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As you progress from individual contributor PM to manager of PMs how should the role of a product leader change?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

As you transition from the role of individual contributor (IC) PM to managing PMs, there will be a change in expectations and definition of success in your role. As an IC PM, your success is mainly defined by your ability to dive deep, show bias for action and perform timely execution. While as manager of PMs, your success will depend on your ability to delegate, think big, and grow and develop your team members. Navigating this transition is an art, which can be perfected with guidance and practice. It is also an iterative process, which must continuously evolve with the company goals, stage of the product and the working styles of the people reporting to you. From my personal experience, here are the key takeaways that summarize how one must evolve as one transition from IC PM to Manager of PMs:  

  1. Art of Delegation: As an IC PM, one has to focus on the end to end ownership of the product life cycle, but as Manager of PMs one has to delegate the key product functions effectively across all the team members. I call delegation an art because the manager has to ensure that each team member gets tasks that speak to their strengths, challenge them to push their boundaries, and provide them enough scope for learning and development. Also, delegation has to be proportionately balanced across all team members based on their skill set, work experiences, nature of the product, and focus area. 
  2. Big Picture Thinking: As an IC PM, it is critical for you to be very close to your product operations on a daily/weekly basis to keep a pulse on feature development, user adoption and engagement metrics, weekly sprints, etc. However, as a Manager of PMs, you have to zoom out and balance the granular product operations with strategic and big picture thinking that clearly defines the product vision and strategy for all team members over the next 2-3 years. 
  3. Unblocking team members: As a manager of PMs, your success depends on your ability to unblock your PM team members in situations such as conflict in decisions, trade offs or prioritizations, goal alignment and getting timely support from internal stakeholders or teams with dependencies. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to set scalable processes for product prioritization and decision making in combination with stakeholder management through bi-weekly project reviews and syncs with supporting teams and stakeholders. 

In summary, as you transition from the role of IC PM to Manager of PMs, your focus should shift to effective delegation, big picture thinking and unblocking the team members, as and when needed. This is an iterative process and you must be open to learning and continually evolving in this role, based on active listening and learning from regular feedback from all the team members. In this role, you have to let go of a lot of tasks which you previously enjoyed as an IC PM. Letting go lets you delegate effectively amongst your team members, thereby freeing up the calendar to create more time for big thinking and unblocking your team members, when needed.

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Joseph
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How do I negotiate my ideal salary after I get a job offer?

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Victoria Young
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Victoria Young
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If you’re putting in the work, you deserve to be paid what you’re worth. Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re face to face with a recruiter or your manager. Because sometimes…a pesky little thing called impostor syndrome can get in the way.

Good news is that there is a proven process for getting the most out of your job negotiations. Here are our top tips:

1. Focus on creating a “we’re in this together” relationship

Instead of having a me vs. you conversation, cultivate a collaborative tone. Focus on problem-solving toward a mutually optimized solution for both parties. Make it clear to the hiring team that you’re working hard to get across the finish line alongside them.  

2. Make sure they see the value that you bring

Demonstrate why you are worth the compensation that you are asking for. It is not enough that the company likes you, they have to understand why they should pay you what you are asking for. What are you bringing to the table? How will you create business value? Preparing a pitch or sharing a sample strategic approach can help make your value-add undeniable and concrete. 

3. Research industry and market baselines

In a negotiation, it’s important to be pushing for what’s within reason in an informed way. You want to avoid losing credibility by asking for compensation that is entirely out of line with the market. Do your research so you know what compensation packages are typical for this role in the industry through websites like Glassdoor, Blind, or Levels.fyi. If you have mentors or know others in a similar role, ask them what they think is an appropriate range.

4. Consider being creative with tradeoffs

Remember: your prospective employer doesn’t go into the job offer process trying to give you an unfair package. They have other factors that they need to consider like titles, salary bands, standardized expectations, etc. They need to ensure that your compensation is something that the company can afford, and is sustainable in the long run. They also want to make sure that your salary is in line with what others in your role are making as well. Keep in mind their perspective and be flexible with some of the factors they may have more control over, like titles or bonuses.

5. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

You might not be able to get the exact compensation package you want because it may not be feasible for the organization at that point in time. However, it is not all about the salary, but how this role will impact the trajectory of your career. Remember why you want this role as a whole, and how it might set you up for further success in the future as you negotiate. 

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Michelle
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How technical does a PM need to be?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
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Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

Broadly speaking, the responsibilities of a tech PM are in-line with a non-tech PM. As a PM, in general, your responsibility is to define the “what” and “why” of a problem statement, and work alongside your internal stakeholders to define the “how” and “when” of the solution.

The difference between the two roles lies in the execution and stakeholder management. While you’re not required to read or write code as a tech PM, you’re expected to define the details of technical feature specifications, navigate tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblock engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.

To do this well, you need to have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of the engineering system design and technical architecture of the product. This applies not just to non-tech PMs transitioning to tech, but also to the tech PMs transitioning from one field to another.

For example, when I transitioned from cloud computing to machine learning (ML) as tech PM at AWS, I had to invest significant time and effort into understanding the key concepts and techniques involved in ML and natural language processing.

From my experience, here is an effective framework that will smoothen your transition into a new role as a tech PM:  

1) Shadow your engineering teams:

Shadowing is often used as a technique to onboard new hires to a specific role in an organization. In my experience, shadowing has worked as an effective way to learn and acquire new skills that are more complex in nature, such as API design and ML development. Shadowing involves attending meetings where you can observe engineering discussions, trade off conversations, spring planning, feature breakdown and prioritization discussions. Shadowing should be non-obstructive i.e. you shouldn’t slow down the progress of the team. You should take rigorous notes and follow up with teams on your questions, preferably asynchronously. 

2) Dive deep into engineering documentation:

Good engineering teams are disciplined about maintaining a detailed repository of internal documentation for engineering designs and technical architecture of the product. This documentation acts as a great resource for PMs to learn about the fundamentals of engineering concepts and the PMs must take full advantage of it. In addition to the technical documentation, PMs should also ask for access to all the relevant product requirement documents and feature definitions from the previous launches, when available. 

3) Self Learning:

The self-learning approach is a great way for PMs to accelerate their skill-set expansion and career growth. When I transitioned to ML as tech PM, I benefited a lot from the ML course collection by Andrew Ng on Coursera. I highly suggest finding targeted and self-paced courses that are aligned with your learning goals and are within your budget. Coursera and Udacity are my personal favorites when it comes to MOOC platforms, but there are a lot of open online courses available on a diverse range of technical topics. I’ve listed some of the most popular tech courses in the appendix below.

In summary, great tech PMs excel at defining the details of technical feature specifications, navigating tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblocking engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.

The journey of transitioning to tech PM can be smoothened by following the best practices of i) shadowing your engineering teams and observing their discussions in a non-obstructive way, ii) diving deep into the engineering and technical documentation and asking questions asynchronous, and iii) self-learning approach via self-faced and targeted courses that are aligned with your learning goals. 

Question from @
Vikram
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What is the most effective way to pivot into Product Management without experience or opportunities to do so?

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Natalie Rothfels
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Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
Previously: 

First, I want to acknowledge that this is a tough one because it’s not all in your control. So much of the recruiting experience is broken, and we are still living within the confines of systems that make it really hard to break into any position of power if you don’t already have it. And that can be incredibly frustrating.

So let’s first name all the things that are most certainly not in your control but that end up having a big impact on your ability to get any job, qualified or not.

Factors outside of your control

  • Whether hiring committees are following best practices of fair resume review (e.g, obfuscating names and irrelevant information)
  • Whether hiring committees actually have a structured rubric against which you are being evaluated, and then questions that align to that rubric
  • Whether the skills you’re asked to show within an interview actually match up with the skills required for the job
  • Whether there’s a job position that’s actually open or under active recruitment
  • The market conditions (including hiring freezes)
  • Whether other people give you a chance and can see how your existing skills are transferable or relevant
  • Systemic biases that favor past experiences over future potential

Given that depressing list, the reality is that moving into any “exclusive” job is going to be fraught with power struggles. So if you’re having any of those frustrations, know you’re not alone.

Factors within your control

The good news is that there are some things that are in your control.

  • Deeply understanding the job and the skills required for it

    • Not all PMing is created equal, both inside of a company and across companies. A core product PM is different than a Growth PM, who is different from a 0 → 1 PM. Adam Fishman and Keya Patel hve a great piece on those differences here.
    • Similarly, the company type and stage is going to have very different needs and standards for PMs. Large corporations have very rigorous and standardized hiring processes. Series A startups have very different needs and gaps. Understand which companies might be looking for which product skills that most match up to what you bring to the table.
  • Understand which skill competencies you have and lack

    • PMing is a notoriously breadth-focused job that requires a wide base of baseline competencies. Ravi Mehta has a great articulation of those competencies here. Understand the full lifecycle of product development and articulate which parts you may need to level-up in.
    • You will need to highlight your existing competencies and mitigate against your weaker areas, either by growing them in advance of trying to make the transition, aiming for a position that mostly requires those strengths, or crafting a clear plan for how you’ll up-level when you transition (e.g, like taking a guided sprint)
  • Clarify how your past experience translates into a PM job

    • I used to be a teacher before I moved into Product. There are so many relevant transferable skills. For example:
      • My ability to command attention and rally a disparate, chaotic group of people towards an outcome. Classroom management is no joke. Neither is aligning 10 people to row a boat in the same direction towards a goal.
      • My willingness to go with whatever shows up and not know the answer. Teachers have plans, but they have to respond in real time to whatever is actually happening in their classrooms. Product management is no different.
      • My ability to manage multiple stakeholders. Teachers are never just teaching. They’re dealing with administrators, parents, siblings, counselors, caretakers, and more. Product leaders are constantly dealing with different needs from different people and must prioritize across them.
  • Try to articulate how your current job or past experiences are relevant to the Product competencies, and then craft a story about how you can use one for the other.

Paths for moving into a Product role

My strong recommendation for pivoting to product is to attempt to move laterally from another role inside your company. Why?

  • In general, it’s much easier to transfer laterally within an organization that already knows you than to attempt to enter into a different company in a brand new role. Your existing company knows your skills, your work ethic, and your impact inside the organization. They will have a much easier time imagining you within a new role. You can also pre-empt any open headcount within an organization if they know you're looking. That's impossible to do when you're on the outside of a company. 

  • Articulate what you want and why to your manager (and eventually whoever is responsible for the Product org, too). Your manager should be there to support your current and long-term growth, whether that’s inside the company or not. Managers are humans too, and they want to do a good job helping you get to where you want to go. But how are they supposed to help if they don’t know what you want? If you have a supportive relationship with your manager, a good starting point is to share where you see yourself going, why, and what kind of support you’re looking for from them. If you’ve done your homework to understand the skills required for the PM job, you can then present a clear map of how you already have those skills, or highlight which ones you want to work on to set yourself up for being able to make the pivot if a position becomes available.

  • Recognize that internal changes take time. The more you can set yourself up for a shift over quarters rather than weeks, the better for everyone. When there are fewer surprises for everyone, the better.

There are, of course, other ways to move into Product, but your mileage may vary:

  • There’s the now-seemingly-traditional path of getting an MBA, getting a summer internship, and then hoping for a full time offer. I know plenty of PMs who have done this, but I honestly think it’s an extremely inaccessible option for most people. First of all, business school is super expensive and requires you to take two years away from an operator role. Secondly, organizations are still really biased! If you don’t go to a top 5 business school, it’s easy to be at the bottom of the pile (ugh!). Again, totally inaccessible.

  • There are courses, like through Product School, General Assembly, and Reforge. But my experience is that there’s a bias amongst hiring managers for people who have done the job in a real context before because companies are not courses. Courses rarely give you the sandbox to have to navigate the interpersonal and leadership demands of PMing, yet those two competencies are high determiners for PM success.

Stay focused on your lane

Let’s sum it up:

  • Focus on the things that are in your control. Really get clear on not only why you want to PM, but what kind of PM role you’re looking for and what your current skill gaps are for that role.
  • Don’t keep it a secret — tell people you know who can help you move that you’re trying to make the transition. Your manager is included in this, but don’t spring it on them and expect an immediate change. They hired you to do a different role, and unless they’re really supportive…it’s actually not in their best interest to have you leave their team! In turn, you need to get really clear on your hope and goal, but also your asks from them. Are you hoping for support on a specific skill? Are you hoping they can help advocate for you internally? Think of the best case scenario you’re looking for, and work back from there.
  • You’ll likely have more success moving laterally than getting a brand new gig somewhere else. Teams that already know you and your work already have a baseline of trust! It’s actually usually cheaper for them to hire from within for an open role rather than have to build a pipeline and interview from scratch. Think about what it would be like to be a PM at your current company, and make the case for it.
  • Remember, change takes time. Slow and steady until you’ve got the skills, and then it’s all about finding the opportunities to showcase them.
Question from @
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How should a Product Manager choose a framework?

