I am an amateur Boxer.
My first memory of boxing is watching the climax of a movie on television as a kid. In the movie, 2 boxers were trying hard to knock each other down for that elusive world heavyweight championship title. The background music during the fight was pacey and depicted the typical good over evil.
Let us see how digital product management can be tied to boxing
Why (Goal): Growing up, I never found a reason to pursue boxing. Watching an actual boxing fight on television lacked all the bells and whistles that I found in that movie. Like in product management, I did not find my ‘Why’ of pursuing boxing as a career or for fun, hence never pursued boxing growing up. Few years ago, I ran into a bunch of people carrying boxing gloves at what seemed like a boxing club. Decided to try it out. Initial thought was boxing could help me keep fit (apart from my marathon training regimen) and I will have fun learning something new. These were the primary and secondary reasons to pursue boxing. (active reasoning)
Who (Organization): Rather than reading a book on how to learn boxing, I signed up for boxing training and decided to try out few boxing trainers. The first boxing trainer was polite, easy to work with, and focused on basic boxing techniques. The second boxing trainer tried to act smart, boasted about his night out with friends in order to create a connection with me, and focused on technique. The third boxing trainer started by stating that her training will prepare me if I get into a fight in the middle of a street. This was followed by few warm up exercises with sudden twists and turns on her command example turn left, lay flat on the ground, stand straight, move back, move forward, turn right, lay flat on the ground, stay down, and many more. If I miss any of these commands then I had to do push-ups as a penalty. Even though I was good at following most commands, I found myself on the ground doing push-ups a few times. The purpose of doing push-ups (apart from the warm up exercise) with my face on the ground was that I was to leave ego at the door and that there is huge room to learn. I believe self-defense was the ‘Why’ that was hidden inside my heart and mind which I did not realize earlier (passive reasoning). I was able to align with the third trainer. She was kind enough to agree to train me. Similarly, in product management, when you are trying to decide which organization to work with, it is important to assess whether its mission and vision align with your beliefs else Product Managers will just perform a job with minimal passion.
What (Toolkit): On my first day of official boxing training, I was asked to pick boxing gloves, hand tape, and hand wrap that were pre-used by members of the club. Even though some powder was used to remove the stink, this kit was stinking. When I placed my hands inside the boxing gloves, I could feel moistness from the sweat of another boxer. It was a horrible feeling. Continued using the smelly kit for 3 months regularly used by different boxers till I could decide that I am continuing boxing for good.
Similarly, in product management, when you start work in an organization, there will be technical debt in products and aspects that you do not like. A good Product Manager just cannot dump the current product and create a new product from scratch without considering the impact. The impact on dumping a current product with no backup plan will be on the current business goals hence a transition needs to be planned (if the return on investment on the current product cannot meet business goals on time).
After 3 months of training and on guidance from my boxing trainer, she recommended few boxing toolkit options. I bought a new toolkit with great quality, awesome design, and a bit pricy. Again going back to product management, tool is a utility. Tools are used to help Product Managers become productive. If there are no tools, it should not be the end of the world. For example, if someone gets into an unprovoked fight on the street, are they going to say ‘Please wait, let me get my boxing kit so that I can knock you down’. No, you go with the flow. There are so many product management tools that are out there to help Product Managers. What if you are working in an organization that is facing massive cost reduction and all such tools are deemed out of budget. Then Product Managers need take it in their stride and learn to work without fancy tools example use an excel sheet instead of product management roadmap tools. Tools have great value. At the same time, lack of tools should not stop you from moving forward towards your goals.
How (Roadmap): My boxing trainer laid out a plan to achieve my goals. I had to learn the basics of boxing, how to protect myself from getting knocked down by covering my cheeks with my hands (defense position) after every punch, and how do you knock an opponent down using swift footwork and arm technique (offense position). While practicing a mix of defense and offense, I am required to maintain eye contact with the opponent and am not supposed to show a tired face. May be that is the reason coaches ask to have your game face on. Hence, there is a need to learn the basics, practice defense and then offense. There were times when I tried to change the taught techniques because it felt better example when you land a straight punch, I provided a wide gap between my arm and my arm pits to land the punch. I was repeatedly corrected that this is not the right technique as I need to keep my arm and arm pits glued so that the punch has maximum impact. Whew! Yes, one can go directly for offense, however, it still takes into account due diligence and utmost practice.
In a nutshell, my boxing trainer boiled down the roadmap into 3 key elements: discipline, patience, and trust. These 3 key elements in boxing can be adapted to product management. Discipline refers to following best practices of product management and practicing them diligently. Patience is taken for granted in the business world especially when stakeholders are looking for immediate results from Product Managers. Hence, it is the job of a Product Manager to practice patience by focusing on the input metrics (input metrics are in the control of a Product Manager as these metrics constitute what path to take to achieve a business goal). A Product Manager should not obsess about outcome (which is not in their control). For trust, Product Managers should trust Data as data does not lie. Data can be corrupt and it can be cleaned. People can lie. Trust is built over a period of time in people. Who do you trust, how do you decide whom to trust, and if you should offer another chance to people who have broken your trust speak volumes about you as a person and your leadership skills (key lesson that I learnt from one of my teachers at Stanford University (Joel Peterson) who also served as the Chairman of JetBlue Airways for over 12 years.)
Focus on ‘solving problems that matter’