Dream big: make yourself uncomfortable as a Product Manager

Gustavo
Docplanner Tech
Published in
7 min readAug 27, 2020

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Photo by Andrey Larin on Unsplash

Hi, my name is Gustavo Comitre and I’m the Product Director of the Patient area in Docplanner Group and today I would like to share a different perspective as a Product Manager, that helps us to focus on delivering impact instead of tasks, so as to do it I split these insights into three cool topics:

  • Make yourself uncomfortable
  • Dream big
  • Teamwork to achieve big goals

Make yourself uncomfortable

In 2019 I was living and studying in Silicon Valley, where I learned a lot at Stanford University and also met incredible people from the Product area in so many meetups in the Bay Area.

In one of these meetups organized by Dan Olsen, the speaker was Ken Norton, Product Partner at Google Ventures, who brought up a topic that made me really curious: What Product Teams can learn from Jazz Musicians. Any bet? Hahaha

Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash

Long story short, he started with an example from Ella Fitzgerald, a jazz singer that decided to sing a popular song that she had never performed live, and in the middle of the performance, she forgot the lyrics. What would you do in her situation? Repeat the chorus, stop singing? Well, she improvised and also had her band follow her on this performance. In the end, the audience loved it, it was awesome!

Basically he used this analogy between Jazz and PMs to explain that great professionals in these areas improvise and reinvent themselves all the time. In my point of view, they don’t freak out and commonly know that they will need to adapt accordingly with the circumstances.

As PMs, risks are part of our job and we need to accept it. We will make mistakes in the process, but we need to use it as fuel to create something incredible for our customers.

To be honest, I have never seen PMs that are afraid or unconfident with themselves succeed in big things because usually, they prefer to focus on easy things so they don’t leave their comfort zone, so let’s embrace the uncertainty and move on!

Performance VS Stress chart

Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting — Larry Page

And this is one topic that I really enjoy here at Docplanner for example, we are super data-driven, but at the same time, we are always ready to take some bets and test them, because even if we make mistakes, we always learn something interesting that we can use in future experiments and ideas.

Dream big

Well, I would like to start this topic with a phrase from Jorge Paulo Lemann that I really love…

To have a big dream requires the same effort as having a small dream — Jorge Paulo Lemann

But what’re big dreams in the product area? Well, they’re about working on things that can bring 10x more impact, revenue, customers, etc, instead of small changes that can affect 1–10%.

We need to have a passion to build big and disruptive products, this is how we change the world and I believe that’s why the first topic that I mentioned about being uncomfortable is so important for a product team because you will need to take risks and sometimes (many times), failures that are part of the game.

But are you crazy? It’s really difficult to achieve things that have 10x magnitude, no?

Actually, we commonly have this feeling that 10% is easier than 10x but it’s not always true.

1–10% — Well, when you think about 10% you usually are thinking about optimization, working on something that already exists, and sometimes it can be pretty hard because you already optimized a lot. E.g. CVR of a page/email of your product.

10x — In general you must think outside of the box, forget what you already have in the table, and understand deeply your customers and your goal to find some candidates to achieve a 10x magnitude.

A good example in history is about watches (sorry Ken, I used one of your examples again, but it’s a really good one 😅). For centuries Swiss watchmakers worked to improve the accuracy of mechanical watches. A lot of work to optimize them a little bit the precision. But one company called Seiko introduced to the market a new product, the quartz watch (this company didn’t create it, but was the pioneer to launch it in the market). Immediately they won, a 10x more accurate product compared with a mechanical watch and less than 10% of the cost. The company tried to rethink the entire market, instead of working on marginal improvements.

Left: Quartz watch — precise, very cheap, don’t need maintenance, robust, small, and thin. Right: mechanical watch — much less precise, much more costly, need maintenance, quite delicate, generally bigger/thicker.

Of course, you will have some limitations trying to reach big numbers, but 10x things are one of the best exercises you can do to think about the future of your company/product, trust me.

Every quarter we try to do a Product Vision exercise here in Docplanner between Product Managers and it’s really interesting to push ourselves on how we can achieve our long-term goal not only with small improvements but also with big changes in how doctors and patients think and iterate with healthcare products.

We always try to use data to balance our predictions and this quarter, in particular, was really nice because Gabri, our CPO, tried to challenge me about my numbers, how can we reach bigger numbers, and what can I do to grow faster? These questions brought discomfort and pushed me that I should rethink how we iterate with patients and doctors to find 10x ideas instead of marginal improvements again.

Of course, these ideas have chances to fail, but when we are talking about bets, the main purpose is to test something, so we need to accept that sometimes we will fail in our hypotheses, it’s part of the game. But it’s always how you push yourself to test these ideas faster and learn with each iteration, so even if you discover that part of your bets will not work, you will adapt it accordingly with the feedback of your users or sometimes just drop it, don’t try to always be right or trick your experiments.

Teamwork to achieve big goals

Frequently I hear some PMs in other companies making the mistake of creating a lot of requirements and giving them to the team to ship them. Of course, you reduce significantly the stress on your team and in the short term maybe they will be really happy with you, but you’ll also break the entire product discovery flow, because the “solution” is already defined and nothing new will appear from engineers or designers, for example. If you would like to see more details, in my previous post — Building amazing products for Patients, I shared how my team likes to work together, how we split the responsibilities to achieve our goals, and our alignment with the mission of our company and team.

Below you can see the growth numbers of a feature that we worked on inside our Patient Experience Team. This feature had a good balance of contribution from our entire team, developers, designers, product analysts, and researchers. They worked together to refine and think big, but also we split in different iterations to reduce the risk of failure and validate each step of our plan.

A real feature inside the Patient Experience Team using this 10x approach

And the numbers say by itself how good is to get help from your entire team, right? We multiplied by 7,3x our monthly active users on this specific feature. Not 10x, but wait… we expect higher than 10x in a couple of weeks 🎉

Great products are the result of product, design, and engineering working together

Also if you would like to go deeper into the product area, I really recommend checking other articles from my friends here, such those from Matt and Adam respectively:

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