Contact Us

We’d love to hear from you!

Register Now

This is Mike Fishbein

with Mike Fishbein of This is Product Management
Mar 28, 2018
Back to Podcasts
This is Mike Fishbein | 100 PM
This is Mike Fishbein | 100 PM

Mike: I'm Mike Fishbein, host of This is Product Management.

Suzanne: This, for me, is very cool because I have been a long time follower of the podcast and, hopefully, many of our listeners are already familiar with This is Product Management. But why don't you just tell us, very briefly, what is This is Product Management, for anyone who doesn't know.

Mike: Yeah, very excited to have this conversation, as well. Good to meet you for the second time. I guess the first time was at INDUSTRY Conference. This is Product Management is a weekly podcast that's featured product leaders, business executives, technologists, authors, consultants, who have expertise in a wide range of topics that are relevant to modern product managers. We've done about 125 episodes now. I've had guests from companies like Adobe, Under Armour, Spotify, Shopify, a number of other really impressive large companies and startups.

Suzanne: I think you and I might be part of a very small sample of podcasters focusing on the product community. Lots of shows about founders. Lots of CEOs, how I built this company, how I built this. NPR, which is a great podcast. Why did you decide to start a podcast about product management?

Mike: Yeah, so working with a company called Alpha, which, you know, is a producer and the fuel behind This is Product Management. We're working with product leaders at some large companies and we started acting like product managers and understanding what product managers need, and what product managers want. What we found was that there was really a lack of resources around modern product management best practices. This is in part because product management is still a relatively new field. It's kind of evolving really quickly as more and more people try different strategies and adapt to modern technology.

Product managers just didn't really have resources to learn that type of stuff. It's not something you can really get a degree in, in business school, or college. There's certainly some great blogs out there and some other resources, but we wanted to really create something that was modern and could really provide some in-depth resources on topics that are most important to product managers.

It was really understanding what product managers need. Then from there we sort of tested it out. We said, "Maybe podcast makes sense because product managers often commute into work and podcasts are just a really amazing medium." I listen to a lot of podcasts, as well. It's just a fun medium. So we said, "Hey, let's launch a podcast. We'll see how it does. If it doesn't do well, we can scrap it and if it does well we'll keep going with it. And we'll keep building on it."

Fortunately, it did go really well, and we've got some tremendous feedback and tremendous pickup, pretty much right out of the gate, which is very exciting and rare. Then just grown slowly but consistently ever since. It's been about two and a half almost three years now.

Suzanne: Yeah, you said you're at episode 125 and counting. And just to share with you, when we decided to launch 100 Product Managers, that's the name, right? We said, “We're going to talk to 100 product managers.” Thought that was very clever and an appropriate number of people to start to tell a fairly consistent story of what is, and maybe what isn't, product management.

Then, I don't know, somewhere around episode 23, it was like, 100 is a lot of product managers. You have surpassed 100. When are you going to stop? Are you ever going to stop?

Mike: It's a good question. I can remember a similar phase around you, maybe 20-30 episodes, it's like how many topics are there out there? How many people are there out there to talk to? How many different show titles can we come up for product management? But it's almost like the more I've gotten into talking to all these amazing product leaders, the more topics that are out there, that are worth covering. The more I've gotten to know listeners and started getting emails and having conversations with listeners to understand what challenges they're working on at work, and what they're trying to learn about. There's just been a never-ending list of topic ideas. As the, This is Product Management community has grown, guests start recommending other guests, and listeners start recommending guests.

As I just meet more and more product managers, I just end up meeting all these other amazing product managers that I want to have on the show. It's actually gotten easier the more episodes we've done.

Suzanne: Yeah, we get a lot of great feedback from our listeners. It's exciting when you hear people write in and say, "Thank you for creating this resource. It's been tremendously helpful for me as I make my transition into product." Or, “That one episode and that one person's story about how they used to be a pilot and now they're a product manager, that's exactly my story.” Then you feel validated for putting in all this effort.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. I really love just hearing from listeners and how specific episodes have impacted their work or their careers. It's just been great meeting all these great people and learning what they're trying to work on and helping, hopefully.

Suzanne: How did you end up as the host? Here at Alpha, you're sitting around, you're seeing this need. You determine that a podcast might be the proper format. Did you just get ... You drew the short straw? And they're like, "Alright Mike, you're in charge of this one."