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Natalie Rothfels
Answered by 
Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
Previously: 

First, the bad news: there is no singular framework or set of checkboxes that cover the bases of what you’ll be exposed to as a PM. A big part of the job is problem-solving and navigating complexity.

Second, the good news: frameworks are a useful tool for just that! They help you problem solve and navigate complexity. But they’re (unfortunately) not an answer to the ultimate laws of the universe.

Product is an art, not a science. Your goal should not be to pick the perfect framework but instead to strengthen your product sense using frameworks as good training-wheels.

That said, in choosing any framework to use, apply some product thinking skills to take some steps in the right direction:

  • First, understand the problem you’re trying solve by using a framework in the first place
  • Then, explore which solutions (frameworks) may solve that problem, and decide on one
  • After, tweak the framework for your unique context
  • Lastly, focus on getting in reps to gain intuition

Let’s walk through each of these in less theoretical terms.

Understand the metrics problem (before picking a framework)

There are many frameworks around product metrics because product metrics are used for many different purposes. For example, I’ve used metrics for all of the following:

  • Sizing and highlighting potential opportunities
  • Setting goals
  • Tracking strategic impact
  • Understanding usage
  • Proactively monitoring changes
  • Developing confidence in a solution

Unfortunately, there’s no singular framework that’s going to solve all of those for you in a nice, tight way.

But not to worry — just as you’d pick a hammer for a nail, and a shoe for your foot, you can pick a ”works well-enough” framework for whichever metrics problem you’re trying to solve. You just first need to know what it is.

For example, when opportunity sizing, you may decide to use a framework like RICE, which may help you to prioritize and compare different opportunities.

Or, for developing more confidence in a solution, you may use a painted door test simply to validate and track interest in a new feature.

Or, for tracking strategic impact, you may pick a few key engagement metrics to monitor over time.

Or, for setting goals, you may use the OKR or NCT frameworks. Bottom line: whatever framework you choose should be related to a real goal or problem you’re trying to solve.

Explore frameworks that might fit that metrics problem

Once you’ve clarified what your real goal is, that hones in the solution space a bit more.

For example, let’s say I’m working on building a new feature that allows Amazon college student customers to share their cart with a parent so the parent can pay directly without needing to share credit card information with their kid.

After shipping this feature, my goal as a PM is trying to understand and measure feature usage, so I search around and find Reforge’s TARS framework, which helps me with the following:

  • Target: What % of the targeted population saw this new feature
  • Adopted: What % of them tried it successfully/unsuccessfully
  • Retained: How does successful usage of this feature impact monthly retention for this college age population
  • Satisfied: How does successful usage of this feature impact overall customer satisfaction

This is a great starting point. And most frameworks around measuring feature usage cover 80% of the same ground (e.g, are people using it? What segments? How do those that use it retain compared to other users, etc).

But there’s so much more that I may know about these Amazon customers that might also govern how I think about feature usage and success.

The Pareto Principle (80-20) is relevant here: it’s likely any framework you use misses key information that’s unique to my company or its customers but may matter most, which leads to the next step.

Tweak the framework 20% by recognizing what it doesn’t do

In our Amazon example above, the TARS framework helps me evaluate usage at a basic level…but it may miss some key things that I know based on context. For example:

  • There are certain times of the year where this kind of feature is more important than others (e.g, at the beginning of a semester when students need to buy new books or travel if they live away from home). Feature usage is likely going to be directly tied to seasonality.
  • Because students are on mobile devices more frequently, but parents are often more comfortable making purchase decisions on desktop, we might need to build and test across-platforms to ensure that usage isn’t low for that reason alone. Feature usage is likely going to be directly tied to platform access.

These two bits of context may matter significantly to the feature’s successful adoption. There’s always context happening around you that doesn’t get captured in a nice framework.

For example, the RICE framework may be able to help you prioritize opportunities in a vacuum, but it doesn’t account for complexity like:

  • Which opportunities have x-team dependencies?
  • How bought-in to this opportunity is the leadership team?
  • Does your team have the right people to actual implement this kind of solution?

Similarly, OKRs are a useful framework for aligning teams around what matters, but the framework isn’t that great for:

  • Weekly tracking of your team’s progress
  • Sizing opportunities
  • Understanding usage

The point is this: even if you have a great framework, it’s just a starting point. The framework doesn’t have the answer for you…it simply has some guiding principles that can help you think through the problem a bit more.

This is a tough part of PMing! The complexity of human decision-making doesn’t go away. You just get more comfortable with it over time.

Focus on getting successful reps to gain intuition

Lastly, I want to reiterate that your goal should not be to pick a perfect framework. Instead, it should be to develop great product sense and intuition over time, with frameworks as your training wheels.

It’s better to focus on using one framework successfully a few times and getting some reps in so that you can understand how it works, what it’s good for, and where it fails. This will help you to develop pattern-matching intuition that will make solving the next problem easier.

As long as you’re clear on what you’re trying to use the framework for, think of it as a sandbox you can play in and learn from. You can always step out, try something else, and start new again.

Question from @
Samidha
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As you progress from individual contributor PM to manager of PMs how should the role of a product leader change?

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voted
Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

As you transition from the role of individual contributor (IC) PM to managing PMs, there will be a change in expectations and definition of success in your role. As an IC PM, your success is mainly defined by your ability to dive deep, show bias for action and perform timely execution. While as manager of PMs, your success will depend on your ability to delegate, think big, and grow and develop your team members. Navigating this transition is an art, which can be perfected with guidance and practice. It is also an iterative process, which must continuously evolve with the company goals, stage of the product and the working styles of the people reporting to you. From my personal experience, here are the key takeaways that summarize how one must evolve as one transition from IC PM to Manager of PMs:  

  1. Art of Delegation: As an IC PM, one has to focus on the end to end ownership of the product life cycle, but as Manager of PMs one has to delegate the key product functions effectively across all the team members. I call delegation an art because the manager has to ensure that each team member gets tasks that speak to their strengths, challenge them to push their boundaries, and provide them enough scope for learning and development. Also, delegation has to be proportionately balanced across all team members based on their skill set, work experiences, nature of the product, and focus area. 
  2. Big Picture Thinking: As an IC PM, it is critical for you to be very close to your product operations on a daily/weekly basis to keep a pulse on feature development, user adoption and engagement metrics, weekly sprints, etc. However, as a Manager of PMs, you have to zoom out and balance the granular product operations with strategic and big picture thinking that clearly defines the product vision and strategy for all team members over the next 2-3 years. 
  3. Unblocking team members: As a manager of PMs, your success depends on your ability to unblock your PM team members in situations such as conflict in decisions, trade offs or prioritizations, goal alignment and getting timely support from internal stakeholders or teams with dependencies. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to set scalable processes for product prioritization and decision making in combination with stakeholder management through bi-weekly project reviews and syncs with supporting teams and stakeholders. 

In summary, as you transition from the role of IC PM to Manager of PMs, your focus should shift to effective delegation, big picture thinking and unblocking the team members, as and when needed. This is an iterative process and you must be open to learning and continually evolving in this role, based on active listening and learning from regular feedback from all the team members. In this role, you have to let go of a lot of tasks which you previously enjoyed as an IC PM. Letting go lets you delegate effectively amongst your team members, thereby freeing up the calendar to create more time for big thinking and unblocking your team members, when needed.

Question from @
Joseph
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If your product showcases UGC and in-house created content how can product and content strategy work together to achieve business goals?

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Natalie Rothfels
Answered by 
Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
Previously: 

This is a big question, and depends so much on what your product experience is and the stage of your business. That said, I’m going to walk through three steps that I might go through if I were onboarding to a new role in a content-focused organization.









Let’s walk through each.

1. Understand how each is responsible for growth, retention, and monetization today

Content can play many roles inside of a company, so it’s important to first take a pulse on how it’s serving your business today. For example, content is often an acquisition-driver, but it can also be an engagement or monetization-driver. Let’s look at a few examples to bring this to life.

A. Acquisition-driven content: YouTube, Reddit, NerdWallet. 

For all three of these platforms, content is indexed to search engines and then easily distributed to new users. The more searchable metadata available (e.g, transcripts for videos), the easier time search engines have understanding the content and being able to direct searchers to a good fit.

YouTube and Reddit have powerful user-generated-content acquisition loops. As more people create content, there’s more to index (or more to share or embed directly in other platforms), thus driving more people to the platform to consume content that’s been created. As those new users become more engaged, some percentage of them will also become content creators, thus adding even more power to the acquisition engine.

The mechanism is similar for NerdWallet, except content is largely generated in-house (likely because their product offers financial expertise and advice, which is rarely good to outsource to the masses). It’s likely that their content strategy is focused on high-intent SEO-driven queries, like “What’s the difference between a traditional and Roth IRA?”, which will quickly land me on this perfectly-tailored page that answers my question. Now that my eyes are captured, NerdWallet is both familiarizing me with their brand and nudging me to sign up and take advantage of their services.

B. Engagement-oriented content generation: Peloton, Strava

Once customers are already on your platform, content can also be a big driver of continued engagement.

This is the case for Peloton. When Peloton bike riders purchase the physical bike, their engagement with the platform is contingent on a subscription to live and pre-recorded classes. With thousands of classes across different skill levels and domains, it’s hard to imagine at this point that anyone could finish and consume every single class. Yet Peloton continues to crank out new classes every day. Why? Many members are so obsessed with their instructors and following the latest trending classes that part of their engagement model likely hinges on new classes being produced every week. It adds to the product experience of feeling like you’re part of something live and bigger than a static library of videos. Plus, live classes drive bigger audiences, as people compete with others on the leaderboard. The more success you feel finishing a class, the more likely you are to come back and do it again the next day.

For Strava, content is all about sharing workouts. It’s an opportunity to express and celebrate yourself in your social sphere, and be rewarded for that publicly. Strava’s content generation is both an acquisition and engagement play — people unfamiliar with the product begin to recognize the Strava brand when they see a friend sharing something on social, and athletes get to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in having their workouts seen by others, which provides motivation to come back into the product again.

C. Monetization-focused content generation: Udemy

For transactional (and many subscription) content platforms like Udemy (which offers user-generated on-demand classes around a range of topics), content is the business. Of course, there’s product around it (for example, on the supply side, teachers need tools to create content in the first place; on the demand side, students need to be able to easily find and discover the right courses for them), but without the content, there is no business.

Whether you’ve got in-house-generated or user-generated content, you need to clarify what role content currently plays in the business, and how you see that evolving over time. It’s quite likely that content won’t just play one role. At Quizlet, for example, content is an acquisition-driver for some users, an engagement driver for all users, and a monetization-driver for a third distinct set of users!

You need to first know what role content plays in order to craft a clearer strategy on how to use it more effectively.

2. Clarify what your business goals even are (and then how content plays a role)

Once you’ve got a good sense of the role of content and how it fits into your product experience and business, you need to clarify what business outcomes are most important. You should be clear on the following five elements:













Here are a couple scenarios played out where the answers to those five elements might differ:









Missing any one of these the five elements above will likely get you into a build-trap: you’ll build something but not know if it works (immeasurable) and why (hard to understand). That’s why it’s important to map them all out together so the puzzle pieces fit together.

3. Understand who creates, who distributes, and what you both need to be successful.

Once you know the role content plays, and you’ve clarified your business goals, you need to connect the dots between content and product. Ask yourself these three questions:









Let’s walk through the sewing example on Instagram:

Pattern makers are first value-creators by making patterns for purchase. When sewists buy the patterns, make an outfit, and then take a picture to post on Instagram, they become value-distributors. They are motivated by personal reasons (pride, belonging, personal accomplishment).

In order for each to be successful, pattern makers need a critical mass of interested sewists who will buy the pattern, but the more successful the sewists are at distributing their #memade outfits, the easier user acquisition becomes for the pattern makers. New sewists find posts from those value distributors, click on a hashtag for the pattern, and then start the loop all over again.

So what’s the connection between product and content here? Instagram’s hashtag functionality allows value-distributors to easily tag their posts with the right pattern. As more people do so, it becomes easier for new sewists to find popular patterns, and also get inspiration for their own makes. Without this distribution-mechanism, it would be significantly harder to restart the new-customer acquisition loop.

As you’re thinking about your own product and content pairing, think about what’s required within the product to make your value creators and value distributors successful as quickly as possible.

