You are the product. It’s time for New Year’s Retrospective.

minutes read

09 Jun 2023

By Shelly W Kalish


2020 is over; hooray! What a wild year it has been.
So, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2021?
Like many, I haven’t come up with any. But instead, I’ve been more retrospective.
Yes. I called 2020 down for a retrospective meeting.


And as with any Agile Retrospective meeting we run, it’s time to talk about the past and how to make 2021 to work for us, Product Managers.

I’ve been thinking about how to better myself, those around me, and focus on what’s important.
We have guiding principles in our companies, strategies, in life, in relationships, so why not make some for your career? Taking the time to look back has helped me shape the way forward. In other words, “What kind of a Product Manager do I want to be when I grow up?” and “How can I get there?”


Here are my 5 guiding principles; my ABCs for what keeps me motivated, what I believe in, and what I would like to inspire in others when it comes to Product Management.

Each principle is driven by another question, we Product professionals ask ourselves every day.
What went well? What didn’t go so well? What have I learned?
And especially: What still puzzles me?

Do you find yourself in the questions? What questions you most resonate with?


A is for Always Aspire to More

What this means for me: 

❓ How to identify a talented Product Manager?
❗ Continuously challenge yourself- Pick up a new hobby, learn something new, ask someone to teach you something, or to give you a complicated task to solve. Each person will be challenged differently, so find what it means for you and go for it. Dive in.



❓ What is the Product Manager career growth path?
❗ Promotions come in various shapes- Wanting to keep moving up the career ladder doesn’t always mean a vertical promotion. Lateral movements have helped keep me motivated. I strive to move forward in various directions. Interview annually to keep you on your toes and prepared. 

❓ How to become an effective Product Manager?
❗ Feedback, Feedback, Feedback- The best way to keep on learning is to get feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for it and definitely don’t be afraid to implement it. 

❓ What is the core competency of a Product Manager?
❗ Learn, re-learn, and learn more- Some people love learning, some hate it. Regardless of which camp you are in, learn how to learn. This course was recommended to me, check it out.

❓ What does it take to be a great Product Manager?
❗ Invent, re-invent, Invest, re-invest, Repeat- Don’t be scared to re-invent yourself, brand yourself in a new way, tweak your story. More importantly, invest in yourself, find the time and the way to shape your story, and define what makes you unique. 


B is for Be the User

What this means for me: 

❓ Why do the majority of new products fail?
❗ Put yourself in front of the user’s screen- If you can walk a mile in someone’s shoes, then you should also regularly ensure you are aligned with your user.



❓ How to create products users love to use?
❗ Learn about your users, continuously-  Get to know your users, how are they the same, how are they different? Segment them accordingly, but don’t be afraid to change it up as needed too. 

❓ What user segmentation has to do with Product Management?
❗ Context is King- The How and What are always important. Take into consideration demographics and everything around it. Context is everything. 

❓ How can a Product Manager know what users want?
❗ Insights can be more valuable than feedback-  Customers will often say they want X, but what they really NEED is Y. Understand how to identify patterns and read between the lines. The insights you can glean will help you make more informed decisions.

❓ What is a day in the life of a Product Manager like?
❗ Validate & Test- Need I say more? 


C is for Care about Others

What this means for me: 

❓ How to become a great manager?
❗ Learn what drives the people on your team- Ask them about themselves, get to know what excites them and what doesn’t. Learn about their lives. Empathize.
Make the effort- don’t just say you will, actually do it. Find the time, the space, the energy to have compassion. It’s such a great feeling to care.



❓ What actually should a Product Manager know?
❗ Know the goals of your stakeholders-  Make their goals your goals too. Take a vested interest in helping them succeed. You’re all in this together.

❓ What is the hardest part of being a Product Manager?
❗ Health, family, & personal matters come first-  Always. I am a strong believer that no matter how important work is, it’s never as important as this. Be there for the people you love the most, always. 

❓ How can Product Managers help each other?
❗ Pay it forward- Have you ever reached out to someone who was struggling? Helped someone with something? Every so often, when you do something for another person, they remember it and have your back when you need it too. This is the beauty of humanity. 


D is for Do What YOU Love 

What this means for me: 

❓ Is Product Management for me?
❗ Know yourself- Ask yourself what makes you feel awesome? What makes your blood boil? What do you love? What makes you, YOU? Introspection is important.



❓ How to keep going as a Product Manager?
❗ Love the product you build- If you aren’t 100% bought into what you are building, then don’t even start. I learned the hard way, that if I can’t sell myself the product, how can I define it? Be passionate about what you do or don’t do it all. If you love what you are doing, then give it 200%.

❓ How you influence your team as a Product Manager?
❗ Your leadership is everything- Or at least 70% of your role happiness. In short, they have a big impact on doing what you love. It’s not only about the product or working with smart people. It’s also about having someone to help you thrive in doing what you love. 

Invest (again)- It’s repetitive and true, in every step of this, you have to keep on investing. I know it’s hard, but if you don’t do it then no one will do it for you. 


E is for Exercise Your Voice

What this means for me: 

❓ Why is product management important?
❗ Challenge the status quo- Even if it’s just asking questions, raising awareness, or doing more research so that it brings attention to the topic. If there’s anything we learned this year, just because it’s existed until now, doesn’t mean it was right.



❓ What is the future of Product Management?
❗ Speak up-  Especially if you don’t agree, don’t allow yourself to do something you don’t believe in. We are all leaders in our own right and when we voice our opinions, we show leadership. After all, you are the future of Product Management.

❓ How to grow your Product Leadership skills?
❗ Don’t be afraid- I’m a victim of this too. Often fearful of what others think, especially if you’re a minority, you don’t want to be judged or mislabeled. I’ve been told I’m too assertive for just voicing my opinion, that was tough but now I am stronger than ever before.

❓ Is Product Management a science or an art?
❗ Data is your friend- Utilize data wherever possible to help back up what you’re saying. It can validate your ideas and influence others to join. 

❓ What can be the best new year’s resolutions?
❗ Be confident- In what you say, even if others are doubting you. If we need to protect a belief, a decision, or a person, we will need to speak with conviction to get our point across. 


I probably could continue all the way down to the letter Z, but we need to know our limits. I don’t expect myself to be able to follow all the above, all the time. Sometimes I’ll remind myself to apply it, other times I’ll probably wish I did, but it’s helpful to have a North Star to come back to. I’d love to hear about other’s guiding principles, which of mine resonates with you, or how you can apply them in your careers. 

About the author 

Shelly W Kalish

Mentor and mentee at Product League & Head of Product Partnerships and Design at Meta

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