Mike: Not too much science behind how I became the host. Definitely something I enjoy doing. It's just been awesome. Again, just meeting and learning from all these amazing product leaders. Yeah, not a whole lot of science there.

Suzanne: Part of the reason I wanted to talk to you about this show, or on this show rather, is because your background is in marketing. At least from what I can tell, you haven't worked specifically as a product manager, but just by virtue of bringing this product to life you stepped into this role. Now, you continue to work in marketing. This is Product Management is not your full-time thing that you do. You have other things going on.

Do you think of yourself as a product manager now?

Mike: Yeah. I’ll give you kind of the short and the long story. The short story is that producing This is Product Management is very much like managing a product. I applya lot of the principles of product management in producing the podcast. We should definitely talk more about that, but a little bit about my background.

It's been quite a journey. A little bit of testing and experimenting, if you will, along the way. I actually started my career in finance, worked for a couple years in corporate finance. After that, went and worked at a company called Casual Corp, which was started by the founder and CEO of Alpha, which is where I work now. I joined very early and so it was sort of a small startup environment. We were building a few products in-house and we're also working with some large companies around ... less around product management and more around building new businesses and sort of co-incubating businesses.

But between those three areas, again, it was a studio, we were working on a number of different things. I got to wear a few different hats, including product management, and doing some product management, some customer development, and some early product management and product development practices. But I also got to work on some marketing, at the company, again, wearing multiple hats. Marketing became ... It became clear that, that was really what I'm most passionate about and where I can have the most impact on a business.

I actually left Casual Corp and started a marketing consulting and content marketing agency. Worked with some really big companies and some startups, as well, some venture funded startups. Got some really great results and just learned a ton. Worked with Alpha, as well, starting about three years ago.

Suzanne: Were they a client of yours first?

Mike: Yes. It was really great, just an awesome team here. Just a really great avenue for launching the podcast and doing some other content initiatives. Eventually joined Alpha full-time and so now-

Suzanne: They were like, "Can we have one more day? Can we have one more day?" You're like, "I'm now consulting for you guys five days a week."

Mike: Well, yeah, the company Alpha, we've just been growing a ton and it's just an amazing team here. I'm just at a really exciting time, so I just really wanted to step on the gas and just love working with all the folks here. I joined full-time, continued to grow the podcast and work on some other content and community initiatives, as well.

Suzanne: When you jumped into this role where you were taking up a product manager existence and taking up a marketer existence, but you've been coming from corporate finance. Were both of those roles new to you at the same time?

Mike: Relatively, I guess, they were new. I mean, I think ... I guess a commonality is business. There different aspects of business, but they are very different skill sets that are needed on a day-to-day basis. It was definitely some learning and some experimenting that helped me find where I'm best suited to execute.

Suzanne: Right. I asked the question because I'm curious if, at the time, you knew what product management was? Did you step in and say, "Okay, this needs a product manager, so I'm going to be that guy," or is that more of a retrospective viewpoint that, yeah, I guess, I was working as a product manager then.

Mike: That's a really good question and I think you're on the right track there. One of the exciting things that I've learned about product management after doing all these interviews is that, it's really a way of thinking and a way of working that can be applied to so many other fields. Just this idea of getting customer feedback, or getting feedback from really any stakeholder that you're working with. Making decisions based on data, testing, experimenting, iterating, collaborating with different stakeholders in the organization and outside the organization.

I mean, product management sort of applies to a number of different fields. Maybe I didn't realize it, at the time, there's more of just want to we need to do to make this marketing campaign or to make this product work? It turns out to be a lot of the things that product managers do every day.

Suzanne: Yeah, I think a lot of people that I speak to, whether it's they come into my class or they reach out directly, have this experience of, I think I'm a product manager, even though I haven't been given that title. There's these indications of I'm working here, I'm doing this, I'm working with the developers, but I'm also providing design. Those can be indicators that you might actually be a product manager without knowing it.

I'm curious if you have a perspective on how might I know that I'm a product manager waiting to be born? If I don't actually operate in one of these roles, but it could be my career calling. Are there symptoms of a product manager in wait?

