What I learned from hosting a product manager podcast

Hannah Clark, host of The Product Manager podcast, talks to entrepreneurs every week. Here are 5 top tips
Hannah Clark
Hannah Clark

As the host and producer of The Product Manager podcast, I talk to entrepreneurs and product leaders almost daily. 

I’m fortunate that I frequently get to take part in amazing conversations about how they built their businesses, the obstacles they’ve overcome, and their playbooks for thriving in today’s tech marketplace.

Through this experience, I’ve gained an eagle-eye view of the software industry—but I’ve also learned some nitty-gritty tactics that product managers can apply to their daily lives. Here are a few that have really stuck with me over the past year.

1. Leverage consumer habits

In my episode How The Like Button Revolutionized UX Forever I chatted with Nimrod Priell, Founder of Cord, who has had a front-row seat to the evolution of UX trends over the past 25 years. 

The most important lesson I learned from Priell is that, when building a product or making changes to one, to think about the behaviors your users are already accustomed to and build on that rather than trying to introduce new ones. 

In our conversation, Priell cites the example of how Facebook introduced the ‘Like’ button, and subsequently several more emotive reactions. Slack saw the success of these reaction options but identified that users had so many more emotions to express, so they added more reaction options to their product. Slack didn’t introduce a whole new way for users to engage with each other, but rather built on an established habit. 

2. Don’t replace research with assumptions

Leaning on your assumptions of what you think users want and trying to ‘‘keep up with the Joneses’’ is one of the most common fatal mistakes in the product-led startup world. 

During my conversation with Andrea Saez, Author of ‘The Product Momentum Gap’ she highlighted the error leadership makes when pushing for rapid development without considering customer value.

She warns that focusing on the ‘next big thing’ or getting stuck on outdated user data can cause a massive domino effect in which your efforts fall out of line with customer needs. This effect impedes your company from being able to deliver business value and threatens user growth and retention.

3. Your product vision statement isn’t just a marketing asset

I aptly named my episode interviewing Radhika Dutt, Author of Radical Product Thinking, How To Use The Product Vision Statement As A Compass For Your Roadmap. In this conversation, Dutt highlights how a product’s vision statement has a lot of (often untapped) potential to mitigate the risk of becoming a “feature factory.”

Dutt advises companies to develop a vision statement that answers these questions: 

  • Who: Who’s world are we setting out to change?
  • What: What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Why: Why does that problem need to be solved?
  • When: When can you say mission accomplished?

When making important business decisions, you need to cross-check that your decision aligns with your vision statement aka your roadmap. This will help you gauge whether your next move is a smart decision or a result of feature requests or shiny object syndrome.

4. Look for humility in hiring

One of my favorite episodes is How One Street Artist Became Head Of Product At Atlassian, in which I interviewed Natalia Baryshnikova, GM & Head of Enterprise Agility at Atlassian. If you can’t tell from the episode title, Natalia has had one of the most interesting career trajectories.

Her unconventional career path provided her with a unique perspective when it comes to hiring. When she is interviewing candidates she uses the HACK methodology, which stands for Humility, Analytical, Creativity, and ‘Knife.’ While the ‘knife’ part of the acronym caught my attention, it is the humility element that really stuck with me. 

When growing a team, humility can make a big difference, as it aids in fostering collaboration. But while humility is a key indicator of success, it can be challenging to screen for. So how do you do it? 

During interviews, ask a candidate to talk about a colleague they admire. Pay attention to whether they acknowledge and praise someone junior to them, especially if they've managed them directly. 

Furthermore, if they pump up their own accomplishments but give no credit to their team members during the interview, it’s a red flag. It’s possible that the candidate may not be a strong team player. 

5. Prioritize psychological safety

Psychological safety is the unwavering belief that you won't be punished or ridiculed for sharing your thoughts, concerns, or even making mistakes.

I chatted with Samantha Gonzalez, Associate Director of Product Strategy at DockYard, Inc in the episode Ethical Product Strategy: The Business Case You Can’t Afford To Ignore about her innovative approach to team-building and prioritizing psychological safety. 

Her method for promoting psychological safety is to get to know team members on an individual basis by having conversations aimed at understanding the person outside of their work identity. She’ll ask questions like:

  • What’s your communication style?
  • What does life outside of work look like?
  • What are your pet peeves?
  • What are some things happening outside of work that might affect you while on the job?

Having these kinds of conversations, and allowing yourself to be equally vulnerable as you’re having them, helps to establish a strong sense of trust. That trust is essential for establishing a culture of ‘radical candor,’ in which all team members feel completely safe to share constructive criticism regardless of their place on the org chart.

Written by
Hannah Clark
Written by
March 8, 2024