Once upon a time, I thought I should start a product management course too. There are hundreds of cohort-based courses out there now, but I am talking about a time a little before PM courses were being sold on Fiverr. When they still seemed rare and valuable.
I recorded the first PM-related intro video in 2015 for an ed-tech platform that doesn't even exist now. Over 2k people loved it and rated it 4.9/5 stars. If 2k looks too small a number to you, let me tell you that it would have been about 10% of the market share then. I was also consulting some big brands for setting up the curriculum for their upcoming product management courses. I also taught classes at some of those "very academic" courses - mostly delivered by folks who come from large corporates. I was invited for giving "practical" insights. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise if I had a feeling that I could do a few notches better than them.
So, I planned the entire thing, but then, something wasn't adding up. I figured people buy what they want, not necessarily what they need. I strongly wanted to give them only what they need. Unpopular things like ignoring "RICE" and "MoSCoW" frameworks early on, and prioritizing by deeply understanding ROI.
The guys who wanted to sell my course wanted me to do stuff that would sell. But, I figured I don't want to teach that kinda stuff. I actually did not want to sell at all, I just wanted to teach. I also know that anything done for free gets taken for granted. So, I could not do a free course either.
Where could I get a sincere audience who would take stuff seriously without paying for it?
I once got a call from one of my reportees at MoveInSync. She was ranting about how she has been spending week after week firefighting. And I asked her if all this fire wasn't there, what was her plan of action. She had none. While she was puzzled, I was smiling - the smile you have when you get an evil idea. I had 10 reportees at that point and I could see all of them struggle with one thing or the other. Here was my audience. And a great opportunity, because we wanted to build a kickass SaaS product, that can have a "Global" appeal.
One beautiful thing about MoveInSync culture is that it is very open. Thanks to my reporting manager Videh, at that point, for encouraging me to begin experimenting with a learning series for all young PMs. After a few experiments around a classroom-style model once a month, I figured it's extremely hard to maintain consistency by teaching a common topic to a diverse crowd. I wanted to do something that helps people subscribe to the learning, and not force people into it.
So here are the details of what eventually worked (and is still WIP).
12 SKILLS, 12 MONTHS
Some numbers just fit. I found this popular blog from Ravi Mehta.
It talks about 12 skills that a PM should possess and practice and how the expertise required in each skill changes as you ride up the career path in product management. As you'd have guessed 12 skills in 12 months looks like a perfect fit.
Without getting into the debate of the accuracy of this, I'd tell you how it became immediately useful. It was a good way for everyone to do self-evaluation and identify what skills would they want to work on.
And so, we planned a monthly one-to-one check-in with me - where everyone will review themselves on all 12 params. I'd discuss my evaluation of their skills and gaps. Then we mutually decide what they'd like to focus on learning in the next 1 month.
- Learners should decide and announce what skill they'd focus on learning.
- Learners should then study the topic and eventually apply it in their daily work. I'd help get them started with a list of books, podcasts, blog posts, and internet resources that I have saved for my own reference. These are usually things that I have re-read multiple times and have personally found very beneficial. Here's the index. Every time we decide on a topic I send them links from here. And of course, this is just a start. The curious folks, keep double-clicking on the right things and find their own treasures.
- They should take notes, take snapshots of "before" and "after" for things they seem to have clearly improved upon, and register it in the workbook (mostly a shared spreadsheet) so that we can discuss it during the next check-in.
- Learners should also plan to discuss the topic all through the month with peers and managers to internalize it and apply it effectively.
- At the end of the month, we looked at the notes, discuss progress in self-evaluation and decide what should be picked up next.
This has been really helpful in improving the baseline of product management know-how for everyone in the team. It also gives people enough time and motivation to keep learning new stuff and to keep applying it. And probably I'd skip the part where I tell you how effective it has been for creating an amazing product culture at the organization. I am sure you can imagine it.
This looks like a perfect plan, but, it isn't.
- Not everyone finds this 100% useful. So, it is OK if they would like to take up a different skill like Tech/Digital-Marketing - it can quickly be structured in a similar way. The understanding is that you are upskilling yourself and making defined, structured progress.
- Not everyone learns at the same pace. So one can be flexible. Remember there are no annual term exams at the end of the 12-month period. So, it can pretty much be self-paced. People can also take a sabbatical from this and join back the track at any time because everyone is working on their own set of skills.
- Not every skill is immediately applicable. There are some skills like documentation that you get to use every day, there are others like road-mapping which may not even apply to a team member (based on their designation).
- Learning some of these skills (most of the last six) is subject to opportunities. Learning about team leadership is one thing, but actually leading a team of smart folks is another. You only get the experience, when you get an opportunity to do it. It may happen within the course of a year, and it may not. I strongly believe that success is when "opportunity" meets "preparedness". So while one may not get immediate opportunities, one should prepare for them long before one actually gets them. That's what I continue to do for my own learning as well. I read stuff and learn things that may not be immediately useful, but could be useful someday. Also, as a manager, I try to get my folks that opportunity in some form.