seedy side.

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