I was talking earlier this week with a new product manager on my team. It was a one-on-one discussing his latest project. It is the first big product area that he has taken on and it is very important for our next release. We were using our conversation to make sure that everything was on-track. I asked him a series of questions after he shared his update:
“How do you feel the project is going?”
“What challenges have you hit working with your feature team?”
“Is the spec ready for review?”
“Okay, can you show me the diagram for the main use case that you are stuck on?”
“What about this part of the lookup, can we also double-back with the phone number?”
“I just thought of these two uses cases, have you considered them?”
“What is left between now and the spec review?”
Later that day, I was in a feature team meeting discussing the status of a new product offering. The lead developer was sharing his detailed update, which included a few specific areas that had risk and ambiguity.
“Why did you choose that implementation path?”
“Will this scale if we multiply the amount of users in a year?”
“Is there a faster way to do it?”
“What if we added more resources?”
“What are the biggest remaining risks?”
The people who have worked with me before know that I love to ask a lot questions. The questions I asked during the one-on-one with my product manager helped me quickly understand the status of the project and where he was blocked. The answers I received, set the stage for the type of information I would want to hear, in the next update about the project. He and I then spent a few minutes talking about the questions, curiosity, and why they are both so important for product managers to be effective in their careers.
Product Managers have an unrelenting sense of curiosity. They are often curious about the latest competitive applications, the statuses of their products, industry news, how backend technology works, why software bugs occur, and why a partner team is late on delivering. A great product manager should use precision questioning to drill into every conversation and problem, to understand what is really going on and move things forward. This can reveal gaps in use cases, technical knowledge, and/or a partnership agreement that need to be addressed.
Checking for curiosity is very important when evaluating a product manager for a role on your team. Many parts of my interview process, from the “What is your favorite application?” question all the way to the product design case study, are used to see how curious the candidate is. Do they start out the case study by immediately jumping into a solution on the whiteboard based on something they know? Do they open with a set of questions back to me to help understand what they do not know?
Ultimately, your use of precision questioning as a product manager must be balanced with the amount of investigation and discovery that you do on your own. You will also gain experience over time.
What is the simplest advice that I can give? Do not wait if you are curious about why something is. Get curious and ask questions.
Image credit: CC by Tauntaunwampa