Piecing it together









Question from @
Beth
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How do I negotiate my ideal salary after I get a job offer?

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Victoria Young
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Victoria Young
Previously: 

If you’re putting in the work, you deserve to be paid what you’re worth. Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re face to face with a recruiter or your manager. Because sometimes…a pesky little thing called impostor syndrome can get in the way.

Good news is that there is a proven process for getting the most out of your job negotiations. Here are our top tips:

1. Focus on creating a “we’re in this together” relationship

Instead of having a me vs. you conversation, cultivate a collaborative tone. Focus on problem-solving toward a mutually optimized solution for both parties. Make it clear to the hiring team that you’re working hard to get across the finish line alongside them.  

2. Make sure they see the value that you bring

Demonstrate why you are worth the compensation that you are asking for. It is not enough that the company likes you, they have to understand why they should pay you what you are asking for. What are you bringing to the table? How will you create business value? Preparing a pitch or sharing a sample strategic approach can help make your value-add undeniable and concrete. 

3. Research industry and market baselines

In a negotiation, it’s important to be pushing for what’s within reason in an informed way. You want to avoid losing credibility by asking for compensation that is entirely out of line with the market. Do your research so you know what compensation packages are typical for this role in the industry through websites like Glassdoor, Blind, or Levels.fyi. If you have mentors or know others in a similar role, ask them what they think is an appropriate range.

4. Consider being creative with tradeoffs

Remember: your prospective employer doesn’t go into the job offer process trying to give you an unfair package. They have other factors that they need to consider like titles, salary bands, standardized expectations, etc. They need to ensure that your compensation is something that the company can afford, and is sustainable in the long run. They also want to make sure that your salary is in line with what others in your role are making as well. Keep in mind their perspective and be flexible with some of the factors they may have more control over, like titles or bonuses.

5. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

You might not be able to get the exact compensation package you want because it may not be feasible for the organization at that point in time. However, it is not all about the salary, but how this role will impact the trajectory of your career. Remember why you want this role as a whole, and how it might set you up for further success in the future as you negotiate. 

Question from @
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How do you level up in a product org if you're handling a key, but not a significant or revenue-generating vertical?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

For a PM, leveling up in a product org is a function of controllable inputs (e.g. performance, scope, execution, timeline delivery, consistency) and external factors that are beyond your direct control (e.g. organization funding and resource allocation, scope of role, growth of team, overall prioritization, leadership advocacy, etc.).

In your situation, it seems that you’re responsible for a key vertical, but it is not the highest priority within the organization. In this case, maximizing on the controllable inputs is a given, but to level up your career you will also need to influence the external factors. Here is my advice for you - 

1. Scope expansion:

To level up you need to proactively expand the scope of your role, either within the current vertical or beyond. In most product orgs, PMs are expected to consistently perform at the next level (with increased scope) for a certain period of time (3-6 months) before being considered for a promotion to GPM.

One of the most natural ways to justify the request for scope expansion is demonstrable product growth. But if it is hard to demonstrate product growth/impact (since it isn't a revenue generating vertical) then you should consider taking on more responsibilities outside of your current vertical, wherever a fit seems natural. In your case, I would consider adding on PM responsibilities for the other verticals that are supported by the retail onboarding vertical.  

2. Managing PMs:

As a GPM, one of the core responsibilities is to directly manage and lead a team of PMs. The transition from being an individual contributor to a group PM doesn’t come naturally to all (at least not to me).

To gain support from your manager and leadership, you’ll need to demonstrate the ability to delegate and lead fellow PMs in their roles. While you’re not expected to have prior management experience for a promotion, it certainly helps to show how you’ve built scalable frameworks, mechanisms and processes across teams for defining feature requirements, stakeholder management, driving prioritization, trade offs and data-driven decisions. 

3. Leadership advocacy:

You will eventually need the right level of support and advocacy from your direct leadership to successfully transition to a “head of product” role. Typically, the leadership expects hard evidence on how you can consistently balance between big picture and details, effectively communicate (written and verbal) with your leadership, customers and key stakeholders, and most importantly, unblock your teams by defining a clear and scalable process for prioritization, trade-offs and data-driven decision making. To gain trust from your leadership, you should work proactively on collecting, documenting and sharing this evidence with them, and collecting their feedback for course correction, as and when needed. 

In summary, you should continue to maximize on the controllable inputs (performance, consistency, execution), but to level up your career you will also need to influence the external factors, such as, scope expansion, leadership support, building scalable processes and stakeholder management.

My final advice is to vocalize your career goals to your manager and closely work with them on creating an action plan and timeline for achieving your career goals. This will be an iterative process so you should create intermediate milestones and regular checkpoints with your manager, so that you can learn, get constructive feedback, and course correct, if and when needed.

Question from @
Anirudha
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How technical does a PM need to be?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

Broadly speaking, the responsibilities of a tech PM are in-line with a non-tech PM. As a PM, in general, your responsibility is to define the “what” and “why” of a problem statement, and work alongside your internal stakeholders to define the “how” and “when” of the solution.

The difference between the two roles lies in the execution and stakeholder management. While you’re not required to read or write code as a tech PM, you’re expected to define the details of technical feature specifications, navigate tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblock engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.

To do this well, you need to have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of the engineering system design and technical architecture of the product. This applies not just to non-tech PMs transitioning to tech, but also to the tech PMs transitioning from one field to another.

For example, when I transitioned from cloud computing to machine learning (ML) as tech PM at AWS, I had to invest significant time and effort into understanding the key concepts and techniques involved in ML and natural language processing.

From my experience, here is an effective framework that will smoothen your transition into a new role as a tech PM:  

1) Shadow your engineering teams:

Shadowing is often used as a technique to onboard new hires to a specific role in an organization. In my experience, shadowing has worked as an effective way to learn and acquire new skills that are more complex in nature, such as API design and ML development. Shadowing involves attending meetings where you can observe engineering discussions, trade off conversations, spring planning, feature breakdown and prioritization discussions. Shadowing should be non-obstructive i.e. you shouldn’t slow down the progress of the team. You should take rigorous notes and follow up with teams on your questions, preferably asynchronously. 

2) Dive deep into engineering documentation:

Good engineering teams are disciplined about maintaining a detailed repository of internal documentation for engineering designs and technical architecture of the product. This documentation acts as a great resource for PMs to learn about the fundamentals of engineering concepts and the PMs must take full advantage of it. In addition to the technical documentation, PMs should also ask for access to all the relevant product requirement documents and feature definitions from the previous launches, when available. 

3) Self Learning:

The self-learning approach is a great way for PMs to accelerate their skill-set expansion and career growth. When I transitioned to ML as tech PM, I benefited a lot from the ML course collection by Andrew Ng on Coursera. I highly suggest finding targeted and self-paced courses that are aligned with your learning goals and are within your budget. Coursera and Udacity are my personal favorites when it comes to MOOC platforms, but there are a lot of open online courses available on a diverse range of technical topics. I’ve listed some of the most popular tech courses in the appendix below.

In summary, great tech PMs excel at defining the details of technical feature specifications, navigating tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblocking engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.

The journey of transitioning to tech PM can be smoothened by following the best practices of i) shadowing your engineering teams and observing their discussions in a non-obstructive way, ii) diving deep into the engineering and technical documentation and asking questions asynchronous, and iii) self-learning approach via self-faced and targeted courses that are aligned with your learning goals. 

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What is the most effective way to pivot into Product Management without experience or opportunities to do so?

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Natalie Rothfels
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Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
Previously: 

First, I want to acknowledge that this is a tough one because it’s not all in your control. So much of the recruiting experience is broken, and we are still living within the confines of systems that make it really hard to break into any position of power if you don’t already have it. And that can be incredibly frustrating.

So let’s first name all the things that are most certainly not in your control but that end up having a big impact on your ability to get any job, qualified or not.

Factors outside of your control

  • Whether hiring committees are following best practices of fair resume review (e.g, obfuscating names and irrelevant information)
  • Whether hiring committees actually have a structured rubric against which you are being evaluated, and then questions that align to that rubric
  • Whether the skills you’re asked to show within an interview actually match up with the skills required for the job
  • Whether there’s a job position that’s actually open or under active recruitment
  • The market conditions (including hiring freezes)
  • Whether other people give you a chance and can see how your existing skills are transferable or relevant
  • Systemic biases that favor past experiences over future potential

Given that depressing list, the reality is that moving into any “exclusive” job is going to be fraught with power struggles. So if you’re having any of those frustrations, know you’re not alone.

Factors within your control

The good news is that there are some things that are in your control.

  • Deeply understanding the job and the skills required for it

    • Not all PMing is created equal, both inside of a company and across companies. A core product PM is different than a Growth PM, who is different from a 0 → 1 PM. Adam Fishman and Keya Patel hve a great piece on those differences here.
    • Similarly, the company type and stage is going to have very different needs and standards for PMs. Large corporations have very rigorous and standardized hiring processes. Series A startups have very different needs and gaps. Understand which companies might be looking for which product skills that most match up to what you bring to the table.
  • Understand which skill competencies you have and lack

    • PMing is a notoriously breadth-focused job that requires a wide base of baseline competencies. Ravi Mehta has a great articulation of those competencies here. Understand the full lifecycle of product development and articulate which parts you may need to level-up in.
    • You will need to highlight your existing competencies and mitigate against your weaker areas, either by growing them in advance of trying to make the transition, aiming for a position that mostly requires those strengths, or crafting a clear plan for how you’ll up-level when you transition (e.g, like taking a guided sprint)
  • Clarify how your past experience translates into a PM job

    • I used to be a teacher before I moved into Product. There are so many relevant transferable skills. For example:
      • My ability to command attention and rally a disparate, chaotic group of people towards an outcome. Classroom management is no joke. Neither is aligning 10 people to row a boat in the same direction towards a goal.
      • My willingness to go with whatever shows up and not know the answer. Teachers have plans, but they have to respond in real time to whatever is actually happening in their classrooms. Product management is no different.
      • My ability to manage multiple stakeholders. Teachers are never just teaching. They’re dealing with administrators, parents, siblings, counselors, caretakers, and more. Product leaders are constantly dealing with different needs from different people and must prioritize across them.
  • Try to articulate how your current job or past experiences are relevant to the Product competencies, and then craft a story about how you can use one for the other.

Paths for moving into a Product role

My strong recommendation for pivoting to product is to attempt to move laterally from another role inside your company. Why?

  • In general, it’s much easier to transfer laterally within an organization that already knows you than to attempt to enter into a different company in a brand new role. Your existing company knows your skills, your work ethic, and your impact inside the organization. They will have a much easier time imagining you within a new role. You can also pre-empt any open headcount within an organization if they know you're looking. That's impossible to do when you're on the outside of a company. 

  • Articulate what you want and why to your manager (and eventually whoever is responsible for the Product org, too). Your manager should be there to support your current and long-term growth, whether that’s inside the company or not. Managers are humans too, and they want to do a good job helping you get to where you want to go. But how are they supposed to help if they don’t know what you want? If you have a supportive relationship with your manager, a good starting point is to share where you see yourself going, why, and what kind of support you’re looking for from them. If you’ve done your homework to understand the skills required for the PM job, you can then present a clear map of how you already have those skills, or highlight which ones you want to work on to set yourself up for being able to make the pivot if a position becomes available.

  • Recognize that internal changes take time. The more you can set yourself up for a shift over quarters rather than weeks, the better for everyone. When there are fewer surprises for everyone, the better.

There are, of course, other ways to move into Product, but your mileage may vary:

  • There’s the now-seemingly-traditional path of getting an MBA, getting a summer internship, and then hoping for a full time offer. I know plenty of PMs who have done this, but I honestly think it’s an extremely inaccessible option for most people. First of all, business school is super expensive and requires you to take two years away from an operator role. Secondly, organizations are still really biased! If you don’t go to a top 5 business school, it’s easy to be at the bottom of the pile (ugh!). Again, totally inaccessible.

  • There are courses, like through Product School, General Assembly, and Reforge. But my experience is that there’s a bias amongst hiring managers for people who have done the job in a real context before because companies are not courses. Courses rarely give you the sandbox to have to navigate the interpersonal and leadership demands of PMing, yet those two competencies are high determiners for PM success.

