If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you have probably picked up on the fact that one of the primary tasks of a good product manager is to listen. We have to listen to the market to hear what pervasive and pressing problems people face and what yearning aspirations they aspire to achieve that aren’t being served by existing solutions. We have to listen to our current clients to understand their experience with our products – what they like, what they struggle with, what they wish they could accomplish but can’t. We have to listen to the front-line people in our company that are also interacting with clients – especially our client support, product implementation, and sales teams – to glean what they are hearing from clients and prospects. We have to listen (at least a little bit) to our competitors to hear what directions they are taking, what problems they are claiming to address, and how they are positioning their solution offerings. We have to listen to our design, development, and testing teams to grow our knowledge about how products are developed, what new technologies are making possible, what emerging trends in user experience might become important for our product, and what areas of potential weakness or vulnerability they see with our existing products. We have to listen to our peers in other companies and other industries to learn about adjacent markets, larger product trends, and product development best practices we might want to adopt.
Listening is at the heart of good product management. It’s really at the heart of growth, learning, and development in any arena. Given all that is happening in America at present maybe it’s time to do more listening.
Listen to credible medical and public health experts about the needs for easy and inexpensive access to good COVID-19 testing and reliable contact tracing.
Listen to reputable news sources instead of the fear-inducing and divisive lies perpetrated by those trying to divide an already fracturing nation (maybe start here).
Listen to the many scholars and thinkers who have written and spoken for decades about the need to address racial inequality (here are some suggested places to start).
Listen to the call to end police brutality – a call that has been raised non-violently for decades from people sitting at lunch counters, walking over bridges, and kneeling at football games and that has too long been ignored.
Listen to the cries and the anger and the frustration of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed who will speak with rocks and fists when their quieter words go unheeded.
Listen to the signs and shirts and banners insisting that Black lives matter.
Listen to the voices of Black coworkers and neighbors and acquaintances who’ve been voicing their discomfort over casual racism and the micro aggressions you laugh off but that have left wounds at the foundation of our current explosive crisis.
Listen to the still small voice of your own conscience that whispers, ‘maybe that would be inappropriate to say,’ or ‘maybe I have benefited from privilege in ways that are uncomfortable to acknowledge.’
Listen to the words of a prophetic poet written nearly a century ago that sound like they could have been penned or tweeted yesterday.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
[Read more Langston Hughes poems here]
It can be challenging to know what to do and how to respond when the world feels like it’s careening out of control. Maybe start by listening.