Mike: Good question and this is definitely something that we've been exploring on This is Product Management. Again, just as the field of product management, still relatively new, but fast, fast growing as ... I think startups have been earlier to adopt these kind of practices and have been really good at implementing sort of modern management and products development best practices. But now what we're seeing is a lot of big companies, as well, are saying, "We've been providing this service or this physical product and now we want to build a digital product." So we're adapting to customers' continually evolving needs. They're starting product management or new product development practices. They're basically building new businesses and building new products, exploring new markets, things like that.

A lot of these people, like you said, don't have the title product manager, but they're doing product management. They're building out products. They're testing new ideas. They're collaborating with all key stakeholders to build these new projects. I mean, some of the skill sets that you need, that would be indicative that you could be a good product manager is, I think, again, is really this way of thinking. This idea of, how can we provide value to this different customer segment? What kind of product should we deliver to them that's going to really meet their needs? Having that testing and iterating approach to really finding what that is and bringing it to market.

Another key thing that I've learned in doing all these interviews is that product management is really a lot more than product management. One of the big things is being able to collaborate with a lot of different stakeholders in the organization and outside the organization. For a lot of these big companies, again, they're not used to some of these startup practices that you find, again, in startups. Things like having smaller teams testing different ideas, bringing prototypes to market, running surveys, and sometimes having failed experiments that don't work out.

Product managers that want to bring a more agile, or more lean approach, or even want to start building digital products, in the first place. It requires getting buy-in from some senior stakeholders. Helping them understand the strategy. Educating them about modern product management best practices and why they work. This sort of communication with stakeholders is also a really big piece. I think, if you can get that done, as well, that can really go ... That can be an indication that you're a product manager and really help you go a long ways into a product leadership role.

Suzanne: Right. You said there, product management is sort of so much more than product management. As you said that, it got me thinking about you and your split paths that you were walking as product manager, and as marketer. You indicated, you know, I was a little bit more in love with the marketing side, so I continued to pursue that. But those disciplines, they really do overlap significantly. Depending on the organization in which you're operating, you, as product manager, may be encompassing a whole lot of what constitutes marketing, product marketing, or you might not be touching as much, depending on the structure.

What would you say, as somebody who's been in both roles distinctly, what would you say are the essential marketing ideas that any product manager should have as sort of their minimum viable skillset?

Mike: That's a good question. I do think it's a very important question because the goal of the product manager is not just to build a product and put it out there. You want to get customers, and you want to get users. This is a lot of times where sales, or marketing, comes into play, depending on your business model and the type of user base you're working with.

What are the key marketing concepts to understand? Yeah, good question.

Suzanne: I'm putting him on the spot people.

Mike: Yeah, let's see. I guess I can sort of focus on content marketing, which would be the area that I focus on. If you're trying to bring in customers to your product, you really want to understand who your customers are, which is something the product manager is already doing, sort of customer segmentation. Understanding what their problems are, again, product managers are already doing this. And going back to the story I told about understanding what product managers want to learn and whether they have demand for resources, and what type of resources, what types of topics they want to hear about.

So having that skillset to understand your audience. Then it's really creating amazing content. Creating the best content out there, which is really ... This is, at least the 80/20, this is the most important thing for content marketing and sometimes it get glossed over just because sometimes it's more exciting to talk about growth hacks and all these fancy tips and tricks, but having amazing content is really the biggest thing. Nothing else is going to work if you don't have amazing content.

Then you want to have a way for people to find that content, whether it's on the iTunes app, or SoundCloud, or YouTube, or Google search, or social media. There's so many amazing channels out there for people to find new resources and new content. You figure out where your customers are hanging out and where you can reach them.

Suzanne: So far, it just sounds like marketing is product management, product management is marketing. I like that you bring up growth hacking, because really growth hacking is just simply adopting an experimental mindset in the context of marketing. If you're a product manager who subscribes to this notion of validated learning and I call it, the mindset of maybe. Then, really, it's just taking that into some of the tactics that are more top of the funnel oriented and saying, "How can we see what works as quickly as possible and swap ideas out as quickly as possible?"

Mike: Definitely, yeah, and some more product management concepts, you can AB test your messaging, AB test your landing pages. You can even try out campaigns. Like I said with This is Product Management, we didn't know, for sure, if it was going to work, but we launched it. If it didn't work we could just scrapped it and onto the next initiative. Yeah, there's all sorts of testing and learning you can do in marketing.

