Product Management Insights #2 — Ask the Right Questions

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Paulina Burzawa

Feb 21, 2022 • 9 min read
PdM miniseries Blog header Pedro Sousa

A relentless problem-solver and customer-centricity advocate, Pedro Sousa, Senior Product Manager at Netguru, shares battle-tested tips on creating digital products.

Over his career, Pedro has used multiple ways and methods of building solutions that wow both consumers and the market. In this episode of the Product Management Insights miniseries we learn what the traits of a successful Product Manager are, how their work looks in practice, and what must happen before a product makes it to the production stage.

Being an outstanding Product Manager requires combining a methodological approach, creative thinking, and people skills. How does it work in practice? We answer this question in the Product Management Insights miniseries by presenting proven frameworks and battle-tested tips from top experts who contribute to creating valuable and effective products.

Product

📜 The most important elements of good "product" stories

While working on creating product stories, I always stick to a few principles:

  • Aim to inspire and empower
  • Start with “Why?” and then lead with context
  • Problems over solutions, outcomes over outputs, customers over competitors
  • Give real examples
  • Be concise, otherwise people lose attention
  • Bonus: When speaking — tap into genuine emotions

🗣️ Tips for communicating product vision and strategy to get others engaged

Make it short and sweet:

  • As described above, telling your product vision and strategy as a story helps.
  • Make a one or two-page long summary. It’s easy to share and allows all teams to understand “the big picture” in a quick way.
  • SpaceX did a video: “SpaceX to Mars.” I like it because it connects the business and product strategy and the last ten seconds present the vision coming to life.

Break it into smaller pieces:

  • Map your key metrics. Start with your North Star vision and metric at the top, and break it down into different input metrics. It provides vertical and horizontal visibility, and it’s an excellent visual to clarify accountability for each team.

Embed it into your day-to-day activities:

  • Share progress updates on your key metrics (not initiatives only) during monthly tribe or domain meetings and bi-weekly team meetings.
  • Connect initiatives on the roadmap with the key metrics they will affect.
  • Include these two questions in every epic or user story description: “What problem does this solve?”, “What is the size/impact of that problem?” Someone reading the ticket without any prior knowledge should understand why this is important.

🎯 Decision making process when defining strategic bets

Regardless of whether you are working in a pre-launch startup or a scale-up, the basis of the process is the same. What will differ between a startup or a scale-up is the amount of resources and data available to implement the different steps.

My process for decision making is as follows:

  • Context: Gather context and insights
  • Problems: Identify and define user or business problems
  • Solutions: Ideate and define solutions
  • Prioritize: Decide which bet(s) to focus on
  • Iterate: After some time, assess if the bets worked and if you should double down or change direction

I like having bi-weekly or monthly slots reserved for stakeholders and team members to bring problems they have identified. This way we ensure it is a continuous process and that experts are engaged in extracting insights and identifying customer problems from their domain area.

✔️ Three favorite product frameworks

My three favorite product frameworks include the Business Model Canvas, Assumptions Mapping, and OKRs (objectives and key results). The Business Model Canvas is the most useful one because it connects with so many other frameworks.

Work and talent

💡 Key traits or skills of a great Product Manager

There are many of them, actually. These traits are crucial:

  • Thinking about the “bigger picture”: Asking “Why?”, considering all possible outcomes, taking into account long-term results.
  • Critical thinking: Looking for context, leveraging quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Extreme ownership: Loving problems that require solutions right after they occur. Getting stuff done!
  • Effective communication: Interpreting information correctly, being assertive, empathetic (which means the ability to read the room and adapt communication style depending on the current situation), using examples and visualizations if needed, and gathering feedback constantly.
  • Coaching mindset: Encouraging others to think harder and deeper, asking the right questions, and learning continuously from others and from available resources.
  • Focus on the outcomes: Being result-oriented, the ability to make an impact in a short time, and the ability to describe outcomes easily.

As for competences, there's a lack of product strategy and discovery competences in the market.

👌 What are your three favorite interview questions when hiring PdM talent?

When hiring a Product Manager, I prefer to focus on real past experiences, preferably those that relate most to the role. If those don’t exist, then I turn to situational questions.

Answers to the questions below help me assess whether I have a good or an average Product Manager:

  • “For Product X, could you describe its organizational structure briefly? Who did you report to, who reported to you (directly or indirectly)?” These questions help me get context of the environment that the candidate was working in.
  • “If you had to give me a one-pager with a product strategy, what elements would it cover?” I usually follow up by digging into why those elements and what the process was to get there.
  • “What were the most important metric(s) in that product that you tracked or reported? Why those metrics?” I follow up by asking if they optimized those metrics and how they did it.

It’s in the follow-up questions that I understand the candidate's mindset, their mental models, their thought process, how they interpret data, how they discover problems, how they decide on what’s important to work next and why.

Customer centricity

💬 Top habits, rituals, and frameworks for gathering insights

My top habits to gather insights for efficient product management work include:

  • Have a good mix of quantitative and qualitative insights.
  • Talk with users and other stakeholders at least once a week, but more often if possible.
  • Look at product metrics weekly or bi-weekly on the team level. Share and gather company insights in monthly meetings with teams to get an update on our key metrics and qualitative insights such as user opinions.
  • Do market research, which is a healthy practice for a company to do every year. It should include trends watching and competitor analysis.

🎤 Winning strategies to collect customer feedback

To collect customer feedback, depending on the product, do one or several of the following points on a weekly basis:

  • Customer interviews
  • Usability tests
  • A/B testing
  • In-app surveys
  • Social media or In-app Reviews
  • Customer Satisfaction Scores or Net Promoter Scores
  • Customer support or sales catch-ups
  • And I also try using the product myself to really get in the customer’s shoes.

Inspiration corner

📖 Book that every Product Manager should read

  • “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
  • "Testing Business Ideas" by Alexander Osterwalder and David J. Bland
  • On my reading list for 2022 is “The Invincible Company” by Frederic Etiemble, Alan Smith, Yves Pigneur, and Alexander Osterwalder.

🤔 Essential resources to stay on top of the Product Management trends

  • I follow Product Leaders on Linkedin and Twitter
  • The Product Podcast
  • Made in Tech Podcast by Dinheiro Vivo (in Portuguese)
  • Lex Fridman Podcast
  • Yannic Kilcher’s YouTube channel about ML trends
  • I follow crypto enthusiasts on Twitter to stay on top of crypto trends
  • Using products I find interesting

Want to be a part of the Product Management Insights miniseries? Shoot me an email at: paulina.burzawa@netguru.com


Discover insights from other product experts:

Product Management Insights #1 — Empathize with Users and Have a Clear Goal with Liran Amrany

Product Management Insights #3 — Understand What’s Vital For Customers with Davide Vitiello

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Paulina Burzawa

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