Stay focused on your lane

Let’s sum it up:

  • Focus on the things that are in your control. Really get clear on not only why you want to PM, but what kind of PM role you’re looking for and what your current skill gaps are for that role.
  • Don’t keep it a secret — tell people you know who can help you move that you’re trying to make the transition. Your manager is included in this, but don’t spring it on them and expect an immediate change. They hired you to do a different role, and unless they’re really supportive…it’s actually not in their best interest to have you leave their team! In turn, you need to get really clear on your hope and goal, but also your asks from them. Are you hoping for support on a specific skill? Are you hoping they can help advocate for you internally? Think of the best case scenario you’re looking for, and work back from there.
  • You’ll likely have more success moving laterally than getting a brand new gig somewhere else. Teams that already know you and your work already have a baseline of trust! It’s actually usually cheaper for them to hire from within for an open role rather than have to build a pipeline and interview from scratch. Think about what it would be like to be a PM at your current company, and make the case for it.
  • Remember, change takes time. Slow and steady until you’ve got the skills, and then it’s all about finding the opportunities to showcase them.
Question from @
Tasha G
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What strategies are there to achieve product driven growth for products in a niche market?

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Natalie Rothfels
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Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
Previously: 

Your product-led growth strategy hinges on (at least) 3 factors

1. Product stage

If you haven’t yet found market fit, your goal should be to find the right problem with the right solution for a market that cares enough about that problem to want to pay for your solution. Your growth strategy should be in direct service of that and only that. Trying to grow too early without any market fit will leave you an extremely leaky funnel (and a bad taste in people’s mouths…since you only have so many chances to make a good impression). We’ve seen this in the last 18 months with Clubhouse, which hit a viral peak in early 2021 and has since apparently lost 70% of its users.

If you have found market fit, your growth strategy should be influenced by the other factors below.

2. Customer insights + value prop

How do people use your product? Is it a social product that grows in value as more people come onto the platform (e.g, Reddit)? Is it a transactional product that people only come to once in a while (e.g, CarMax)? Is it a subscription product with a physical delivery of goods or services (e.g, MeUndies)? You need to start with how people are using your product, where they’re spending their time, and what they’re actually doing on platform that could be exploited for growth to new users.

Let’s take each of the above examples and see how their product-driven growth strategy may differ.

  • Reddit: Each time someone posts on Reddit, their posts are indexed by Google and searchable by a new user. The more users on the platform who are posting or engaging with various features, the more value each subsequent new user may get when they land on a Reddit page. Because the mechanic of the core product is all about asking-and-answering (or posting and responding), this content-driven SEO growth strategy matches the natural human behavior on the platform.

  • CarMax: It’s not every day that you’re going to buy a used car. Infrequent products require very different growth strategies because it’s challenging to gain enough understanding of users if they only come to your product once or twice a decade. Vivek Kumar has written about this extensively in his ICED Theory post. He recommends growth strategies that increase the predictability of knowing the time of a transaction (e.g, when you’ll buy a car) and increasing the frequency and volume of touchpoints with the brand (e.g, content marketing that keeps the brand top-of-mind early on any infrequent-but-lengthly purchase decision).

  • MeUndies: Wearing underwear may not be a niche market, but buying an underwear subscription may well be. That said, the decision to buy underwear is (usually) not a social one, nor one that requires deep decision-making investment (like buying a car or understanding taxes). But their customer — I don’t know, probably a millennial, urban socialite who cares about quality, ease, and playful self-expression — does spend time on social media and shops heavily online. Paid marketing on Instagram as a growth strategy may be high ROI because that’s where this audience already lives and is buying clothing. While paid marketing itself isn’t purely product-driven growth, getting folks to “match undies” with their partner once they’ve landed on the site certainly is.

3. Your pricing structure

When bootstrapping a product for initial market-fit, you may need to pay upfront to acquire new users. But over time, you want to be careful about how your cost structure works so that acquisition of new users doesn’t cost more than the value they bring to your platform.

Product-driven growth generally assumes a lower cost of acquisition. After all, if the product is “growing itself,” you don’t have to go out and pay for new customers through traditional channels. That said, different growth strategies have different costs. Depending on you goals, these strategies may be more or less attractive.

Let’s walk through how pricing works for the examples above.

  • Reddit. Because Reddit is a user-generated content site, and drives growth primarily through SEO and virality, they primarily monetize through on-platform advertising. They more eyes on their site, the more demand they can drive from advertisers. Money from advertising can then be re-invested in other mechanisms that continue to drive growth (whether that’s advertiser tooling, improving core engagement features, or expanding to new use cases or markets).

  • CarMax. CarMax also takes advantage of network effects by serving both sellers and buyers of used cars. Because CarMax is an infrequent product on high-ticket items and because they capture both supply and demand of used cars, their pricing structure is different than a regular used car dealership. They can focus on high throughput of vehicles at lower prices because the chances of selling a car on their platform is higher given their national network of local stores. Their growth strategy — to open up new dealerships to capture local supply that can then be sold anywhere across the country — is product-driven because people looking for a new car can purchase online from any CarMax and have it delivered locally.

  • MeUndies. Changing customer behavior from one-time-purchase of underwear to a subscription is no easy feat, but enables MeUndies to invest in both product- and marketing-driven growth tactics because each individual customer likely has higher LTV. As each new customer comes aboard and enjoys the product, they are more likely to recommend it to people they know and increase virality, which drops the cost of new user acquisition even further.

The connection between audience, value prop, pricing structure, and product stage will help you determine which options from the menu of growth strategies to choose from.

What are different product-driven growth strategies?

Since we’re talking about product-driven growth, I’m going to ignore sales and paid marketing motions, though they may be even more powerful for you depending on your product and audience (so don’t discount them just because PLG is hot these days!).

Start by articulating what growth means to you: who you’re trying to reach and through what type of lever — acquisition or revenue?

Note that I’m assuming acquisition isn’t just about getting a new set of eyeballs to your product. Instead, it’s about getting a new user activated and on their way to retained. Acquiring new users who never activate or retain is never a good growth strategy.

  • Are you trying to acquire new users in your existing niche? (e.g, find more people who are high-intent and meet your existing well-retained user profile who could be using your product)
  • Are you trying to deepen the value you’re getting from existing users in your niche? (e.g, usually through increasing value prop or use cases served and then charging more)
  • Are you trying to grow to new users in an adjacent segment? (e.g, find people who share the use cases you serve but may be in a different vertical)
  • Are you trying to grow to capture an adjacent segment with different needs at a higher price point (e.g, going up-market from mid-market to enterprise)

Determine what quadrant you want to play in and why. Then articulate how people in that quadrant are going to find your product through the product mechanics itself. There’s really only a handful of sustainable and compounding product-driven growth loops.

  • SEO: This is usually driven by content that gets in front of people early on in their journey to your product (NerdWallet does this through content marketing around managing your finances; Yelp does this through restaurant reviews). SEO works best for products that are inherently content-oriented or that can produce large catalogues and create wide surface area that can be indexed by search engines (Etsy, IKEA, etc).

  • Virality (word-of-mouth): This is usually driven by your product experience just being really awesome…so much so that other people start talking about it and people join the parade. Think about why and how a user of your product would tell someone else about it, and then design around that motivation. For example, Substack newsletter subscribers often forward a newsletter to their friends because they’re motivated by sharing knowledge, seeming well-read, or being in some sort of social dialogue. Designers using Figma often share their files with Product Managers in order to enable them to collaborate. Virality works best for products that her inherent social, sharing collaboration features (e.g, Dropbox, Tiktok, Bumble)

  • Network-effects: Marketplaces where supply and demand can grow each other can be particularly magical for growth. Faire is a good example of this — existing retailers bring new brands to the platform, who in turn drive demand from other retailers.

*Note that I haven’t discussed here specific activation strategies (e.g, offering freemium trial to new customers so they can try-before-they-buy). Once people arrive at your product, platform, or storefront…you still need to active them effectively.

If you’re trying to bootstrap a product that doesn’t yet have market-fit, you may off for less-sustainable strategies to see your product grow. Lenny has a great list of what he calls “Turbo boosts” in this post about kickstarting growth.

Putting it all together

  • Growth is not just one thing. It’s really about the successful pairing of audience, value prop, pricing structure, and product stage. To come up with a good strategy for how to grow sustainably, you need to think of all four of those in concert together. And you need to ensure that the strategy you deploy actually activates new customers, not just brings them to the platform only to then immediately churn.

  • Approach niche markets with the same principles as you would any market: focus on a clear customer problem, ensure people actually care enough about that problem that they’re willing to pay for a solution for it, and ensure that your solution actually solves that problem at the right price point.

  • Sometimes it’s better to deepen your offerings within a market rather than expand to adjacent markets. Revenue growth within a segment is sometimes less expensive than expanding to multiple segments.

  • If you’ve already hit product-market fit, your product-driven growth strategies will likely stem from either SEO, virality, or network effects. By focusing on the customer insights of how people actually use your product in their real lives, you can get clued into which of those strategies is likely to be highest leverage.

Question from @
Sid
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What are best practices and tips for managing features “requests” and roadmap steering from founders, co-founders, and CEOs?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

The process for managing product feature requests (PFRs) from founders and CEO should be no different than managing PFRs from the other internal stakeholders, such as, marketing, sales and customer service.

PMs should define and establish a transparent and centralized process that captures all the required context for roadmap prioritization. Sometimes, the senior leadership (CEO, founders) might have additional context which isn’t captured well in a typical PFR process, such as, customer commitments, learnings from past launches, board requests, budget constraints, external competition, etc. This can be a reason for them to either bypass or frequently tweak the PFR prioritization to prioritize their intended features. However, this practice is neither scalable nor healthy for the long term growth of a company.

Based on my work experience, here are some best practices to manage PFRs from across the organization, especially CEO and senior leadership: 

1. Centralized Product Feature Request (PFR) Process:

PMs should establish a centralized and transparent PFR process for submitting new product feature requests to the product team. You can use many existing tools like pendo, asana and salesforce to set up a PFR process in your organization.

The features requests can be categorized as follows -- i) New features ii) Improving existing functionality iii) Bug fixes

Each feature request should be submitted with additional context for prioritization, such as, feature description, priority, expected completion timeline, customer impact (quantifiable metrics), any customer commitments offered, effort estimation and an open field for additional context.

PMs should regularly review the consolidated feedback from PFRs with the senior leadership and also ensure that the prioritized features can easily funnel into the overall product roadmap. 

2. Working-backwards Strategy:

While the PFR process is a reactive mechanism of driving the product roadmap, developing a working-backwards strategy is a much more proactive way of building a future-focused product roadmap.

The “working backwards” method, also known as the Amazon method, is a methodology pioneered by product teams at Amazon, where all projects work backwards from the ideal customer end state. This method flips product development on its head by challenging teams to focus on the product’s benefits rather than the features.

I’ve shared some resources below that explain the process of developing a working-backwards product strategy in an organization. 

In summary, PMs should strive to set up a centralized and transparent PFR management process, which is consistent across all internal stakeholders, including the CEO and founders. Additionally, PMs should also proactively develop a working-backwards product strategy that enables the product and engineering teams to make more data driven decisions and focus on delivering the product benefit rather than just a series of features. 

Question from @
Tyson
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What’s the best way to manage early stage Pre-PMF chaos where founders and internal stakeholders are expecting a lot of new features to be released in an unreasonably short period of time?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
Answered by 
Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

Having recently transitioned from a FAANG company to an early stage tech startup, I can relate to this question at many levels. First, I will unpack the question a bit further and share my own learnings - 

1. “Early stage Pre-PMF chaos”

It is important to realize that the pre-PMF chaos is a core feature of an early stage startup, not a bug. Some of the best hires in an early stage startup are individuals who can thrive in ambiguity. They try to embrace the chaos as a catalyst agent that can accelerate their path towards PMF. In an early stage startup, your goal as a PM is to drive enough clarity and prioritization to keep reducing the overall ambiguity, and not necessarily eliminating it altogether.

2. “Founders and internal stakeholders are expecting a lot”

Expectation management is an important, yet often overlooked, part of early stage startup's operations. It is an ever-evolving process, which should be well documented, regularly reviewed and (over)communicated across all stakeholders of a company, including the founders and board members.

3. “New features to be released in an unreasonably short period of time”

Feature velocity is one of the core differentiations between early stage startups and big tech. As a PM, your goal is to balance feature velocity against timely execution of must-have features that have a clear impact on your business goals. This will require you to push back on (or break down) features that are either ambiguously defined or don’t have a clear impact on your team’s goals. At my startup, I strictly use our business goals as a yardstick to drive clarity and prioritization of our feature roadmap.