Suzanne: Yeah, except now it's like Hotel California. The podcast worked and you're stuck with it forever. You can't go anywhere Mike. You brought up earlier ... We talked about the podcast as product, so I guess this is a two-part question. First, you mentioned product is about a mindset. I'd just like to hear, in your words, what does it mean to have a product mindset, or a product manager mindset?

Mike: Yeah, I think the way that we started This is Product Management, was definitely the way a product manager would consider starting a new product line, building a new feature, exploring a new business opportunity. Which is identifying a market, and understanding if there's a need for a podcast, and understanding the best way to deliver that product. In this case it was a podcast with experts in product management on the various topics that are interested to product managers. But the product management practices that we apply haven't stopped. We continue to get feedback from our listeners and continue to incorporate that into the show, and even into our website.

A good example is, again, now that we've done over 100 episodes, 125 episodes, I keep hearing from listeners, "I don't know which episode to listen to next. I loved so-and-so episode and I want to listen to more like that," or " Hey, do you have an episode for me given I'm in this type of role," or "Do you have an episode on this type of topic?" We completely rebuilt the website, rebranded, and one of the biggest things we did on the website was create almost like a recommendation engine. We made it easier for people to find the episodes that they wanted to find.

You can go on the Browse Episodes Page and you can filter by the category, or the topic. You can filter by the level, like are you a product manager, or are you an executive, B-to-B, B-to-C, enterprise, startup, and you can filter out and find the best episodes for you. Then when you're on each episode page, we add recommendations at the bottom of every episode. So if you like this episode, you're probably, also, going to like these other episodes that are on similar topics.

That was one area where we just had to continue to focus on our customers, or listeners, sorry, and give them what they need.

Suzanne: Yeah. Have you found that the beast is taking over a little bit? You know, there's an element of ... and maybe I'm projecting here, 100 PM started out as a side project. Listeners know that I'm active in the community as a product management consultant. I'm active in the community as a product management instructor. 100 PM, in a lot of ways, was really an opportunity to assimilate some of those ideas between product management best practices and then the actual going out and doing. I do feel a little bit now like it's a pot with a lid that's just jangling, wanting to boil over, and wanting more and more attention because we get such great feedback.

Have you had the same experience? I mean, your show has been around a long time, a lot of people love it. I love it.

Mike: Well, thank you, thank you, yeah. Well, I mean, it is time consuming. You can't say otherwise. It takes a lot of time to produce a good show and to make sure we're getting the best guests and producing the best episode. You know, it definitely takes time, but two things, one is we sort of get the operations down where we can streamline it a bit and turn it into a repeatable process. But, I think, more importantly, it's totally worth it. It's just been an amazing experience. I've, again, met over 100 amazing product leaders and folks around the product management sphere, so it's just been an incredible way to build a community.

We've got an amazing audience, a pretty large audience, at this point. It's just been a great educational resource for product managers. Definitely time consuming, but also definitely worth it.

Suzanne: You mentioned earlier in our conversation, topics are always presenting themselves. I'm sure there has been some topics that probably surfaced multiple times, but each time you're iterating on that, or you're taking a slightly different approach. Is there a one or two, specific topics of interest, for you, that you have found, either the meatiest or the most under-explored or just ... What is that evergreen content for product managers because it's just so deep?

Mike: There are a lot of great and important topics worth exploring in product management just because, you know, they haven't really been shared all that much. Because they're still being developed, because they're still being figured out, because it's such a new field, especially digital product management. Whether it's hiring, or getting customer feedback, or management, leadership, design user experience, you name it. I guess a topic that's been most interesting to me, just personally, has been the communication skills in collaborating with different parts of the organization. Collaborating with the C-suite and finding ways to change the way a company is working and to manage a project, from start to finish.

I think it requires some really unique skills. I've managed to learn some really great strategies from the guests and hear some really cool stories about launching products, and some of the battles that go on behind the scenes that you certainly don't see when you're just using the product.

