Nine Product Management lessons from the Dojo

03 Feb, 2016
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Are you kidding? a chance to add the Matrix to a blogpost?

Are you kidding? a chance to add the Matrix to a blogpost?

As I am gearing up for the belt exams next Saturday I couldn’t help to notice the similarities of what we learn in the dojo (it’s where the martial arts are taught) and how we should behave as Product Managers. Here are 9 lessons, straight from the Dojo, ready for your day job:
1.) Some things are worth fighting for
In Judo we practice Randori, which means ground wrestling. You will find that there are some grips that are worth fighting for, but some you should let go in search of a better path to victory.
In Product Management, we are the heat shield of the product, constantly between engineering striving for perfection, sales wanting something else, marketing pushing the launch date and management hammering on the PNL.
You need to pick your battles, some you deflect, some you unarm, and some you accept, because you are maneuvering yourself so you can make the move that counts.
Good product managers are not those who win the most battles, but those who know which ones to win.
2.) Preserve your partners
It’s fun to send people flying through the air, but the best way to improve yourself is to improve your partner. You are in this journey together, just as in Product Management. Ask yourself the following question today: “whom do I need to train as my successor” and start doing so.
I was delayed to the airport because of the taxi strike, but saved by the strike of the air traffic controllers

“I was delayed to the airport because of the taxi strike, but saved by the strike of the air traffic controllers”

3.) There is no such thing as fair
It’s a natural reaction if someone changed the rules of the game. We protest, we go on strike, we say it’s not fair, but in a market driven environment, what is fair? Disruption, changing the rules of the game has become the standard (24% of the companies experience it already, 58% expect it, 42% is still in denial) We can go on strike or adapt to it.
The difference between Kata and free sparing is that your opponents will not follow a prescribed path. Get over it.
4.) Behavior leads to outcome
I’m heavily debating the semantics with my colleague from South Africa (you know who you are), so it’s probably wording but the grunt of it is: if you want more of something, you should start doing it. Positive brand experiences will drive people to your products; hence one bad product affects all other products of your brand.
It’s not easy to change your behavior, whether it is in sport, health, customer interaction or product philosophy, but a different outcome starts with different behaviour.
Where did my product go?

Where did my product go?

5.) If it’s not working try something different
Part of Saturday’s exams will be what in Jujitsu is called “indirect combinations”. This means that you will be judged on the ability to move from one technique to another when the first one fails. Brute force is also an option, but not one that is likely to succeed, even if you are very strong.
Remember Microsoft pouring over a billion marketing dollars in Windows Phone? Brute forcing its position by buying Nokia? Blackberry doing something similar with QNX and only now switching to Android? Indirect combinations is not a lack of perseverance but adaptability to achieve result without brute force and with a higher chance of success.
This is where you tap out

This is where you tap out

6.) Failure is always an option
Tap out! Half of the stuff in Jujitsu is originally designed to break your bones, so tap out if your opponent has got a solid grip. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. Nobody gets better without failing.
Two third of all Product Innovations fails, the remaining third takes about five iterations to get it right. Test your idea thoroughly but don’t be afraid to try something else too.
7.) Ask for help
There is no way you know it all. Trust your team, peers and colleagues to help you out. Everyone has something to offer, they may not always have the solution for you but in explaining your problem you will often find the solution.
8.) The only way to get better is to show up
I’m a thinker. I like to get the big picture before I act. This means that I can also overthink something that you just need to do. Though it is okay to study and listen, don’t forget to go out there and start doing it. Short feedback loops are key in building the right product, even if the product is not build right. So talk to customers, show them what you are working on, even in an early stage. You will not get better at martial arts or product management if wait too long to show up.
9.) Be in the moment
Don’t worry about what just happened, or what might happen. Worry about what is right in front of you. The technique you are forcing is probably not the one you want.

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The Product Manager's guide to Continuous Innovation


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