Now that we’ve unpacked the questions and shared some learnings, I’ll provide more tactical suggestions to address your concerns:





Establish engineering and design sprints: I highly recommend establishing a mechanism to break down your entire development process into granular pieces i.e. sprints and assign clear scope and feature prioritization for each sprint. It is important to ensure that you’ve set clear expectations with all stakeholders that the scope of a sprint will be locked until completion, unless there is a strong reason for a change. In an early stage startup, it might not be feasible (or healthy) to run longer duration sprints of 2+ weeks, so you can keep the duration of each sprint to be under 7 days. You should also account for 10-15% of the sprint time (buffer time) for change of scope of the planned features as that will be a common occurrence at this stage of the company. During the course of a sprint, if any planned feature is taking longer than expected or the scope has increased along the way, then the buffer time can be used to account for it. Any new feature request, outside the scope of the current sprint, should automatically move to a product backlog which must be reviewed with all stakeholders before assigning and locking the scope for the next sprint. This process requires discipline and respect from all stakeholders and it's the PM and Engineering Manager’s job to drive that respect over time. 





Defining the Minimum Lovable Product and prioritizing brutally: As a PM, it is important to distinguish between false rush requirements and true business needs, especially when you’re in the pre-PMF stage of your company and have limited resources at your disposal. The first step is to have a clear definition of the MLP (minimum lovable product), and to gain your team and leadership’s alignment on it. Once the MLP is defined and under development, any new feature requests outside the scope of the current MLP should be transferred to the product backlog. This will require you to strongly push back and brutally prioritize between features, when necessary. Ensure that your prioritization mechanisms are explainable and consistent. The MLP definition and the product backlog should be reviewed with the team and leadership, every 3-5 weeks, to account for new learnings, industry trends, customer requirements and competition.

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that the pre-PMF chaos is a core feature of an early start startup, not a bug. Your core job, as a PM, is to navigate through ambiguity while balancing continuous development and accounting for the evolving requirements.

This requires you to focus on:

(i) managing expectations with all stakeholders through well documented processes and over-communication
(ii) driving more respect and discipline towards the engineering and design sprints; adjusting the sprint duration based on your evolving business needs and pace
(iii) setting a clear definition for your MLP, gaining alignment from your leadership and driving brutal prioritization between planned and new features, through explainable and consistent prioritization mechanisms.

Question from @
Ank
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How do we strategize our PM careers for the long term?

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Shivansh Chaudhary
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Shivansh Chaudhary
Chief Product & Technology Officer @ Fabric | Previously Product Lead @ AWS and Amazon, Engineer @ National Instruments
Previously: 

For a PM, managing your career is akin to managing a product. Similar to a product launch, the success of your long-term career depends on how well you can define and execute on your (i) overall goals, (ii) success metrics and (iii) mechanisms to measure success. In my personal experience, intentionally planning out my career goals has been as important as executing on the career path. Here is my career-planning framework that’ll help you in planning and defining the 3 core requirements of a long-term career strategy: 

  1. Setting your career goals: As a PM, you can choose to take multiple career paths based on your background, interests and opportunities that come your way. But it's important to be intentional about your choices (i.e. career decisions), especially in the mid to mature stages of your career. Proactively setting your career goals is one of the most effective ways of guiding your decision making process. You must ensure that your goals are Future-focused, Actionable, Measurable, Inspiring, and Ambitious. For example, here are some of my goals that I have defined over the last decade of my PM career: 
    1. Launch a “0 to 1” product, from ideation to launch, over the next 18 months
    2. Consistently launch products with a large engineering team (50+ SWEs) over 24 months
    3. Get promoted to a Principal PM in the next 3 years, 
    4. Transitioning from Principal PM to Director PM in the next 2 years
  2. Defining the career success metrics: Defining the success metrics is critical to ensuring that your career path and actions are aligned with your career goals. When defined correctly, the metrics are a great indicator of your progress, alignment and/or deviation from your goals. But remember, there is no one-size-fits-all metric to define your career success. You should take the time to identify the right metrics for your goals. Ideally, there should be no more than 3 success metrics for each of your career goals. Here are examples of success metrics for some of my goals that are mentioned above:
    1. Goal: Launch a “0 to 1” product, from ideation to launch, over the next 18 months - Success metrics: 
      1. Product concept idea approved by senior leadership in first 30 days 
      2. Launch within +/- 30 days of the initial launch date
      3. Final launch scope should be 85% or higher than the initial launch scope 
    2. II. Goal: Get promoted to a Principal PM in the next 3 years - Success metrics: 
      1. Get buy-in from the direct manager on the path to promotion by the end of year 1. 
      2. Identify strengths, gaps and action plan based on the promotion leveling matrix by year 1. 
      3. Learn new skills for managing data science and machine learning teams by year 2
  3. Identifying Mechanisms to measure success: After clearly defining your career goals and success metrics, the next step is to identify and establish the mechanisms to measure success in a repeatable way. The mechanisms should be inclusive of the internal factors (personal satisfaction, family and health, learning and growth) and external factors (manager/peer reviews, customer feedback, industry trends, etc). Here are some examples of mechanism to measure success metrics: 
    1. Quarterly Review with Manager: Your manager’s support and timely feedback can act as a catalyst for your career goals. You should set up quarterly reviews with your manager where you can review your progress towards the goals and success metrics. Ensure that you have clear takeaways and actions from the meeting, so that you can apply them moving forward. 
    2. Personal satisfaction: Personal satisfaction is an absolute must for your career success. You should ask yourself some basic questions that are reflective of your personal satisfaction towards your career. You can use your responses as a yardstick e to review and re-evaluate your goals and success metrics. Here are some example questions to ask -  1. Do you find your work interesting and fascinating? 2. Do you enjoy/look forward to working with your peers? 3. Can you clearly see the impact of your contribution at your work?
    3. Peer reviews: Proactively gather feedback (both positive and constructive) from your customers and peers at regular intervals.. This is also an effective mechanism to gain support from peers who will advocate and vouch for your performance and growth, at the time of promotion and annual raise. 
    4. New Learnings: Learnings are an important, yet often overlooked, component of your PM career success. In my observation, lack of continuous learning is one of the most common reasons for PM career stagnation. You should identify and set mechanisms to measure that rate of acquisition of new skills, which can act as a forcing function to push you further  towards acquiring new skills for your PM career growth.  

In conclusion, I recommend PMs to manage and plan their careers just like they manage their products. Take the time to intentionally set the overall goals and identify the right success metrics for your career. You should review these goals and success metrics with your managers and peers through repeatable and scalable mechanisms. Don't be afraid to change your goals and metrics, if they aren’t aligned with your interests anymore. Just like any product launch, managing your career is a continuously iterative process, and progress matters more than perfection.

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Aravind Ravichandran
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How do I create a winning resume that lands a Product Manager interview, without a Top University CS or MBA degree?

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Ravi Mehta
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Ravi Mehta
Founder & CEO @ Scale Higher | Previously: EIR @ Reforge, CPO @ Tinder, Product @ Facebook, TripAdvisor, Xbox
Previously: 

The unfortunate reality is that recruiters spend very little time with each resume as they decide who to screen for a role. In about 60 seconds, a recruiter will determine whether you are qualified for the entry level they are looking to fill.

I've hired about two dozen people into their first product role. Every one of their resumes had what I like to call the Scent of a Product Manager (not nearly as alluring as Al Pacino's movie Scent of a Woman, but important nonetheless).

Although you haven't had a full-time PM role, there are ways to position yourself as a high potential, qualified candidate. Let's look at five ways you can use to add this signal to your resume. 

# 1. Complete a PM Course

As a first step, it's a good idea to take a course designed for new PMs, such as Reforge's Product Management Foundations or Product School's Product Manager Certification. These programs are well-regarded and demonstrate that you've invested in the foundation necessary to be a great PM. In many ways, they are more useful than full-time Computer Science and MBA degrees which don't cover Product Management in as much depth as a dedicated program.

# 2. Help a startup for free

Your first PM role doesn't need to be a paid role. Startups are resource constrained, and many would welcome the help. In order to do this well, you need to be clear about where you can add the most value. Often, you can draw from prior experience. For example, if you've worked with financial services companies, you are uniquely qualified to help a FinTech startup define, launch, and optimize their product.

#3. Launch your own product

The proliferation of powerful no-code tools mean that its easier than ever to create a valuable product. You can build and launch a product in a matter of weeks. For example, after reading an article titled "How I launched a profitable product in 3 hours", I created and launched and launched a product in a couple of weeks that helped me learn about SEM, SEO, and rapid prototyping tools.

Congrats, you've not only landed your first product role, but you've also launched a product! This is a fantastic signal to have on your resume about your readiness to take on a full-time product role.

#4. Write about a product-related topic

The big problem with resumes is that they all look the same — recruiters & hiring managers scan resumes for keywords (like the names of recognizable companies, well-known schools, or experience with relevant tools) to help them differentiate between stacks of similar resumes. But, there's another way to stand out.

Very few candidates link to material about themselves — because they haven't published anything to link to. I'll almost always check out a website, Substack, or Github profile if one is listed. I can immediately get a window into how a person thinks that is much more three dimensional than the rigid bullet-point format of resumes.

So, pick a topic that you are passionate about and start publishing your work. You can link to it at the top of your resume and even include 1-2 article snippets (title + brief) in the Outside projects section at the bottom of your resume.

#5. Rewrite your resume with clear PM signals

Steps 1-4 are designed to expand your PM foundation. Now that you've taken those steps, its important to re-write your resume so that the "Scent of a Product Manager" is really clear. Put emphasis on the experiences that best prepare you for your first full-time product role. Make sure that keywords, like "analytics, product requirements, custom research, etc." are used throughout your resume.

I'm including some additional references below. Product Management is different than a lot of careers — there are no gateways into the profession, and you don't need "permission" to become a product manager like in other fields such as law and medicine. Companies look for PMs that have the requisite skills and — more importantly — the drive to build and launch great products.

Question from @
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What are important points to consider when pricing connected smart products?

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Ravi Mehta
Answered by 
Ravi Mehta
Founder & CEO @ Scale Higher | Previously: EIR @ Reforge, CPO @ Tinder, Product @ Facebook, TripAdvisor, Xbox
Previously: 

It turns out, this is an old problem surfacing in a new way. In the early 1900's, King Camp Gillette started a new company with a very new business model. Gillette invented the first disposable razor and blade system. Gillette's new system promised customers a sharp shave every time, and promised his company a steady stream of recurring revenue. 

Accordingly to legend, he also invented a profit-maximizing business model. He realized he could lower the price of the razors (i.e., selling below cost) to expand his installed base, and he could make his profits with high priced blades. The "Razor and blades business model" was born. Today, successful examples of this model include video games (low priced game consoles, high priced games), printers (low priced printers, high priced ink), and pod-based coffee systems like Nespresso and Keurig.

Or, that's how the legend goes. The truth is more complicated — and more instructive. Gillette patented his new technology, giving him a monopoly on the market. He also positioned the Gillette razor blade as a luxury product. At launch, Gillette's disposable razors cost five times more than the average fixed razor.

Gillette made his initial fortune with high priced razors and high priced blades. Today, we see many examples of this approach, the most famous being Apple. Apple makes a lot of money from secondary products (App Store fees, various service subscriptions), but does not need to lower device prices to expand its installed based. Similarly, Peloton's hardware products have a premium price.

Gillette's patents expired in the 1920's. At this time, cheap razors flooded the market. Gillette knew that cheap razors might tempt his loyal customers to switch to a new system, so he dropped the price of his razors to maintain market share. He also invented and patented a fancy new razor available at a more premium price for more upmarket customers. Gillette follows this same strategy today, with some joking about how far they'll go.

Phew, that was a lot of history. Let's get back to your question:  What are the points to consider when pricing connected smart products?

A connected smart product is similar to a "razor and blade" system. You have an initial purchase, the connected hardware (i.e., the razor) and secondary purchases in the form of a cloud subscription (i.e., the blades).

The Gillette case illustrates three fundamental elements to this type of pricing strategy:

1. Pricing power at initial purchase 2. Attach rate on the secondary purchases 3. Switching costs to a new system

Pricing power at initial purchase

The price of the initial purchase can vary a lot — from a premium price for a highly demanded product to entirely free giveaways. For example, the personal training service Future, loaned new users Apple Watches in the early days of growing their subscriber base. Some companies have gone as far as to pay people to join their system.

There are two problems to solve. The first is that you want to capture as much demand as possible. In industries with "razor and blade" business models, market share is often "captive" (i.e, its difficult for people to switch into a new system). For this reason, capturing market share is key to having a defensible position.

The second is that you want to capture as much revenue as possible, but you can only do this if demand for the product is high. Apple can simultaneously command high prices for their devices and capture significant market share. On the other hand, Amazon needed to offer its Alexa devices at a low price in order to create and capture the smart home market.

Notably, pricing power often changes over the lifecycle of a system. In Gillette's case, they lost pricing power when patents expired. They solved this by launching a new system with patented technology while growing their established system. In other cases, pricing power can increase as market share increases and more people get locked into the system. This has happened with Apple devices.

So, the key question to ask is: What price should we set to maximize market share growth and capture the most value?

Attach rate on the secondary purchases

The "razor and blade" business model derives most of its value from providing customers with supplies once they are part of the system: blades, video games, ink, and cloud services. This revenue is generated because customers are "attached" to the system (hence the term, attach rate). 

The attach rate is important because it is the major driver of lifetime value (LTV). Companies should consider the entire lifetime value when making strategic decisions. For example, companies often borrow from future revenue to subsidize the price of the initial purchase (allowing them to capture more market share). This is the reason people got used to paying almost nothing for $1,000 smart phones.

It is critical that companies understand the current attach rate and future optimizations to attach rate. A miscalculation on attach rate can be financially devastating, and small improvements to attach rate can lead to long term competitive advantages.

So, the key question to ask is: How much revenue will we make from secondary purchases and what effect should that have on our initial purchase price?

Switching costs to a new system

Companies with a "razor and blade" business model may not have a lot of pricing power at the initial purchase, but often have considerable pricing power once a customer has adopted the system. This explains the high price of printer inks which cost very little to produce.

However, companies do not have infinite pricing power. If the recurring costs become too great, customers may churn or switch to a new system.

The key factor here are the "switching costs". Theoretically, each time a person purchases a secondary product, like your cloud service, they'll do a quick gut check: is it worth it to stick with this system, or should I switch to something else?

There are some hard costs of switching to a new system (like buying a new razor or a new connected device). In addition, customers face "soft costs" like the inconvenience of making the switch and the uncertainty of whether the new system will meet their needs. It turns out that these soft costs often outweigh the hard costs.

Our friend, King Gillette, made a fortune based on that insight. When his patents expired, conventional wisdom suggested that he should lower prices on both razors and blades.

The presence of low cost, imitation blades should cause people to switch if blade prices are too high. Instead, Gillette realized that people would be reluctant to use a cheap, imitation blade once they were bought into the Gillette system. So, he lowered the price of razors (to compete with the flood of cheap razors based on his expired patents), but kept the cost of blades high.


Pricing individual products is hard -- it's more of an art than a science. Companies must take into account a variety of factors including competition, elasticity of demand, and mental framing.

That challenge becomes even harder for something like a connected smart product which involves both an initial purchase and a recurring subscription.

The "razor and blade" business model provides the insight we need to understand the relationship between the initial purchase and the secondary purchases -- thereby unlocking the most valuable pricing strategy.

To summarize, we need to understand pricing power at the initial purchase, maximize the attach rate for secondary purchases, and create a system with high switching costs (including both hard costs and soft "psychological" costs).

Question from @
Raghav
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What advice do you have for full-time product managers who want to break out of the corporate 9 to 5?

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Ravi Mehta
Answered by 
Ravi Mehta
Founder & CEO @ Scale Higher | Previously: EIR @ Reforge, CPO @ Tinder, Product @ Facebook, TripAdvisor, Xbox
Previously: 

Congratulations on making the decision to step away from the 9-5! You are at the forefront of a growing trend in product. A few years ago, it was difficult to find part-time and freelance product opportunities.

Today, more companies are open to the idea of hiring freelance PMs, and services like Toptal are helping to connect companies with talented product managers and product leaders. In addition, new services like A.Team and Squad Formers are enabling companies to hire entire squads. For freelancers, these services provide the opportunity to work with a consistent team of people without having to commit to a single company. People get the benefit of building camaraderie with a talented group of folks without having to commit to a single company.  

Up until a few years ago, I had a full-time job for my entire career. Every two weeks, I could rely on a consistent paycheck. Making the jump to "1099 life" (the US tax form received by freelancers) requires a little courage and preparation. 

1 - Build some runway

First, you should build some "runway". It takes time to replace your full-time income and its helpful to have 6-12 months of cash set aside to give yourself some cushion.

2 - Make a plan

Secondly, it's worth doing some planning. What types of freelance roles will you focus on? In an ideal world, how much should you charge and how should you package your services? For example, I started with an hourly rate for coaching services, but quickly found that it was better to offer a monthly retainer. During this step, it's really helpful to talk to other folks who have recently started freelancing to get an idea of the market.

Note, I'm assuming you want to start with freelance product roles. Even if you want to generate other income streams (for example, by selling digital products, offering courses, or building a community), it's helpful to start with freelancing. This is the quickest way to begin replacing your income and will help you explore what the market wants. 

3 - Spread the word!

Third, raise your "open to work" flag! Let everyone you know that you are open to freelance opportunities, and ask people for intros to people who may be hiring. You may even be able to negotiate a freelance opportunity with your current employer. Many people are surprised how quickly they land their first paid gig. 

At this point, it's helpful to be flexible on rate. I took my first consulting gig at less than 1/3rd the rate I'd eventually charge. I was also open to working for equity if I knew that I would learn a lot and the role was a jumping off point. 

These early days are the toughest. Its tempting to look at what you are making from your first gig and compare it to your old salary — often fondly remembering those big, consistent bi-weekly pay checks. Don't be too hard on yourself. It's initially hard to replace your salary, but eventually easy to leave that salary in the rearview mirror.

4 - Build your brand

Fourth, start writing, podcasting, or creating video content. You are now your own employer, and great employers have great brands. Freelancers with a brand & an audience are much more likely to be successful over the long-term. 

It may seem daunting at first. But, remember that you are uniquely great at certain things and there are always underserved topics to cover. For example, today there are PMs breaking through the noise with smart content about ML, the creator economy, product-led growth, and Web3. 

In addition, you don't need a million followers. You need to create a presence that shows off your best thinking — if you do, you'll always get the job over another person who hasn't put their ideas out there.

5 - Generate passive income

Lastly, start exploring passive revenue streams. Remember, you wanted to escape the 9-5 to get time and balance back in your life. Freelance work is great, but it is still a matter of trading time for money. The most successful freelancers have multiple sources of income, and often seek to shift from active to passive income. Jack Butcher is a designer, creator, and thought leader who has written a lot about his journey. His story is inspiring, and he offers tools to help people on a similar path. Worth checking out.

Oh, I almost forgot. If you are in the US, taxes look really different for 9-5 employees vs. freelancers and small business owners. A company like Collective is great with helping you make sure your freelance business is setup to maximize your earnings. 

Good luck on your journey. There are risks, but also significant rewards. Over time, you'll build a base of skills, network of relationships, portfolio of projects, sources of income, and reputation that compounds from year-to-year and doesn't reset from job to job.

Many people find that a risky decision to leave their job is the most secure career decision they've ever made.

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How do I get to my peak productivity?

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Charlene Wang
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Charlene Wang
Previously: 

“The single most important resource we allocate from one day to the next is our time.” - Andy Grove

It is increasingly challenging to get things done during a whole day of meetings and seemingly never ending to-do lists in our busy, connected, and dynamic lives. Career stress is also rising: 67% of all workers believe burnout has worsened during the pandemic.

As a startup tech advisor, helping a stellar group of CEOs elevate their core business with technology, and as builder of operational platforms for companies like Din Tai Fung, CVAI, and ed tech companies, I love to take on new challenges. I work with domain experts to transform their business, and each new business presents me with an exciting opportunity that I could hardly say no to.

In continuing to keep up my track record of successes and pursue ongoing growth, I ended up struggling with severe burnout. In 2008, my hyper-stressed nervous system broke down, forcing me to hit the pause button on upcoming opportunities that I was really excited about.

I spent the following year resetting my career and rebalancing my priorities for work, play, and life. Through the process, I learned to define what matters, make time for my goals, and create flow in my daily life.

The truth is that in order to reach peak productivity and maintain momentum, it’s critical to focus on energy management. Like Dr. Julie Gurner says, “Cutting time waste helps you see the landscape and be aggressively strategic.”

Here are the best ways to build up towards your personal peak productivity and momentum.

#1: Master The Art of Attention Direction

Heidegger argued that living a truly authentic life—becoming fully human—means facing up to the fact that finitude defines our lives. The present moment is the only time that matters.

Have you ever gotten caught up in your iPhone scrolling mindlessly on Twitter while in between meetings only to realize 30 minutes have flown by? Similarly, have you ever been fully focused on painting or writing to see that you’ve managed to create something interesting in 30 minutes of being fully present? In the first case, time flies by because your attention lacks clear direction. In the second case, time expands in the moment to what you’re directing your attention to.

Since my work is centered around people, my day can easily get fragmented by the demands of others. Much of my career, I would multitask (write emails, distill strategy, review docs, etc.) during meetings. While it feels good to check off two things at once, I could not bring insightful ideas or questions to the table. When you deliberately direct your attention, the detail and quality of what you’re focusing on expands. On the other hand, when you are constantly multitasking or worrying about the next thing, you may get to the end of the day without having accomplished anything meaningful because of the lack of direction you gave your attention.

Gay Hendricks found that this feeling of expansion often happens when we are in our Genius Zone: the zone where our talents, skills, and strengths are all aligned. My personal Genius Zone, or my superpower, is helping people solve problems creatively. When I coach my clients to navigate challenges, the hour often just flies by.

Achieving this state of focused attention and flow can be accomplished by incorporating a few techniques into your workflow:

  1. Stretch Your Focal Range. Let’s say you have “Q4 OKR Planning” on your schedule. Zoom in to identify the line items you’re going to present. Zooming in will help you see the immediate benefits to what you’re doing. After thinking about the immediate benefits, it’s time to shift to a higher altitude. It’s time to zoom out. Think about the long term benefits you will get from planning Q4 OKR. Consider the difference it will make in your life as you prioritize the work that makes a difference.
  2. Take Horizon Vision Breaks. Set your alarm on your phone to remind you to carve out 5 min to look out your window and stare at a broad vista when you feel stressed. According to the Stanford neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, when you look at a horizon, you can dilate your gaze and relax your peripheral vision.
  3. Actively Express Gratitude. Research from Harvard shows that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, and build strong relationships. Consider sharing something kind to three different people every day. The more you focus on gratitude, the more you will begin to experience it daily.

#2: Set Success Milestones

It’s easy to lose sight of specifically what success is or where the goal posts should be. Taking dedicated time to get crisp on the vision and the roadmap generates motivation, which in turn helps to fuel productivity.

It often can help by beginning with the success of someone you admire to help rejuvenate what your own vision may be. Begin by identifying five people you respect, admire, and want to learn from. They can be a business leader, a modern icon, or anyone who makes you want to be like them. Some of my clients’ favorites include Elon Musk, Brené Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Sam Altman, and Sheryl Sandberg.

Study the career trajectory of each individual. Write down the milestones that they achieved that inspire you. For example, they may have created a successful mission-driven product that can help billions of people, transformed businesses through investing in the people, or coined an idea that changes the way you live your life. Identify the one or two things that inspire you from each individual. These will be your inspiring milestones to start.

Next, break each of these major milestones down into smaller goals. Goals are the stepping stones toward milestones, and the actionable daily or weekly tasks where we can direct our focused attention. Goals help us prioritize competing tasks and should lead us toward achieving a milestone.

Your goals can range across many areas. Here are a few to start:

  1. Impact: Do you appreciate your personal impact on the organization and your product’s impact on the world?
  2. Title: Are you being recognized as an expert and appreciated for your accomplishments?
  3. Compensation: What is the compensation that would make you feel comfortable?
  4. Learning: Do you like to take on challenges that stretch your limits? How much of your learning is transferable?
  5. Work-Life Balance: How much time would it take to do your job well?
  6. Team: Do you enjoy the people you speak to? Are they smart? Do they seem to like their job?

With the Success Milestone in mind, and the goals that will lead up towards the milestone, you now have a roadmap to help keep you productivity and in flow. Many times, we’re unable to motivate ourselves and be productive simply because we’re not sure what next step to take. With a clear vision of what success will look like for you in one year, you’ve unlocked one of the biggest blockers to productivity.

With the Success Milestone in mind, and the goals that will lead up towards the milestone, you now have a roadmap to help keep you productivity and in flow. Many times, we’re unable to motivate ourselves and be productive simply because we’re not sure what next step to take. With a clear vision of what success will look like for you in one year, you’ve unlocked one of the biggest blockers to productivity.

#3: Conduct Self-Strategy Sessions

A leader who tries to take on too many problems simultaneously will likely fail at them all.