Suzanne: Yeah, this gets brought to me a lot. How do I convince my CEO that the decision, or the direction, that we, the product team, feel is right, is right especially when they're very determined that it's otherwise? And sometimes that's complicated by the fact that the CEO, or folks in the executive suite, aren't themselves product centric in their thinking. What can people do? What advice would you offer if I were asking you that question like, "My CEO won't listen to me. How can I change their mind?"

Mike: Yeah, good question. I think I'll go to just the experts that I've interviewed who are a lot better at this than I am and have had some great successes doing so. I think the one that comes to mind, for me, is Andrea Schneider. Her episode was on agile transformation. She actually works at the IRS, so you can imagine this being a particularly challenging environment for working in a faster, more iterative way, and working on digital product. I think she's had sort of this challenge maybe more ... Well, I know a lot of companies have this challenge, whether you're in healthcare or financial services, but she's definitely experienced this challenge of trying to make this shift, in this case, to a more agile approach.

One thing she shared with me was that she educated stakeholders on how decisions are made. I think it's easy to go into a meeting and a CEO says, "Hey, build this." And you want to say, "No, we want to build this." But I can imagine that not always being the most productive approach, so what Andrea does is she starts by saying, "Here's how we make decisions," and particularly, how they do it in an agile context. How they're getting feedback from customers and they're testing things, and they're continuously iterating. They're putting things on the back burner, if they don't immediately make sense, but they are keeping things on the back burner.

When an executive comes to her and says, "Here's an idea that I have. It's going to be amazing. Go build it." And she'll say, "Here's how we'll approach testing this. Here's some of the other things we've been working on. Here's how we came to the conclusion that we're going to build this feature. But your idea could potentially be great and here's how it could fit into our roadmap, potentially, further down the road."

It's not just a, "No," because it's my opinion, it's a maybe later because here's our process for making these types of decisions.

Suzanne: Yeah, and whether you're conscious of it, or not, you're using that word, potentially, sort of over and over and, I think, that's an important piece. Is to say, "Yeah, maybe that's a great idea." Underscore, italicize, maybe, let's go see. Let's talk to a few people first and just see if there's a pulse for that idea. Let's put together a quick prototype or set of wireframes and show it to some people and see how they think and, obviously, all of the different types of low-cost experiments that we can run that exist in that continuum between possible, potential great idea and possible, potential great product.

I think it is absolutely good advice and I certainly seen, in my own experiences, how challenging it is for enterprise level organizations that want to ... It's like they want to unshackle themselves from that old wave, that waterfall wave, that sequential mindset toward something that's a little bit more cyclical and a little bit more adaptive, but it is not an easy transition. I think that's why so many teams strive to be agile and that maybe don't ever get there, or get there in whatever their version of that is.

Mike: Exactly, exactly, yeah. I mean, I've heard similar ideas from so many great guests and the data, if you're testing a prototype, like you said, or running surveys, or doing interviews, or whatever type of testing, or experimenting, you're going to do, it really helps to have that data and to bring that into a conversation. And say, "Your idea sounds amazing, but I was surprised. Here's what we learned. Here's what customers said about it. Here's the feedback that we got. Here's how this prototype performed against this other prototype." That really helps to streamline and, definitely, some environments are more challenging than others. Like I said, healthcare, financial services, some of these environments where there's a lot of red tape, a lot of policy constraints, things like that.

Sometimes you do need to adapt your approach. So, I think, as much as teams want to say, "Hey, we're agile. We're in the agile bucket." Often times there's a little bit of adaption for the environment and just being realistic about what the constraints are and finding ways to operate within them.

Suzanne: Yeah, it reminds me, I spoke recently with another guest about the difference between teaching product management and doing product management. And this idea of the classroom, in some ways, being a perfect or controlled environment because you have the time to make discoveries, and the time to iterate, and the time to get all of the foundational stuff down. Then out in the real world you're constantly pinging against what I should be doing and then making those trade-offs of, “but we just don't have time.” I know that we should probably do X, and I know that, that is "best practice," and we've got to do this, which, I think, applies to agile.

I'm laughing because I'm looking around the room. Our listeners don't know we're here in This is Project Management studio, by the way, which is very exciting, but they're the essential markings of product management was here. Like wireframes and value proposition canvases with post-its and everything. How much slack should we cut ourselves about not doing everything by the book? Because it's happening, everyone listening here is going, "Oh good, I'm not doing it by the book 100%. I'm glad to know others aren't either."

