Approaching people development like product managers?

The writing on the wall for L&D?

Having recently moved into product management (after 8 years working HR mostly in Learning & Development) and after attending a product management course recently, I wanted to share some ideas based on the following hypothesis:

Learning and Development (L&D) teams could have bigger impact if they adopted a product management approach to people development.

To explore this hypothesis, I thought a series of stories based on my top insights from the course would be of interest to some readers out there and hopefully start a dialogue on whether this hypothesis has any legs!

A quick caveat, that I am not suggesting we see people as ‘products’ but rather exploring the tools and thinking techniques that PMs use to approach developing experience for people with their behaviour, motivations and desires front of mind. Building products for people that enhance their lives. Here we go:

Being able to take an idea and turn it into a product requires a particular discipline. Product managers are often referred to as the voice of the user, making sure that business decisions can link back to solving a customer problem. Product Managers know their users, their market, and their organisations better than anyone; this sets them up to create products that make a real difference to people. Could the same go for L&D (or HR overall?) when we think about future of building people experiences to enhance their development and performance.

So, what makes up the product manager role?

Day one of the course, we needed to outline the key elements that made up a product manager’s focus in their role. We landed on the following:

  • User experience
  • Taking an idea to completion
  • Managing structure and process
  • Customers!
  • Stakeholders
  • Prioritisation
  • Research

*ignore ‘career change’ this was a separate point related to our class on the day.

As we the group yelled out the list above (which I appreciate for all PM’s out there, is not exhaustive), I was struck by how these areas could be synced to the needs of L&D in designing, building and managing people development experiences. So I thought I would revamp the list with a few insights to reflect on as well as ideas to make practical. Here goes:

User experience — how does L&D think about the user experience of the ‘products’ they are developing for their customers (learners)? Are we clear on the persona’s we are trying to solve problems for, do we know what their experience is like and what is blocking it from being better? Are we mapping out their experience, getting into their shoes and uncovering what the real pain points are?

Putting into practice: Think about a current people development programme that you may be running / planning— map out each persona you are attempting to impact. Is it a manager, new joiner, remote worker? What makes them up as a user of your development ‘product’?

Taking an idea to completion — L&D does this but could be quicker (like everyone else!). Sub out the long winded strategic plans or frameworks. Look for a problem to tackle (just one area ideally), ideate a solution and create a testing roadmap and get it out there- learn from it — ditch or implement further — the idea of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) was curious to me, how could L&D teams adopt this process to avoid building things that people do not want. An example of this could be the classic struggle of manager development- rather than set off on big programme that could seem like a big bang with sometimes minimal traction, could you pull together small group of with an MVP to test and learn first?

Putting into practice: Could you find and opportunity to build an MVP of your people development solution, the smaller the better, even drafting up the ‘wire frame’ of the programme with pen and paper and take it to your people for quick ‘usability’ testing? Does it meet their needs, if not, why not?

Managing structure and process — standard I guess, but not to be forgotten. How does L&D keep quality assurance on the structure and process of their launched/ embedded products/ experiences? Keeping a systemic mindset and keeping a tab on improvements to be made.

Putting into practice: Do you personally and/or at your team meetings have time to look at structure and process? Do you launch products and move on or look for way to make ongoing improvements?

Customers! — simple, if you aren’t obsessing about your customers a.k.a your people/ learners — don’t bother. Know everything about them (not in a creepy way, but through data and observation).

Putting into practice: Try adding 15 mins slots in your day to sit and observe people your are aiming to target your development product to and get a new perspective on what their problems may be that you could solve i.e. what you think may be a need to provide skills training might in fact be finding ways to give learners back time or a place to focus — a different perspective on enabling development?

Stakeholders — like anyone L&D need to be masters at influencing, supporting and co-creating with the people they work with and for. Again, standard but worthwhile considering how L&D can think their approach to managing multi-stakeholders at one time and moving them in the same direction to get their product out there and improving each day.

Putting into practice: Can you take a step back and look at your organisation systemically, not just decision makers but everyone interacting with the build and design of your learning product? Check in on your own development areas and ensure being a strong people co-creator is making the list.

Prioritisation — this is a tricky yet easy one. You have to know when to say ‘no’. Too many metrics, too many plans/ focus areas get you no-where. Find the thing you want to shift, get people behind the problem to be solved and why then prioritise against that.

Putting into practice: Stop and look at all of your programmes/ initiatives and as a team ask yourselves, if we needed to choose one of them, which really has the most impact on the problem you are trying to solve? Force the prioritisation conversation.

Research — stay up to date with people trends and research, yes, but also stay curious. Don’t just research your competitors or L&D blogs you find or get sent every day. Get intrigued about the people you are creating learning experiences for, observe their behaviours, ask for their views (before you start building anything and keep it on the regular!).

Putting into practice: Could you add 15 mins to your team meetings and invite some of your prospective ‘learners’ to join where you can have a quick user interview session?

What a PM is responsible for — same for L&D?

That’s it for the first of these stories and with it, I leave the image above for you to further consider in exploring the hypothesis. When summarising the main responsibilities of a product manager, we came up with:

  • Needs of customers
  • Making sure we work together
  • Monitoring performance; and
  • Oversee process

Does this ring true for L&D and how you could sum up their responsibilities? What works and what could be missing?

Thanks for taking the time to read — I welcome all thoughts on any of the above to keep exploring these ideas further!





product | anything about how age and what we can do to make it better| rookie yoga teacher | fanatic about souvenir t-shirts and thermal baths

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Phoebe Wilson

Phoebe Wilson

product | anything about how age and what we can do to make it better| rookie yoga teacher | fanatic about souvenir t-shirts and thermal baths

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