Personal Development and Imposter Syndrome

1. List the things you need to be good at

Start by listing all the technical skills and people skills that you need to do the job. This will be a long list. To do this:

  • First, map out the work from start to finish. For a PM, that might be anything from interviewing customers to writing documentation. But map it all out, a whiteboard is fine!
  • Attach the skills to that work that you need to achieve that work. Written communication, qualitative research, interviewing techniques, empathy, self awareness etc.
  • Sense check this with literature, training, workshops, managers and peers. For example Teresa writes specifically about the pitfalls of customer interviews. Add these skills to your map.

2. De-duplicate and group the skills

Trying to be completely exhaustive at this point is a poor use of your time. You could spend years trying to get this perfect. The list only needs to be good enough for you to move on. You can always revisit later.

Adapted from Marty Cagan’s — Empowered

3. Translate these skills for others

Terms like ‘Product Evangelism’ and ‘Discovery’, will only mean something to you. It’s a dangerous assumption to think that other people have done as much reading/reflection on your career as you have!

The PM wheel — by Petra Wille

4. Get input from others

Rate yourself and ask for feedback. It will help highlight gaps and reduce bias in your thinking. Be careful who you ask because the results can be pretty noisy. Notice in the example how it turns out I’m better at planning than I thought I was. This really starts to keep that imposter syndrome at bay!

Download the template here

5. