Why a Product Manager Needs To Wander

Inbox zero, one-on-ones, daily sync calls, daily standups, weekly meetings, roadmap planning, sprint planning, quarterly planning, exec offsites…oh, and…screencasts, wireframes, designs, qa testing, a/b testing, analytics, customer interviews, customer feedback, support tickets, user stories…and on and on it goes.

Whew.

I love to travel for work and always have. I love to hike and ski by myself too. I like doing things like walking my dog, running, riding my bike and riding the bus alone.

I like to wander.

As you walk through the airport, take a moment and observe people and think about their day. Where are they from, how did they start their day, did they drive to the airport or did someone drop them off, what is stressing them out in their life right now? See that annoying person over there? See that pissed off looking person waiting in the security line? How about the friendly looking older couple walking slowly to their gate? What do you think could make their life better? What business are they in? What experience or product do you think significantly impacted their career ten years ago?

Here’s what Brad Feld was thinking about this morning in the San Jose airport.

As a Product Manager, this is one of the most important things I do even though most people don’t get it and ROI can’t be tied to it. Being empathic is often cited as an important trait of a Product Manager. Wandering helps build this muscle. When I wander, I start to see patterns, feature ideas flow and I meet people and have serendipitous interactions about new ideas that aren’t possible in most contexts.

Establishing cadences, rhythms and process is key to succeeding as a PM, especially as your team scales. Just remember to break yourself out of those molds from time to time and go get lost.

Next week I’ll be in NYC visiting the IBM Watson team at Astor Place. My early mornings and late nights won’t be totally packed with meetings and dinners, I will protect that time and wander around. Who knows what I’ll think of.

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