The Product Manager’s Guide to Parenthood
Applying good product principles to being a parent.
A while back I wrote the “Programmers guide to weight loss” where I described how to apply programmer’s common sense to losing weight. In this post, I will try to take best practices of building great products and applying them to parenthood.
Disclaimer: While I have two happy, well behaved, and loving kids, I do not claim to know everything about parenthood. Whoever tells you they got it all figured out is lying.
The core of product management, is applying good principals while dealing with unknown. That has been my experience with parenthood. My hope is to provide the principles that worked for me. Not sorted by order.
Product principle: A product design needs to be consistent for users to understand how to work with it. Product branding needs to be consistent so people understand what the product does. Internal consistency in tasks and roadmap help teams be more productive.
How it applies to parenthood: A lot of young parents get this wrong. If you said “You need to go to the shower” and after some crying, you say “OK, go play on your computer”, you teach your kids that crying is the way to skip showers. Why would they act any other way? If you are consistent your kids will know that what you say will happen, and you will be surprised how much happier they will be.
Product principle: Misalignment creates tension between collaborating teams. A good PM is an internal advocate who strives to get things done while getting other’s buy-in.
How it applies to parenthood: Another very common mistake is not showing an aligned front in front of your kids. When mother says “go to bed” and father says “stay and watch TV”, it undermines the ability to parent consistently. Parents who are not aligned are an easy target for kids who divide and conquer. Another negative side on parents who are not aligned is that they seem to “fight all the time”. This does not mean that you need to be in constant agreement, but try to sync as much as possible, and support each other in a united front.
Product principle: Good product leaders prioritize, great product leaders ruthlessly prioritize. My motto is “Do the most important thing, and say no to the rest”.
How it applies to parenthood: Parenthood can be nerve wracking and very stressful. Especially if you are trying to do everything perfectly. You need to be calm and thoughtful, and prioritize what you want do, and what you are asking them to do. Ask yourself what is the most important thing I want for your kid. For me, it was for them to be kind and happy. All the rest were trimmings.
Product principle: ABC — Always Be Communicating is the mantra of every PM. Clear communication is the sword of any good Product Manager. By listening to your customers you build better products. By listening to your team you lead better.
How it applies to parenthood: You can get a lot done without arguing, if you know how to communicate in a way that works for your kid. Be attentive to when your kid can listen and when they are not open to listening. Build your arguments in a way that make sense to your kid. Be clear, concise, and when possible charismatic.
Listen to your kid. Kids are fantastic at clearly saying what they think and want. You do not need to give them everything, but listening will get you a long way.
Product principle: Empathy is a key emotion in a good product manager toolkit. You need to empathize with your customers to build great products.
How it applies to parenthood: Kids have bad days too. Kids want to be treated fairly, to be heard, to have fun. Understand your kid’s wants and needs. This does not mean that you need to fulfill all these needs all the time (or else your kids will be chocolate filled potatoes next to the TV). Understanding your kids and acknowledging their point of view goes a long way. “dad/mom do not get me” is a common complaint for kids. Make sure your kids know you understand them.
Being empathetic does not mean doing everything your kid wants. You can be empathetic with someone and yet not agree with them. Many parents confuse this.
Be Logical and Predictable
Product principle: A product needs to be predictable and make sense. When dealing with other teams, you also need to apply logic and let others know what are the rules of the game. For example, how can sales people give feedback and how it is triaged.
How it applies to parenthood: “It’s not fair” is another common complaint that drives parents and kids to fight. Together with consistency, being logical and predictable, give your kid a solid ground. They know what are the rules and how the game is played. Knowing the rules and being able to predict outcomes makes kids much more confident in life.
Trust and earn trust
Product principle: a product manager makes an impact by influencing others. Engineers need to build the product, designer needs to design the product, and testers need to make sure the quality is high. A good product manager needs to trust her team and earn their trust.
How it applies to parenthood: Kids start by trusting their parents, they do not have any other way. Parents start by not trusting their baby, there is no other way. Your job it to keep the trust your kid has in you, and to grow the trust you have in them. They grew up and they are no longer the toddlers who stick their fingers in every electric plug —your trust in them will make them trust themselves.
Learn and improve
Product principle: A launch of your product or feature is a big milestone — it is the BEGINNING of your journey. The product managers I respect the most are eager for version 1.3 rather than version 1.0 launch.
How it applies to parenthood: This is probably one of the most important things in parenthood as it is generally in life. One thing that surprises parents is that their kids constantly change. You kid is super cute at 2 weeks, and then turns into a noise machine at 8 weeks. You kid sees you as a leader until they are 13 and as the opposition until they are 21 (if you are lucky). What worked for you today might not work for you tomorrow.
I tend to ask my kids “what will you complain about me to your psychologist?” (after telling them most people complain about their parents to a psychologist when they are big). Their answers always surprise me and give me ideas how to grow and improve.
Parenthood is not easy, it requires thoughtful effort. Trying, failing, learning, improving. Nobody has the magic recipe for perfect parenthood. But at least we can try, and enjoy the road.