Best Brain Exercises for a Product Manager

10 training techniques for your product thinking.

Alex Kistenev
Aug 3, 2017 · 7 min read

Many people visit a gym, swimming pool and do other sports activities to stay physically fit (hope you do 😉). But how often do you do exercises for brain training? Well, if you want to turn pro at a faster pace then consider training your brain as well.

Artem Borodin, the Head of Product at Standuply Slack bot co-authored this post.

We often think that our brain is constantly trained — surely, we use it for work (at least some of us do). Others may think quite the opposite; our brain needs relief. However, elite sports athletes know it’s constant systematic training and relaxation cycles that bring up the best results. Without the consistent approach to exercising you won’t be able to achieve the desired effect.

We’d like to share quick and easy exercises that could be extremely useful as a regular part of your daily work as a Product Manager. Mix them as you like and be sure to switch from one to another to achieve the best results 👋


1. Sketch an interface from your memory

Each of us has favorite products which we use at work and home. Can you restore their interfaces from your memory? For instance, draw by hand the home page of YouTube or the layout of the personal account at Intercom?

This is an amazing exercise helping a Product Manager to get an in-depth understanding reasons why a designer made the product to look like this. You may also have new ideas for better solutions for that product and apply them at your work.

Practice this exercise several times a week, and you will enhance your ability to generate ideas on product improvements.

2. Ask yourself core questions

The more unbiased you are, the more objective your opinion is. Here are three simple yet very important questions for you to always bear in mind.

1. What is the key point of your product?
2. What is your advantage against competitors?
3. What are competitive disadvantages of your product?

You can start with analyzing products and services you encounter on a regular day. For instance, try to answer these three questions about the shop you drop in after work, or your favorite hair salon.

After a while, start questioning about your own product as well.

3. Imagine you work at another place

Choose a product you like and use quite often. Now imagine you’re PM of that product. Come up with a backlog of tasks you’d set for development. Do this exercise at least once a week choosing a new product every time.

Try to find the public roadmap of the product you imaginary manage. Then compare your product vision with the real product’s backlog.

At Standuply, we regularly analyze and evaluate Slack’s roadmap.

Next, try to follow the same routine with products from other spheres. For example, imagine that you are the founder of your favorite restaurant. What would you improve first?

4. Make up new products

Make it your everyday habit to think about possible improvements, automation, and thus the implementation of at least one item or a process within your work environment.

Do you often receive messages from your partner that draw you away from your work? You can create a bot to communicate on your behalf so that your partner would not realize that it wasn’t you.

Or do you hate wasting time waiting while a coffee machine would make a cup of nice strong espresso? Maybe you can automate this process like this guy.

Soon you’ll be doing that automatically. Watch your backlog!

5. Start your side-project

We make better decisions spending our personal resources, rather than a company’s budget. On this point, you may try to start a side-project where you pay for all expenses and see how your product thinking changes along the way.

Try to pick up the simplest idea and implement it in parallel with your main job. Hire a freelance developer if you don’t code yourself. It can even pay back after some time, but that doesn’t matter much. It’s your experience that matters.

You can discover how you prioritize tasks differently, cut off unnecessary things, and make a greater contribution than ever before. Then it will be easier to apply this experience to your work.

6. Treat life as a project

Our lives are big-scale projects with a huge degree of uncertainty and many “features” to implement. Thus, you can use the same approaches we use in software development. Here is what I can recommend:

1. Set your life goals and use time-boxed iterations to achieve them.
2. Prioritize.
3. Test your hypotheses and stick to what works.
4. Run retrospectives for self-observations.
5. Find vacant niches.
6. Think about how to scale your success.
7. Love people around you; they are your users
😄

Becoming a better product manager will help you to improve your life in general.

7. Try something new

Our brain operates differently when we try something new in our day-to-day lives. Changes from outside promote changes within. Here is the set of simplest techniques which are worth trying.

  • Instead of going out to the same restaurants try new places every week.
  • Use different routes to get to work.
  • Use different services for the same tasks (ticket bookings, taxi, etc.).
  • Buy food and clothes in different stores.
  • Use different mobile and desktop operating systems.

As you see, the principle is clear and easy, so you can come up with your own new stuff to try.

8. Cut off unnecessary things

Product managers not only develop new product features but also get rid of unused ones. The software can quickly become heavyweight, making you write complex user guides. So it’s a useful skill to spot unnecessary things.

How to make it your habit? List the features which you would omit from the products you regularly use. Think of what you would cut from Facebook, Twitter, or Salesforce?

After some practice, try the same with the product you manage and you might be surprised with the long list of features to get rid of.

9. Limit your resources

This may sound strange, but sometimes lack of resources can lead to better results. The less you have on your hands, the more mindful and focused your decisions will be. Come up with written answers on what you would do in the following situations:

  • You have half the team resources.
  • You have to deliver a working product in a month.
  • You have three months of runway.
  • You have no marketing budget.
  • You can build one single feature.

You may even use this approach in your everyday life. Simply cut your weekly budget to see how you will prioritize your spendings. See, it is also a great approach to saving money!

10. Grandma test

Imagine your grandma asking you what you do at work. Tough, huh? While you may already have left your granny with the easiest explanation, here is the trick, I’ve read about:

If you can explain your product for your grandmother, so that she understands, then you can surely explain it to your target audience.

I practiced that trick to explain our new features to my folks who are light years away from computers. It was very insightful. The thing is to use simple words and speak about product’s value. This way it’s more clear to everybody what do you do.

Moreover, I started to show our competitors’ websites to my parents checking their responses to learn what is easy for them to understand. I started to see the things that work and that don’t.

You should definitely try this. At least your family will get more of your time.

Conclusion

Self-improvement is a never-ending process, and this list may go on and on. However, I hope that I have described enough for you to start practicing today.

All you need is a bit of self-discipline and self-control. Build a regular training system just like in sports, and soon you’ll notice positive improvements in the product you manage.

If you have your examples of useful exercises, share them in the comments below.


This post is brought to you by Standuply.com — The Slack bot for remote Agile teams that automatically runs standup and retrospective meetings in Slack.

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We at Standuply strive to bring you the best practices and tools for being the better PM 🎯

In case you missed: here are my latest posts with the lessons we learned.

Frontiers

Stories from the startup journey around the world.

Alex Kistenev

Written by

CEO of https://standuply.com — #1 Standup Bot for Slack. Love writing and traveling.

Frontiers

Frontiers

Stories from the startup journey around the world.