What I Learned About Product Management from Running 🏃

The Importance of Consistency

Joe Gonwa
Joe Gonwa
Jan 13, 2018 · 4 min read

Last month, I woke up at 6:00 am, ate a toasted English muffin with peanut butter, drank a cup of coffee, and drove downtown. Then I went outside and ran 13.1 miles.

🥐 ☕ 🏃

Over the last twelve weeks, I have logged over 175 miles and 26 hours on the road. But thirteen weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch logging 0 miles and 0 hours running.


Twelve months ago, some coworkers and I had an idea about a new product we could bring to market. We had no dedicated resources and were logging 0 hours towards building the product. Today, we have a live product with paying customers.

💡🏗️💰

So, how can one go from running 0 miles to 13 miles without stopping?

How can a group of individuals go from a idea on a napkin to a functioning and profitable web application in under a year?

The answer: Planning. Action. Momentum.


📅 Having a Plan (sort-of)

Running experts and athletic coaches express the importance of having a good training plan. And they aren’t wrong. A good training plan is both a guidepost and a safety blanket. It sets milestones and lays out a path of gradual progression. It provides focus and clarity to what needs to be accomplished each week. You understand what you need to accomplish because it is laid out for you in the training plan.

What if my running plan tells me to run 3 miles on Tuesday, but on Tuesday I have an all-day meeting and a client dinner and it’s pouring thunder outside? Simple answer: I don’t run on Tuesday.

Or when the plan tells me to run 10 miles, but I ate something funny the night before and my legs are feeling funny from my previous run? Answer: I adjust my plan.

In the end, a training plan is simply numbers on a calendar. Successful training does not come from following a plan, it comes from using the guide as a rubric for setting incremental goals each week. Its not important that I run 3 miles on Tuesday and Thursday and run 6 miles on Saturday. What is important is logging at least 9 weekly miles and progressing towards my ultimate goal.

In Product Management, having a structured planning is nice but it isn’t crucial. In fact, best-laid plans in product development often go awry. Yearly planning tends to unravel after a few months. Market conditions and business assumptions change frequently. Product roadmaps and development plans must be updated quarterly in order to stay relevant.

More importantly, you must set incremental goals each week for what needs to be accomplished.

Use the plan as a guideline rather than a prescriptive mandate.

🎬 Action

With a plan in place and a race-day marked on the calendar, you enter the execution phase. Each morning ask yourself: what can I do today to move myself forward to my goal?

Each day is a chance to perform, create, and add value. Just as days off the road spent resting and stretching make you a better runner on the road, time spent away from active development — grooming user stories or validating design approaches — these activities push the product forward and add tremendous value.`

Through training, I learned the importance of writing down what I had accomplished. While a training plan tells you what you should do in the future, the running log shows what you’ve accomplished to date.

Likewise in Product Management, it’s important to track how far you’ve come. Celebrate wins with the development team regardless of how small they may be.

My Running Log for 2018

⛷️Momentum

Long runs are not easy and no amount of mental preparation can eliminate the fact that your Sunday-Funday long run is going to take over 90 minutes to complete.

The best advice in this situation is really the only advice one can give: Get Started. After you lace up the shoes and hit the pavement, momentum will carry you forward. Tight muscles limber up quickly but the first mile is the toughest. Soon enough, your pace and breathing regulates into an easy rhythm.

Looking at a running log shows you how far you’ve come and motivates you to keep going. In product management you find motivation and encouragement as you see features come alive, watching user activity grow month-over-month.

In summary, use a plan as a guideline to help achieve your goals. Take action each day to move things forward. Ride your momentum. Listen to your team and adjust tempo accordingly.

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