Building something new necessitates venturing into uncharted territory. As somewhat of an entrepreneurial scout, launching new products and features can reinforce an autonomy that is isolating. As a product manager, no one else carries the weight of the decisions you make. There’s a story I’ve heard a former colleague tell about the heartbreak of launching a new product or feature, appreciating the unique pain that comes with bringing something new into the world:
“…[P]roduct managers hold in their heart every single trade-off they’ve ever made across a product. At the end of that project, you think to yourself, ‘Man, I could have done this so many different ways. Did I make the right choices?’
…[A]s product managers, we face that all the time. We live in this ambiguity and we can never show that ambiguity to other people, but internally, we face it.”
Combined with a microservice architecture, there can be surprisingly little organic interaction between product managers at the same company. This compounds the isolation, fostering siloed mindsets and reinforcing arbitrary boundaries of knowledge.
Product pairing is a salve to this isolation, encouraging product managers to work together on tasks. Analogous to pair programming, product pairing builds trust and encourages knowledge & skill sharing, fostering a resilient product team culture.
Pairing on quantitative and qualitative discovery is a great way to get started, collaborating to refine and share research nuggets with your teams and throughout your organization. Synthesizing discovery data with a partner will build your research skills and will enable you to better assess and calculate the risk of a new idea. Below are other ways to jump start product pairing at your company:
Pair on end-to-end testing
Collaborative end-to-end testing is a great way to share knowledge and build trust. While you know your products inside and out, others are subject matter experts too. Partnering together to design and execute end-to-end tests ahead of a change is an easy way to start pairing and contribute equally, building trust in each other.
While a screen sharing session to draft an end-to-end test plan is a great way to kick things off, find solo time to work on aspects of testing asynchronously. Especially today, with many remote team members in all time zones, it’s important to create mechanisms that support asynchronous work. Pairing on end-to-end tests should involve close collaboration, but doesn’t require a live session for every activity.
Write stories and requirements together
Feature and story refinement always uncovers questions and assumptions you haven’t considered. Pairing with a product manager to draft requirements and sketch out user stories introduces those important aspects of refinement earlier in the process. The best user stories I’ve written have been those worked on with another product manager because they’ve pushed me to explore and detail aspects of the user’s world and task at hand that I might have otherwise glossed over.
Writing acceptance criteria together also introduces the opportunity for organic knowledge sharing. When you have a shared goal, the knowledge you pick up feels like a benefit of the interaction, not a task you’ve been assigned. Knowledge transfer sessions can be useful, but they are often hosted when employees are off-boarding. When you create opportunities for information sharing, you introduce a key component to building resiliency in your team.
Play to your strengths
There are times when a challenge should be tackled so you can learn something new and stretch your skill set, but when pairing with another product manager, don’t shy away from letting your key skills shine. Playing to your strengths is a way to influence without authority, an important foundation for product managers. It can be challenging to find ways to build that particular muscle and pairing with another product manager is one way to build influence within an organization. If you’ve been pairing on discovery, testing, and writing stories together, a natural extension is cross-team activities like joining another team’s refinement session to discuss stories & tasks, allowing your subject matter expertise to shine.
Building a strong product culture requires time, patience, and trust. Product pairing provides strategic value to your organization by building resilience in your team and tactical opportunities to share knowledge and up-skill team members. Product managers crave autonomy, but that doesn’t have to come at the cost of isolation and siloed knowledge. Leverage product pairing to balance the weight of bringing new products and features to life, developing an entrepreneurial mindset in your company.