Mike: Yeah, I think starting small is a good way to go about it. Just the reality is that an organization is not going to change in a day, a week, a month, maybe not even in a year or multiple years. So, I think, starting small with something and being able to show some results, early on, like a small win and being able to build on that. So, maybe, a couple guests have shared this, I'm drawing a blank on who, but I think it was Cindy Alvarez from Microsoft. She was saying, "We'll just talk to a couple of customers. We'll find an hour out of the day. We'll go have coffee with a couple customers and we'll learn something. We'll get a couple quotes and we'll come back and we'll share those quotes. They'll be really insightful and it's always really interesting to be able to share data about what customers are thinking and saying."

Then that will get stakeholders to get excited about this and we can do a few more and a few more. And you can keep building it, but I think trying to bite off too much, I think, in a lot of areas of business and, maybe life too, can make things challenging. But if you start small and keep building from there, that can really help get things started and build momentum.

Suzanne: Yeah. How has product management changed, or evolved, even in this short time since you've started doing it, and since you've started talking to people about doing it? In your impression, is there more awareness about the role than there used to be? Is the role, itself, changing and evolving?

Mike: Well, it's changed a ton. I know that much, for sure. I think there's a lot of people, especially in larger organizations, that are doing product management without really knowing it. Again, so many organizations are trying to adapt to evolving customer needs and start building digital products, which have been so successful. So a lot of times, people are getting pulled into that who may be a business analyst, or a business unit manager, or general manager, something like that. They don't know it, but they're testing out new ideas, and building teams, and building products.

Yeah, best practices are starting to be shared quite a bit. I think the product management, as I'm sure you've experienced, is amazing. There's so many great people that are so willing to share their advice on both our respective podcasts, which has been awesome. So we're starting to see best practices proliferate across a number of different organizations. Some of the practices from startups are getting carried into large companies. So it's definitely a very exciting time.

Suzanne: Are there, in your mind ... I go back to why 100 Product Managers started and part of that story, for me, is I've got subject matter expertise and I have a very specific lens through which I've accumulated that expertise and understand it. For example, even though I have done a lot of coaching for enterprise clients, and working with enterprise clients, I have always, in my own business career, steered toward more startup type environments, because I like the newness, and the volatility, and the highs are high, and the lows are low, but you get a little bit addicted to that space, or you can.

Then I realize, but in ways, that doesn't always make me the best person to advise somebody who might be looking for a very specific type of structured role, or might be looking for a very technical product manager experience. By talking to 100 product managers, the hope was that other folks could begin to augment that narrative with more lived and learned experiences. I guess, my question for you, in regards to all of that is, are there, still in your mind, areas of product management that are not well understood, or not well explored, or are still gray? Do you get letters from listeners saying, "Your show's really great and you've covered so many great topics, and question mark, what is this about?"

Things that you think people are still out there listening and wondering.

Mike: Yeah, really good question. I think the thing for me, that I'm seeing, again, just talking to so many listeners who are working at both startups and large companies. I think, particularly, in large companies, the hiring piece. The hiring and how that translates over into culture. I think when you're ... And even within product management, like managing an existing product with 10 million users, is a lot different than building a completely new product all together. Exploring a completely new business model, a new market, anything like that. Those require some pretty different skillsets. For large companies that maybe aren't used to the test and learn approach to things, where it's more about optimizing an existing product. Bringing in the folks who are going to bring that culture of test, learn, experiment. How do we really foster that type of environment in our organization? Even in an organization where there's not a lot of that going on already. How can we create this environment for new product development teams to be able to do that.

I think that's an area where definitely a lot of progress has made, has been made. I actually did an episode exclusively on employee experience, with Lina Stern from LearnVest, at Northwestern Mutual. She talked a lot about how she builds this product oriented culture and giving people autonomy and there's a lot of aspects to it. I think there are some lessons being learned, but it's definitely something that a lot of organizations are going to have to work on.

Suzanne: I love your episode recall. As you were mentioning some episodes before, I was thinking to myself, "Could I recall every guest and conversation?" I think I can, as well, because you're so connected to them, but it reminds me a little bit about how ... This is a total tangent, by the way listeners, I apologize. But, you know, when things happen to us in our childhood and, as adults, we remember them. We're like, "Oh, that was the time on the play yard and Ricky Thompson did this." You remember the first and last name of children from these experiences that are 20 and 30 years ago. It's the same.

