Product managers as knowledge centralisers

    If you asked me what I do for a living, I’d probably respond that I work for Moodle, am co-founder of a co-op, and also do some consultancy. What I probably wouldn’t say, although it would be true, is that I’m a product manager.

    I’m not particularly focused on ‘commercial success’ but the following section of this article certainly resonates:

    When I think of what a great product manager’s qualities should be, I find myself considering where the presence of this role is felt the most. When successful, the outside world perceives commercial success but internally, over the course of building the product, a team would gain a sense of confidence, rooted in a better understanding of the problem being addressed, a higher level of focus and an overall higher level of aptitude. If I were to summarize what I feel a great product manager’s qualities are, it would be the constant dedication to centralizing knowledge for a team in all aspects of the role — the UX, the technology and the strategy.

    We haven't got all of the resourcing in place for Project MoodleNet yet, so I'm spending my time making sure the project is set up for success. Things like sorting out the process of how we communicate, signal that things are blocked/finished/need checking, that the project will be GDPR-compliant, that the risk register is complete, that we log decisions.
    Product management has been popularized as a role that unified the business, technology and UX/Design demands of a software team. Many of the more established product managers have often noted that they “stumbled” into the role without knowing what their sandbox was and more often than not, they did not even hold the title itself.
    Being a product manager is an interdisciplinary role, and I should imagine that most have had varied careers to date. I certainly have.
    There is a lot of thinking done around what the ideal product manager should have the power to do and it often hinges around locking down a vision and seeing it through to it’s execution and data collection. However, this portrayal of a product manager as an island of synergy, knowledge and the perfect intersection of business, tech and design is not where the meaty value of the role lies.


    A sense of discipline in the daily tasks such as sprint planning and retrospectives, collecting feedback from users, stand up meetings and such can be seen as something that is not just done for the purpose of order and structure, but as a way of reinforcing and democratizing the institutional knowledge between members of a team. The ability for a team to pivot, the ability to reach consensus, is a byproduct of common, centralized knowledge that is built up from daily actions and maintained and kept alive by the product manager. In the rush of a delivery and of creative chaos , this sense of structure and order has to be lovingly maintained by someone in order for a team to really internally benefit from the fruits of their labour over time.

    It’s a great article, and well worth a read.

    Source: We Seek

    Charisma instead of hierarchy?

    An interesting interview with Fred Turner, former journalist, Stanford professor, and someone who spends a lot of time studying the technology and culture of Silicon Valley.

    Turner likens tech companies who try to do away with hierarchy to 1960s communes:

    When you take away bureaucracy and hierarchy and politics, you take away the ability to negotiate the distribution of resources on explicit terms. And you replace it with charisma, with cool, with shared but unspoken perceptions of power. You replace it with the cultural forces that guide our behavior in the absence of rules.
    It's an interesting viewpoint, and one which chimes with works such as The Tyranny of Structurelessness. I still think less hierarchy is a good thing. But then I would say that, because I'm a white, privileged western man getting ever-closer to middle-age...

    Source: Logic magazine

    Succeeding with innovation projects

    There’s some great advice in this article for those, like me, who are leading innovation projects in 2018:

    Your role is to make noise around the idea so that potential stakeholders are excited to learn more about it. At this stage, it’s really important to reach out to key individuals within the company and ask for advice, so you can more easily establish an affiliation between them and the new activity, and cultivate a community of internal supporters.
    Source: TNW

    Culture eats strategy for breakfast

    A collection of articles on organisational culture from the Harvard Business Review. I need to examine them in more depth, but the diagram above and paragraph below jumped out at me.

    Whereas some cultures emphasize stability—prioritizing consistency, predictability, and maintenance of the status quo—others emphasize flexibility, adaptability, and receptiveness to change. Those that favor stability tend to follow rules, use control structures such as seniority-based staffing, reinforce hierarchy, and strive for efficiency. Those that favor flexibility tend to prioritize innovation, openness, diversity, and a longer-term orientation.
    Source: Harvard Business Review

    How to defuse remote work issues

    Good advice here about resolving difficulties with a remote co-worker.

    When it comes to delivering feedback, use the same formula that you would in any other feedback situation. First, provide crisp and clear observations of your teammate’s behavior as free of judgment and subjectivity as possible. (For example, instead of “you were rude to me,” try “when you interrupted me as I tried to be heard over the phone…”) Second, describe the impact of the person’s behavior. Phrase the impact as your reaction or impression, not as the objective truth. (“When you talked over me when I was on the conference call, I felt like you don’t respect what I have to say.”) Finally, ask an open-ended question that engages your teammate in a dialogue and helps you to understand one another’s perceptions. (“How did you perceive that call when you were in the meeting room?”) Don’t stop until you each have a clear vision for how a similar situation could play out better the next time.
    Working remotely is great, but it can be an emotional rollercoaster.
    Most of us avoid or delay uncomfortable conversations even with people who sit beside us. It’s natural to dislike confrontation. Now imagine how easy it is to let concerns fester when your teammate is two time zones away. Avoiding an important conversation is a bad idea with an office mate and an even worse idea with a virtual teammate. Get the issues out in the open as quickly as possible before they sour your relationship and affect your ability to get the job done.
    Source: Harvard Business Review

    The benefits of decentralised decision-making

    I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions of this article, as I don’t agree with the (made-up) premises. At least it begins well:

    As Henry Mintzberg noted in The Structuring of Organizations in 1979, “The words centralization and decentralization have been bandied about for as long as anyone has cared to write about organizations.” And that is a pretty long time, at least since 400 B.C., when Jethro advised Moses to distribute responsibility to various levels in the hierarchy.
    The author, a 'strategic advisor', introduces four qualities he claims most managers wabt. I'd question this, and certainly 'perennity' which I think he'd be better off replacing with 'resilience'. In fact, the whole article, by the time you get to the end, seems to be an attempt to explain why decentralisation is a bad idea. But then, he would say that.
    In an age where the concept of “self-managed organization” attracts much attention, the question of centralization versus decentralization does not go away. Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein argue in the article “Why Managers Still Matter” that “In today’s knowledge-based economy, managerial authority is supposedly in decline. But there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement the organizational rules of the game.”
    The trouble is, I think the rules of the game may have changed.

    Source: Harvard Business Review

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