If we chase after every deadline and project, we will lose track of our focus and the long-term strategy. Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism and Effortless, noticed this paradox: The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

McKeown found that experts, from Sir Isaac Newton to Bill Gates, were able to consistently create space to focus on what matters. Jeff Weiner, for example, schedules ninety minutes to two hours of buffer on his calendar every day. He divides them into 30-minute blocks and says no to any work-related requests. He uses this time to think: What will the company look like in three to five years? What is the best way to improve an already popular product or address an unmet customer need? What’s the best way to widen a competitive advantage or close a competitive gap? While he’s not thinking about strategic questions, he uses the buffer to catch his breath outside of back-to-back meetings. In his own words: “The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use.”

The way I’ve applied this to my own life? I religiously block out 8-10AM for my focus time. By investing two to three hours in myself every day, I was able to publish a book, build a coaching business, and have a day job as a product manager.

Here’s how you can stay consistent in blocking out the time and using it wisely:

  • Commit to a time early in the day or around your energy peak. It’s easier to avoid getting sucked into urgent issues or new projects when you start your day with what strategy matters for you. However, if you’re not a morning person, schedule this time for whenever your energy is at its peak will help you think the best about things that matter the most.
  • Start with 30 minutes. If you’re like most of us, you may be in meetings all day and struggle to find 2 hours. Start by scheduling 30 minutes for the next work day. If that goes well, stick with a 30-minute focus time for a week. If that goes well, schedule a 60-minute focus time for the following week. Even if you never work your way up to two full hours, at least you’ll be building the practice of checking on your long-term strategy daily.
  • Block out all other communication during your dedicated strategy time. Once you block out your time, resist your temptation to check emails and pings. During these two hours, only work on your most important goal. If you do this every work day, you will be able to accomplish your goals within the timeline you’ve set out for yourself because you have intentionally aligned your most productive hours with your goal.
  • Conduct your daily Self-Strategy Session. It can feel daunting to begin just blocking off time on your calendar without a clear plan. It helps to think of this time as a working session with yourself. Check in with yourself on whether or not you're staying true to your plan to reach your Success Milestones.

Whether you can invest two hours a day, one week a quarter, or just 30 minutes every evening, it is important to make space to advance towards your Success Milestone.

#4: Activate Your Flow State

Now that you've made time for your most important goal, let's explore ways to reliably activate a flow state and maintain the momentum as you revisit the vision of your Success Milestone daily. The goal is to help you create a mindful operating system so that you can be more present and fulfilled at work.

Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi defined flow as a “mental state where people are completely involved and focused on what they are doing.” How often are you truly in a flow state? Take a look at your calendar from the past week and make a list of the activities where you felt like you were deeply in flow.

The powerful partner to flow is momentum, or the driving force gained by the development of a process or course of an event. Tracking progress—being able to see our inputs lead to outputs that are helping us toward our Success Milestone—is key to maintaining momentum.

Moving slower and more sustainably in the right direction is far better than moving faster in the wrong one. If you work on the wrong problem, it doesn’t matter how good your solutions are. If you work on the right problem every day, the compounding effect naturally kicks in.

If you can focus on staying consistent with making a little progress every day, you’ll be surprised at how far you come by the end of the year.

Between mastering the art of attention direction, setting success milestones, conducting self-strategy sessions, and activating your flow state, you’re poised to reach peak productivity and momentum with your work.

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Michelle
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How do I successfully manage a high performing team?

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Amy Young
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Amy Young
Previously: 

Having led teams both at Google and more traditional companies like CBS, I have been exposed to many leadership styles, from the front lines of management to boardroom dynamics. While it may seem hard to define, there are predictable patterns that emerge in studying the traits of high performing teams and their leaders.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” - Simon Sinek

#1: Define And Optimize Your Leadership Style

Assess Your Own Performance. In order to lead a high performing team you need to be high performing yourself. If you are burnt out, stressed, or disconnected from your work, your team will be able to sense this--especially if they are high performers! When was the last time you asked yourself the question “How am I really?”. Just like they advise on an airplane, you need to put your oxygen mask on first.

Determine where you’re primarily placing your focus and attention. What you put your focus and attention on is what expands. If you focus on looking for opportunities, that is what you will find. Next, determine how you’ve been managing your boundaries. Finally, start with a vision. Take time to intentionally think about the impact you want to have on others and be honest with yourself as to if that is how you are showing up on a daily basis.

Get Feedback. There can be a wide delta between how people actually see you and how you want to be seen as a leader. If you are unsure about this, below are a few tried-and-true ways of gathering feedback effectively from your team:

  • Send an anonymous survey to your team and ask them for examples of what you can start, stop and continue doing in order to support them more effectively.
  • Solicit feedback from your peer leaders and stakeholders during your annual performance review.
  • Build feedback into your 1:1s to get weekly, actionable feedback. Define Your Style. When was the last time you thought about your own leadership style and defined it with words? If you haven’t intentionally thought about how you approach the responsibility of being a leader, take the following steps:

  • Take note of leaders you admire. What leaders have influenced your life positively and why? What leaders have you studied or would you like to study to learn about how they approach life, business, and leading?

  • Take note of leaders whose style you question. Think back to examples of what you don’t want to follow and why.
  • Write your mission statement. This statement should serve as your north star as a leader.

#2: Build a Team of Rockstars and Superstars

When you look around the room (or across all the video squares in a Zoom), how much diversity of life experience, skill, and mindset do you see? As a leader, it is important to know what you can uniquely do and what you do well. Then, hire to fill out the skills you need. Just as your team’s mission evolves, so will the skills gaps. You must constantly be evaluating your talent for not only their fit, but their ability to stretch and grow alongside the needs of the team and company.

Kim Scott, in her book “Radical Candor” discusses two distinct but important types of team players, "Superstars and Rockstars". Superstars are "change agents, ambitious at work and want new opportunities" and Rockstars are "a force for stability, are ambitious outside of work, or simply content in life and are happy in their current role".

A high performing team needs both of these types of contributors and it's your job as a leader to know your players, what motivates them, and what they want out of their career. Here is a process for evaluating that talent and finding possible talent gaps.

The Annual Review. Just as there are seasons to your life, a person’s career can often have seasons as well. For instance, early in someone’s career they may be more focused on fiscal growth than job security. After buying a home, financial stability may become more important. Once kids go off to college, a person may be craving a bigger project or increased travel. Ask your team some questions around what their definition of success or progression may be. This process will help you determine which of your players is a Rockstar vs. a Superstar and when they may be moving from one category to another.

Map Your Talent. Complete this exercise each quarter, or at the very least two times a year. Determine how people fall within the following categories: High performers with high potential, High performers with limited potential, Low performers with high potential and Low performers with limited potential. Evaluate the projects on your team’s horizon and see if you have the right team to accomplish your goals and if each member is allocated to the right projects.

Keep in mind that it takes all types of talent to fill a high performing team. By knowing your team, their strengths, limitations and their goals, you will have a much better idea of what to look for when hiring to round out the group or filling for a skills gap. On the flipside, it will also expedite clarity as to if there is a person who is no longer a good fit for your team. When that is the case, the recommended course of action is to act quickly and compassionately.

#3: Develop Your Operating Stack

Does your team operate in the optimal environment to do their best work? Your tech stack (the technology you use to do work - i.e,Gmail, Slack, Salesforce, text etc…) serves as the backbone of your team’s operations. While it may feel draining at times, leading a high performing team means cultivating the optimal symphony of tools and dynamics to enable them to achieve their best work.

Hybrid work has made this point more important, and challenging, than ever. When your team is distributed across multiple offices, you must take care to create efficiencies and purpose in your async and synchronous work.

Any ambiguity in how your team uses technology creates room for error and assumption. If you do not have clear, documented answers to the questions above, dedicate a half day to write down your tech stack, how you use it, and who has access. Then, create standard operating procedures for how your team (and, if applicable, your stakeholders) accesses, manages and transfers knowledge. Your job as the leader of the team is to constantly be evaluating your operating stack and implementing change when necessary to ensure productivity and innovation.

#4: Establish An Intentional Path

According to the Harvard Business Review, high performers deliver 400% more productivity than average performers. If you lead a team of high performers, it is imperative that you take action to create a strong foundation for their success both personally and professionally.

Create a transparent path and then stay far enough away so as to not clog the works, but close enough to be called upon when necessary.

Establish the foundation and help your team connect to its purpose.

If you haven’t already, hold a workshop to establish the team values and mission. Team values and mission serve as the compass for your team, keeping them grounded and giving themselves a foundation for team accountability.

Each individual should have a purpose that fits into the mission. This is especially important if you work within a large, matrixed corporation. Consider this legend from President John F. Kennedy's trip to Nasa in the early 1960s. Upon encountering a man in the hallway holding a broom, President Kennedy apparently asked him, "What do you do for Nasa?". The janitor responded, "I'm putting a man on the moon". By allowing your team to see and embrace its larger purpose, you help give their tasks, no matter how small, greater meaning.

Create clear goals at the team and individual level and check in on them constantly.

Set a time at the beginning of the year or review cycle and jointly create a list of 3-5 goals with each member of your team. These goals should excite your individual contributor and map to their personal mission, the team mission, and the company’s mission.

In your weekly or biweekly 1:1s, take time to check in on their progress and support them in moving any roadblocks, or determine how to pivot when necessary. Speaking of 1:1s, this is an opportune time to let your high performer lead. Have them create the agenda and lead the session, finishing each by asking them how you can help support them.

Keep communication flowing smoothly.

We’ve already discussed your tech stack above, but giving each of your team members access to important information when they need it is critical. Look for bottlenecks. It is likely that you have access to information at your level of leadership that much of the team is not privy to, but might be helpful to do their jobs. Building your filter for how and when to communicate important information from above is a constantly evolving task, but one your team needs you to fulfill in order to produce results.

Promote radical transparency. By encouraging your team to share their thoughts, embrace failure and celebrate successes, you are building a safe psychological space for team communication.

Be an advocate for your team.

Being at a higher level of management gives you access to stakeholders who could be critical to achieving your goals and mission. Your team needs you to be clearing the path, having the critical conversations that will bring their work into focus (or sometimes, maybe taking focus away) and enabling other managers to notice the team’s work.

Recognize when you need to be an advocate for yourself. If you are not getting the leadership or transparency you need to lead well, ask for it. By using your voice you are empowering others to do so, which can result in a more positive work environment.

Overcoming The Challenges Of Remote And Hybrid Work

The emergence of COVID-19 created a corporate leadership challenge unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetimes. In the span of weeks, the constructs of our platforms of work were pulled out from under us and we were forced to evolve to a new way of work. While the shift from office first to remote work was both welcome and jarring for many, some companies produced their best results ever during the pandemic, and employees are now attempting to emerge into a new way of work.

The challenge this emergence creates for leaders is multi-faceted. Recent surveys conducted by Gallup, Microsoft, and Adobe have found that between a third and a half of workers are looking to quit or change jobs. 37% of global respondents to a survey released by Microsoft's Work Trend Index said their bosses expected too much of them during the pandemic. Not only are we facing the “Great Resignation” as organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz called it, but the pandemic has shown us that burnout has no location.

The four key tenets for managing high performing teams that I outline above are universal solutions to these challenges. If your team members managed to maintain or grow their performance in the face of COVID 19, encourage them to continue to take personal responsibility for their work by asking them the following questions:

  1. What worked well during the pandemic?
  2. What didn’t work well during the pandemic?
  3. What did you learn about yourself and how you work?
  4. How do you want to use that knowledge to help your work experience going forward?

When a team is operating at its peak the results can feel like listening to a symphony. By ensuring your own high performance, hiring and cultivating the right team, equipping your team with the right tools and clearing a path for their success, you are creating something larger than yourself.

As we’ve seen from some of the most innovative companies in the world, under the right circumstances, anything is possible. Managing a high performing team gives you the opportunity to create something that goes beyond yourself, each individual contributor and the company itself.

Bring the team together to create alchemy. Give them time off. Celebrate their wins. Give them the opportunity to step up and when it’s time, the opportunity to move on.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford.

Question from @
Michelle
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What are some best practices for getting promoted?

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Kelly Snodgrass
Answered by 
Kelly Snodgrass
Previously: 

In an APA survey on what makes people feel undervalued at work, 46% cite low salaries & 41% cite lack of opportunities for growth or advancement as key drivers for their job satisfaction. These top two underlying motivations & drivers of our well-being at work are paramount in what drives us to want a promotion. And yet for most of us, asking for a promotion can take us weeks, months, or sometimes even years to work ourselves up to - even if we know we are deserving of one!

What had I consistently and uniquely done to earn promotion after promotion? I had created an environment for myself that allowed me to be consistently and visibly recognized. And that is what it takes to get promoted. My obsession with human behavior that led to coaching also was the foundation for how I approached cultivating this unique environment to get promoted.