It's like, "Then Lina from Stearnvest, episode 22, whatever it is." That's good. That's good. You're talking about hiring and I do think, I would agree with you, I think there are a lot of questions for people around, how do I get the job, or how do we culturally shift toward product management thinking? We were talking before about some enterprise organizations beginning to shift toward newer best practices, which has included, in my experience, seeing folks have their titles renamed as product manager. Why that's challenging is, you can't just go around and then, with a wand and say, "And now, you're a product manager. And now, you're a product manager."

You have to, I think, as the employer, or as the director of that division, or company, be prepared to invest in what does it mean to be a product manager? What is that product centric thinking? I do think that, that's a gap that sometimes employers miss is that they just sort of expect that the employee, who's been anointed product manager, will know what to do. They're sitting at home listening to This is Product Management, or 100 Product Managers, scribbling notes furiously, but I do think training and product mindset shift is an important role of the C-suite to bring into an organization.

Mike: Yeah, training is definitely a big piece. At the very least, these new strategies and tactics that so many of the great modern product managers are using, but like you said, I think just getting into the frame of mind and understanding the product way of thinking, and way of working is a really big one.

Suzanne: Well, we're talking about hiring and we do this segment on our show called, Get the Job, Learn the Job, Love the Job. I'll put you here into it. It's like the speed round. What advice, Mike, would you offer to somebody listening in who is maybe working in a PM adjacent role, or maybe they're working in corporate finance, like you once did, but they have a sense that product management is the role for them and they want to get into it. They want to get a job in the role. How would you advise them to go about that?

Mike: Yeah, the one thing that I've seen be pretty effective for getting a product management job, when you don't already have one, and you haven't transitioned internally is to work on a project and to find a small project to work on that allows you to display your product thinking, and some of the tactics that you need to deploy if you're to be a product manager. Whether it's building a simple app or even a prototype, something that might require you to work with a designer, or work with an engineer to get something built, or it could be something even like a blog. Where you have to understand, who your readers are. What's your customer segment? What kind of problems do they have? How can you provide value to them? And developing content that way.

But any kind of small project where you need to use some of the skills that product managers need to have, and that you can then show. Hey, I did this and here's how I approached this. And here's what I learned doing this can apply to my future role can really help make the case.

Suzanne: Right. Yeah, side projects. We're living proof of side projects. What about mistakes, common mistakes? Did you, as you began your product management journey, have some hard lessons learned on the job, or have you seen, in your experience, where the act of doing product management is, in reality, much different than the thinking about doing product management?

Mike: Sure, yeah. I can say when I first learned about product management and started doing it a bit, I pictured more of the, I guess, Steve Jobs, sort of thinking about big ideas. Thinking about markets. Thinking about strategies and just having a vision. Having a vision for the future and executing on it. That stuff definitely has a role in product management, it's an important part, but a lot of the times what you think and what you imagine, whether it be for a product or even for a marketing campaign, doesn't always play out in practice. So you have to be willing to get feedback from customers, look at the data, look at both quantitative and qualitative data, and iterate. Being able to do that can get you a long, long way because then you're not just sort of launching and praying, launching and hoping that it works out. You're continually improving. You're continually getting better and better.

Being able to have that type of skill set, I think, will help you go a long way.

Suzanne: Yeah, this visual of you going and refunding 20 black turtlenecks after you realize this is not really ... Steve Jobs is such an interesting example because, I think, a lot of people hold that he's one of the greatest known product managers. A lot of people hold up that example. A lot of people hold up examples like Instagram when they think about building a successful product and having it be acquired for lots and lots of money. They're such dangerous examples because they really are the outliers, not the norm. I think the norm is a lot of companies that are somewhere, again, on that continuum between failure, got to shut the doors and do something different, and wild, wild success story. That's the battleground that you're in and a lot of the truth of this role is that it's not necessarily glorious. It's not necessarily a topic that everybody discusses. It's not necessarily a job that any of your friends or family knows what it is, but there's a lot of opportunity for learning and small victories along the way. And lots of failures too, like learning failures, but failures nonetheless.

