Yes, I know the ultimate answer to Life, Universe, and Everything is 42, but what’s the question?
“Exactly!” said Deep Thought. “So once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.” ~ Douglas Adams
So, let’s try to find the right questions you should ask yourself before diving into product management and becoming a product expert…
Question #1 Can you tell a story?
“People don’t buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” ~ Seth Godin
Great product experts go beyond the mechanics of chopping up a user story into the product backlog and giving it to developers to implement. As a product expert, your mission is to shape the story behind your product. Then tell this story to motivate your development team to deliver the right product and on the other hand, tell it to potential customers by showing them how your product addresses the challenges they face.
Question #2 Are you a master of effective communication?
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” ~ Peter Drucker
All types of communication are important for product experts on a daily basis – written, verbal, presentation skills, intercultural, talking to diverse professionals e.g. engineering, sales, marketing. Can you listen to understand instead of listening to reply? Can you articulate your thoughts and ideas so that anyone within earshot can understand them? Can you present information to stakeholders with confidence?
Question #3 Are you able to say “No”, politely?
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas.” ~ Steve Jobs
Great product experts have the skill of saying “No” so that stakeholders understand why. Maybe there are other important priority topics you’re working on, so you can just ask “What should we pull out to make room for this?”. Or a new requirement doesn’t fit the current product vision and will distract you from your main focus? Then you can discuss considering this topic later. Ask for clarification? It could be that there’s another way to solve this problem or there’s another way to do this with existing product functionality? Maybe you can include the new feature or part of it in another improvement already planned? There are hundreds of options, just don’t forget to communicate why you say “No”.
Question #4 Customer is the king, right?
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” ~ Jeff Bezos
If there’s one thing you need to do better than anyone else, it’s to understand your customers – you are the voice of the customer, so you need to know what are their pain points and needs better than anyone else.
Question #5 Wait, what? Why not?
“Asking “Why?” can lead to understanding. Asking “Why not?” can lead to breakthroughs.” ~ Daniel Pink
Asking good questions is probably one of the most important skills that a product expert can have. It leads to new insights from your customers and uncovers new opportunities for the business. Be curious and don’t limit your imagination – best ideas are those that sound so crazy, but are so amazing that people want to actively help you make it happen.
I’m sure there are at least 100 other skills required to become a great product expert. But, after all the most important is your passion for your product, everything else comes with experience. So… Don’t Panic!