So what was this environment? After coaching many clients through to promotion using the same framework, I'm sharing with you the proven steps to getting promoted:

  1. Understand why you want a promotion
  2. Understand how your manager is motivated
  3. Create proof to get promoted
  4. Be consistent in exceeding your job duties

Just like getting fit requires a healthy diet, exercise, accountability, and a clear motivation...mastering these steps is the path to getting a coveted raise.

If you don’t have one or more of these key ingredients at the moment, you may feel like you are struggling to get promoted. The good news is you can create these circumstances if they don’t naturally exist! So let's get into the details of how to do this.

Why do you want a promotion?

As a leader, the only time I knew someone wanted a promotion was when they wanted a raise. Most people understand how they could go about asking for more money (even if it's uncomfortable... a quick Google will provide you great templates for doing so).

Ultimately, only 12% of employees actually leave an organization for more money. So if only 12% of people are truly money motivated - what about the rest of us?! How do we ask Google how to get a promotion when we aren't motivated by money?

Knowing your own motivation clearly is key. Below are two primary forms of motivation:

Extrinsic motivation: doing something because it leads to a separable outcome (i.e. working harder to get promoted and earning a raise).

Intrinsic motivation: doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable (i.e. working harder because you are excited to continue to learn more & uplevel your skills)

Being either extrinsically or intrinsically motivated is not better or worse, they are just 2 different types of motivations.

Furthermore, you may not always be intrinsically motivated or always extrinsically motivated. It may vary based on what you're working on.

Someone who may be motivated by money may be extrinsically motivated in this circumstance and yet have areas of their life where they are intrinsically motivated. You may be intrinsically motivated to clean (because you enjoy a sparkly kitchen) but require extrinsic motivation to exercise (because of the promise of losing weight or gaining muscle). Neither is wrong, or right.

What is key here is that you know which you are in each area of your life. It is self awareness that leads to success! So what is your motivation? Do you need to get promoted for financial reasons? Is someone (or society) telling you you should be getting promoted? Are you desperate to get promoted so you have something to show for your years of work on your resume?

How is your manager motivated?

The main factor out of your direct control that is important to get a promotion is your manager. Getting promoted is a two way street, for better or for worse. Your manager needs to understand you and agree with you.

To be successful in a pitch for a promotion, it's critical to understand the manager's motivation. Just for a second, imagine you are a child who wants an ice cream. You know dad is the rule abider and no sweets are ever given before 6pm. You also know mom is a sweet aficionado and while the rules are generally followed...she tends to have a sweet here and there before 6pm. It's 5:30pm & you have a decision to make. Do you go to mom and try to get an ice cream early - appealing to her understanding that rules are meant to be broken on occasion? Or do you go to dad at 6pm and say "Dad I waited until 6pm to ask for an ice cream because I know you don't want us eating sweets before then, so can I have one now?" Both are valid strategies, because both appeal to what motivates mom and dad. Children are fascinatingly adept at reading their audience's motivation.

Back in the land of adulthood, we're going to use David Rock's SCARF model as a quick and easy guide to understanding and categorizing professional motivation. I love this model because it's something that you can quickly reference in your head to make game-time decisions before meetings. But this model is also helpful the more you get to know someone as you can gain more depth and insight into the complexities of their motivations.

In this model, each of the letters in "SCARF" stands for a type of motivation:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

Status – our relative importance to others. Appeal to a status driven manager's desire to feel important is critical when asking for a promotion.

Certainty – our ability to predict the future. Appeal to a certainty loving manager's passion for stability is critical when asking for a promotion.

Autonomy – how free we feel in our lives. Appeal to an autonomous manager's love for freedom in how or when they work.

Relatedness – how safe and connected we feel with others. Appeal to a relatedness driven manager's desire to create meaningful relationships at work.

Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be. Appeal to a fairness driven manager's desire to ensure there is a valid and just explanation for every decision made.

As you can see, a singular desire to get promoted can be delivered in incredibly varied methods depending on what your motivations and your manager's motivation are. Having this wide variety of approaches and depth of awareness in your toolkit provides you with the highest chance of tailoring your strategy to getting a promotion.

How can I create proof to help me get promoted?

We all know actions speak louder than words. So in addition to sounding persuasive, it's important to develop a collection of data points and evidence to support your promotion request.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is creating the proof that they are doing the job they were hired for (and are likely doing it well). Unfortunately, the expectations of the job are that you do it and you do it well. Unfortunately, that alone is not deserving of a promotion...which can be hard to hear.

Again, awareness is the key to success. Being aware of this allows you to work with the reality of the situation. Instead of leading with doing a great job for the job you were hired for, in order to guarantee yourself the highest chance of promotion, you should be able to prove that you have been exceeding job expectations for at least 3 to 4 months.

Depending on the promotion you are asking for, the specifics of how you can show you are exceeding expectations will vary (i.e. you could be asking to become a people manager, or a global lead vs a regional lead, or to transition from one department to another). The process, however, will stay the same.

Here are the top steps to take for getting promoted:

  1. Go to your future job's description (or find a similar one online, if it's not yet created).
  2. Outline the skills required in each bullet. Not the outcomes, but the skills. Go for a list of 3-4 top skills. To take an example, "strategic thinking" could be a skill that a future job requires.
  3. Then rate the level of skill you believe this job needs on a scale of 1-10. Go with your gut instinct here: let's say you think you need to be at least an 8 out of 10 in "strategic thinking". After you rate it, describe what that 8 means in the terms of the outcomes (from the job description itself).
  4. Then, rate what your current job requires in terms of this strategic thinking skill. Say, a 5. Then describe what the 5 means in terms of outcomes.
  5. Finally - add in the proof! In this case, proof of where you believe you have achieved an outcome that demonstrates you being a 6, 7, or 8 in strategic thinking. It can help to define what 6 and 7 could each mean and then add outcomes you have achieved that meet your definitions. And if you don't have any proof... then now you have a plan outlined for what experience you need to build on and the outcomes to aim for.

What's the key to always getting promoted?

You have now got the makings of an ice cream sundae with bananas, caramel sauce, and sprinkles in front of you. The cherry on top is to set up a system to start getting promoted...without even asking. Which means going from doing this exercise once a year to doing it weekly. Yes, every single week.

To turn your manager into your biggest advocate, they should know day in and day out how you are exceeding expectations. That you are going above and beyond making the impact that they had hoped.

There are many ways to do this, but there's one method that I have consistently seen turn managers into advocates.

Unfortunately, most people tend to be uncomfortable doing this, and ultimately fail to create a habit around it. What's the method? It's essentially "humble bragging" about the impact you make on a weekly basis.

To make this something to look forward to, rather than something to feel awkward about, create a habit around it. To do this, schedule in time on your calendar to write your Monday Magazines. Because as James Clear fittingly says in his book, Atomic Habits - "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

Whenever I have started at any new company, I've told my manager that I would send them a weekly Monday Magazine. This served to highlight a quick overview of the previous week's happenings, and outline what my team and I were doing in the week ahead. No manager of mine ever asked for this Magazine, and they probably didn't think they needed it.

And there you have it! The proven method to getting promoted, and to continue getting promoted.

To wrap up, I'll leave you with an acronym to help you remember the 4 elements we've gone through that make up a promotion filled career: "Motivation, Manager, Proof, Consistency"And if you're really ready to go all in, write MMPC on a post-it note (and put it somewhere you will see it often)!

To get 1:1 guidance on each of these steps, sign up for the Getting Promoted program.

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How do I confidently define my strategy?

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Victoria Young
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Victoria Young
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Here are a few approaches to overcome decision-paralysis and confidently move forward with a direction.

Approach #1: Define Objectives & Evidence

Too often, people conflate the objectives, goals, and metrics, with statements like: "My strategy is to increase revenue by 10%." That's not a strategy, that's a metric.

To get to a clear strategy, you must first decide on what the core objective is. What are you really trying to solve for? This is where the 5 Whys, developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota, can be helpful to get at the root cause or underlying rationale for a business.

For example, Bezos proposed the idea of Prime to his team at Amazon. But without understanding where he is coming from with the idea, many people dissented.

By applying the 5 Whys, we can get to the core objective, which will set the tone for the overarching strategy. Often, we may have an intuitive sense of the objective, but may be struggling for ways to articulate it. The 5 Whys helps to clearly articulate the objective for your strategic direction.

Why did he propose the idea of Prime?

Because he thought that shipping needed to be faster.

Why did he think shipping needed to be faster?

Because he knew that some of Amazon's best customers cared about receiving products quickly.

Why did these customers care about getting products quickly?

Because they wanted to shop online but couldn't find reliable shipping options.

Why did customers need reliable shipping options?

Because inconsistent shipping prices, delivery timelines, and refund policies made customers hesitant to buy (or: added friction to online shopping).

Why did inconsistent shipping policies matter for Amazon?

Because Bezos wanted to make Amazon the default shopping option for customers.

So instead of goals and metrics, which often can lead to optimizing blindly toward a local maxima, focus on strategic objectives and evidence.

In the case of Bezos, his strategic objective was to become the default shopping option for customers. This is not just an intellectual exercise of logic, there must also evidence that shows the strategic objective is directly aligned with the long-term goals of the business.

For the strategic objective of becoming the default shipping option, the evidence of this being an objective that aligns with the long-term goals was that data showed Prime members ultimately ordered more frequently from Amazon.

Furthermore, evidence should be gathered across multiple areas of business: other stakeholders, competitive market dynamics, internal data, etc. The goal is to have thoroughly gathered and assessed existing evidence. What you've uncovered as evidence should support and point to the strategic objective as being in alignment with long-term goals for the business.

Approach #2: Define The Strategic Blueprint

Now that you have a clear strategic objective and know what evidence you're looking for to help you know if you're heading in the right direction or not, you can determine a strategic blueprint for achieving it.

Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, based on a specific set of activities that helps achieve the strategic objective. The strategic blueprint connects the dots between this set of activities so that deliberate tradeoffs that are being made still result in a net benefit. These activities should have a high "fit" compatibility, meaning they interact and reinforce one another in a positive manner.

In the example of Amazon, the strategy had a strong set of activities: the Prime membership fee, fulfillment centers, and shipping operations. Each of these activities were mutually reinforcing one another:

If customers liked Prime, demand would rise. If demand rose, then Amazon had more freedom to build new fulfillment centers. If Amazon could build more fulfillment centers, then they could continue to ship more products, faster. Identify what the set of activities might be to achieve the strategic objective. This then becomes your blueprint for building a unique and valuable position.

Approach #3: Think Forwards

By playing devil's advocate and looking at the strategy from multiple perspectives, you can feel more confident in your strategy. One mental model to apply is Second Order Thinking. This framework helps you look past the initial, first-order effects of a decision to think through the second, third, and N-th order effects. By spending the time to think forward into the future, you can avoid pitfalls and strengthen your own conviction.

To improve your ability to think forwards, practice asking yourself “And then what?”. For example, in the case of Amazon - what happens from the introduction of Prime is an expansion of Amazon as the default shopping experience across multiple categories, including video.

For Bezos to feel confident in Prime, he practiced 2nd and 3rd order thinking. What do the consequences look like in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 Years? Because the benefits of Prime would continue to compound operationally, it justified the upfront investment and cost.

Approach #4: Think Backwards

Another mental model to apply is Inversion. This framework helps you invert your rationale to see if it is truly the best combination of activities. By spending the time to think backwards, you can catch areas you may have missed and be confident in your recommendation.

To improve your ability to think backwards, practice always asking yourself “And what if the opposite were true?". For example, in the case of Amazon - what would have happened if they didn't introduce Prime and continued down the path they were going?

The Strength In Strategy

Getting caught up in many paths, projects, or opportunities is a pitfall we all face. Being able to deliberately choose tradeoffs and intentionally select the strategic blueprint of activities that will help you achieve your strategic objective is a fulfilling skill to master.

As Michael Porter says, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." In the case of Amazon, Bezos started with the idea of Prime, tested into how it could work for the business, and doubled down on ways that would help Prime become a way to create a competitive moat for the business.

Once Bezos had the initial insight of the importance of shipping in eCommerce, he evaluated the many variables at play in the business landscape, even when many of his most trusted senior leaders disagreed with this new project. Furthermore, his team identified the strategic blueprint that would create a flywheel of growth for the Amazon Prime business, with the increase in orders helping them maintain low shipping costs. The rewards of this strategic direction are still being reaped by Amazon today, as they double down on music, video, and other benefits of the Prime membership.

With these examples and specific steps in mind, you are equipped with the framework to develop and validate your own strategic direction.

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