Mike: Yeah, yeah, and this is a heated topic within the product management community, as you know, sort of the balance between intuition and data. I think certainly there's an element of Steve Jobs in just about every product leader and even while some of the Apple products may seem more vision oriented, and a product like Instagram, like you mentioned, may seem like a wild crazy idea. But I'm not, admittedly, not super familiar with those product organizations, but I'm quite certain that they're doing a lot of testing and iterating too. Maybe if Instagram didn't get traction within a year or two that might have been shutdown, but now they're at scale and I'm sure they're constantly A-B testing their product, what features, how should we display this, how should we display that to get the most engagement.

There's always a lot of customer insights gathering going around in, I think, just about every modern product organization.

Suzanne: Yeah, I think what you're saying is, the work is the work either way and be weary of just thinking in terms of the headlines and the success stories. There's a lot of learning that goes into getting there, for anyone.

Mike: Totally, absolutely.

Suzanne: What do you, Mike, love about product?

Mike: I love the process of just learning. Learning about customers. Learning about what gets results and having this really scientific approach of just discovering. I love being able to sit down with listeners, with product managers, understand what their problems are. It's always fun. You always learn something surprising, like you said, there's always something I think is true, then I learn, you know, maybe this other approach is what's really going on. That's always exciting just to learn and be able to try new things and really see what works.

Suzanne: Do you have favorite authors, favorite books, favorite resources? I mean, obviously, This is Product Management is an excellent resource and we're going to put that up on our site, as well, for all of our listeners who don't know the show. But beyond the podcast that you're actively producing, are there any other resources that you would recommend for our listeners who either want to learn more about product management, or marketing, or business, or just anything cool?

Mike: Sure. Yeah, there's definitely a ton of great resources and there's getting to be more and more fortunately. One that's been really interesting to me has been Jason Fried's writing and the work that he's done around, I would say, company culture and how he sets up his company Basecamp so that his employees can be most productive. I think the Signal v. Noise Blog is really interesting. He has a lot of really counterintuitive strategies like things around remote work, and reducing meetings, and things that probably sound like just wild crazy ideas for a lot of big companies. But I really like the way he approaches things, that's interesting.

Suzanne: Yeah, a great recommend. The guys at Basecamp I have so much respect for them because they talk a lot about anti-patterns. One of my favorite articles that was published not long ago was all about growth. We're obsessed with growth and there's so much pressure from VCs and pressure from the market to just grow, grow, grow, grow, grow. Don't look back. Don't ask questions. Do whatever you need to. You know, Basecamp, I think they've been around 16 or 17 years, maybe longer, and they're just about building a great product, iterating on a great product. Demonstrating what a sustainable successful business looks like.

I think another one is MailChimp, just don't believe the hype, just be true to the craft and the value will be there.

Mike: Yeah, it's just slow and steady and build an amazing product. They also have a consideration for more than just the profit margin. I think they're creating great lives, great work life balance, have great lives outside of work, both the founders and the employees. I think it's a, like you said, just a very sustainable approach.

Suzanne: Do you have a personal or professional ideology, philosophy, that guides you through your day-to-day, just to help you stay focused? What's your side of the mug quote?

Mike: Yeah, I think it's the sort of test and learn approach. I'll say, test and learn is something I've applied throughout my career, both as doing a bit of product management. I apply it in marketing and I've applied it to my career overall in exploring what I want to be doing professionally, and then I deploy that in my personal life, as well. I'm kind of a nutrition geek, so I'm always testing out different tweaks to my lifestyle and how I'm eating. And just seeing how that affects my body and how I perform on a day-to-day basis.

Suzanne: Mike Fishbein, thank you so much for being a part of our show. If I end up doing more than 100 episodes of this thing, I'm going to come looking for you.

Mike: Thanks so much Suzanne.

Play audio interview
No Comments
Keep Listening

This is Product Management

Join thousands of weekly listeners to learn from the brightest minds in product management.
About New York

New York City comprises 5 boroughs sitting where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean. At its core is Manhattan, a densely populated borough that’s among the world’s major commercial, financial and cultural centers. Its iconic sites include skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building and sprawling Central Park. Broadway theater is staged in neon-lit Times Square.