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Embracing Human-Centric Product Management

Can the quality of a decision be measured by the amount of data that informed it? Are emotionally intelligent products distinguishably better than their website data-driven counterparts? Product managers struggling to find their voice as they develop their careers are inundated with recommendations emphasizing one or the other, but are these poles mutually exclusive?

Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting Christian Idiodi, of Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) on Product Momentum, ITX’s award-winning podcast. Christian’s insights into product management are inspiring and practical. As a top contender for the nicest person in product, he was generous enough to share a map to chart one’s growth that strikes a balance between the essential elements of business health and human empathy.

The Essence of Product Management

Product management has traditionally been seen as a discipline rooted in solving problems, creating value, and fostering innovation. Christian reminds us time and again that frameworks and methodologies are important, but human problems (not software solutions) are at the core of product management . Our work is about understanding the customer, empathizing with their needs, and crafting solutions that not only meet those needs but also delight and inspire.

Balancing business versus customer does not have to be an either-or scenario. Sacrificing value for one at the cost of the other would cause teams to miss the multiplicative effects of a both-and approach. Christian talks about the delicate balance between a product’s objective value and the perceived value felt by its customers. He argues that focusing solely on one over the other is likely to lead to suboptimal outcomes. But when we’re able to connect each through powerful stories, he continues, we can establish trust in most users – maybe even inspire a few. The most successful companies are those that find a way to make their customers happy while also driving business success.

In product management, what are often termed “soft skills” are better described as “human skills.” Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and the ability to build and maintain relationships are critical in fostering a collaborative environment where great products can be built.

The more we develop these human skills, the better we hone our product sense. Product sense is a term often misunderstood, but it can be simply described as a deep, intuitive understanding of what makes a product successful. It involves insights into the market, the customer, and the product itself. It’s not something we’re born with; it’s a learned behavior that’s cultivated over time. Product management is a career of continuous learning that comes from exposure to and experience in new and challenging environments. Cultivation is informed by data, but it’s felt through experience.

Practically speaking, Christian knows how to enroll you in his vision for a better world through product management. After we concluded the recorded portion of our conversation, he said, “Always happy to support your work.” And then challenged us with, “By the way, why are you all not doing stuff in Africa?”

Why indeed? Christina Idiodi’s global perspective of helping everyone – yes, everyone – confronted me head-on. I had no good answer.

His work through the Innovate Africa Foundation, founded by Jean-Claude Bastos in 2009, highlights the importance of context in product management. It also highlights the consistency of value he displays in walking the walk.

Assumptions that hold true in one market might not apply in another, so it’s not about helping the aggregate or the average. It’s about helping one person at a time. This underscores the need for product managers to be adaptable and aware of cultures and peoples outside of stereotypically corporate environs.

Applying These Ideas

I left the conversation encouraged to apply what I’d learned, so I’d like to summarize for you here what I’m going to try to apply in my conversations going forward.

Foster a Human-Centric Culture

  • Encourage empathy within your teams. Understand your customers deeply and create products that genuinely solve their problems.
  • Promote human skills development, including emotional intelligence and relationship-building.

Balance Business and Customer Goals

  • Strive to meet business objectives while also ensuring that customer satisfaction is at the forefront of your strategy.
  • Use customer feedback to inform business decisions and drive product improvements.

Cultivate Product Sense

  • Invest in continuous learning and exposure to different markets and customer segments.
  • Encourage your team to immerse themselves in the customer experience and gather insights directly from users.

The product manager’s journey is one of continuous learning and adaptation. By balancing the needs of the business with those of the customer, and by fostering essential human skills within our teams, we can create products that not only succeed in the market but also make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Are you ready to optimize your product teams for human skills? Join us for a workshop to explore these concepts further and learn how to implement them in your organization’s products. Methodologies, templates, and models are helpful, but the map is not the territory. During the course of our workshop, we’ll uncover effective discovery approaches, methods of building empathy, and driving meaningful outcomes for people through the technology solutions you’ll build. Schedule your workshop today and start humanizing your approach to product management.

Paul Gebel  is Vice President of Delivery ITX Corp. and co-host of Product Momentum, ITX’s award-winning podcast. He earned his BFA and MBA degrees at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he currently serves as Adjunct Professor. Paul’s experience also includes extensive project and product management experience and consultancy. At ITX, he works closely with high-profile clients, leveraging technology to help solve business problems so they can move, touch, and inspire the world.

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