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5 Essential Tips to Joining a Product Community

The world of product management has been around for decades, but recent clarity around the role product managers play and the placement of senior product leaders in C-Suites are indicators of the practice area’s growth. As it grows, so does the number of communities of practice dedicated to product. Different sizes, different missions – we have our pick of which one we want to call our community.

Petra Wille, an independent product leadership coach and author of STRONG Product People: A Complete Guide to Developing Great Product Managers, understands the value of product communities. So much so that she’s written a second book on the matter, STRONG Product Communities: The Essential Guide to Product Communities of Practice. On an episode of Product Momentum, she shared insights as to how we can find the right product community to further our goals and become better, well-rounded product professionals.

1. Establish Your Personal Goals

Before even considering attending a specific product meetup you might see advertised online, Petra encourages us to take the time to consider why you’re looking for a community.

There are many reasons to join a community – develop new skills, network with others in your local community (including the Upstate Product Meetup Group, a preferred choice among Rochester-area product managers), stay up to date on product trends. Connecting with others, even to share common stresses, can be cathartic enough to seek out others.

Determining your goals will help you understand what you choose to gain from a community. From there, it’s significantly easier to understand what group you should be searching for.

2. Define What Community Means To You

Community means different things to different people. Especially in the context of a professional community of practice, distilling community into a single definition may not be helpful.

The same goes for our individual ideas of what community means to us. We are all different people, so we’ll think of community differently. Is your community small or large? Does it meet up in person or virtually? Do you discuss recent learnings, professional challenges, or just talk shop?

On Product Momentum, Petra says, “So maybe it’s perfectly fine if it’s 12 people and it’s a local community and you can actually meet them for an hour and just talk about stuff. And it’s not as frightening as hanging out in a 300-person online Zoom call discussing the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, right? So I think that really helps to think about community size as well.”

The composition of our community is not the main feature to consider. What truly matters is recognizing that our community plays an important role in accomplishing our goals and enhancing our skills as product professionals.

3. Find A Group To Learn From

Even if skill set development isn’t your primary objective, you can still think of approaching a community as a learning opportunity. If you’re not directly trying to level up your PM game, you might still learn about the people you’re with and the passions they pursue.

Learners and learning come in different shapes and sizes, from more intimate discussions about methods and techniques, to large gatherings to capture an expert’s insights. Product conferences shine in this regard, as many accommodate everyone’s preferred learning environments.

Petra organizes the yearly Product At Heart Conference in Hamburg, Germany. The premise of this event is to tap into your curiosity and expand your knowledge about product. For those looking to go further down into the “why” of our work, events like this make for a great place to connect with those who share your curiosity.

Pendomonium is a unique festival celebrating innovative approaches in products. With multiple breakout sessions, different learning tracks, and thought-provoking keynotes, it offers product-led tactics and strategies. The event educates, inspires, and empowers attendees with hands-on Pendo team trainings, certifications, with nightly festivities capping off jam-packed days.

INDUSTRY Conferences, hosted by the amazing team at Product Collective, offer some of the largest and best gatherings of product professionals around the world. With four different events held during the year, including one virtual event, you’ll have no problem finding the right event for you will be a breeze.

The ITX Product + Design Conference is about learning with and from thought leaders, teammates, and clients too! A full day is dedicated to small in-person workshops and a second is reserved for the large-group keynotes – with plenty of breaks for networking and conversation. This unique community learning opportunity creates comfortable environments for different learners to learn differently.

4. Be Clear With Your Intentions

Let’s circle back to establishing your personal goals: it’s paramount to be upfront with yourself. There’s no right or wrong here, so trust your personal reasoning about whether to join a community and which one serves your needs best.

Be thoughtful about it; it’s okay to take time to decide if you’re going to stick with a group. But if you don’t clarify why you want to join, to those group members and to yourself, you may not find the right fit for you.

Here’s what Petra has to say on this topic: “It often helps if you let people know, ‘Hey, I’m just here to release some steam,’ or, ‘Hey, I’m here to actually seek guidance, and are there any tips and tricks?’ Because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a lot of helpful tips when the only thing that you wanted to do was just to kind of release some of the steam, right? So, these are things that you could think about before you actually go to an event or join a community.”

A little extra research into the community or attending “trial” meetups can be great ways to understand if the product community aligns with your intentions and goals. By doing so you set yourself up for future success and growth.

5. Benchmark Against Your Peers

When you join a new product community, you’re going to meet product professionals at different points in their careers with diverse work experiences. These interactions bring a wonderful opportunity to network, and they offer a chance to see how you measure up in comparison to your peers. Not necessarily to check if you’re “better,” but more to know where others in your field are in their careers. A little informal “gap analysis” may help uncover new skill areas that you can grow and develop.

“So sometimes it just helps to understand where you’re currently at with your current company’s product management practices, right?” Petra notes. “So that’s another thing why people are seeking community just like to see, ‘Are we really that bad?’ Or, ‘We are not that bad, everybody’s struggling with similar things,’ right?”

And, without even realizing it, you might be serving as a benchmark for others! If someone else struggles with an area that you’re familiar with, you may be the “expert” who can provide ideas or thoughts and contribute insights to the community you sought out. It’s this willingness to share that makes communities of practice such essential components to our personal and professional growth.

Find Your Product Community

There is a whole world of product communities ready to be explored. Quite literally, we have pick of the litter when it comes to selecting our community. Using these tips narrows down our pool of options, which expedites our path for growth.

Take these insights and begin your journey. Cultivate relationships and broaden your horizons with new experiences to make social connections that can benefit you beyond the workplace.

A product community is waiting for you.

Learn and network with your community at the 2024 Product + Design Conference.

Headshot of Megan Lawson.

Megan Lawson is a Marketing Content Specialist at ITX. She focuses on creating content that solves problems and engages audiences. Megan received her BA in Communication from the State University of New York at Geneseo.

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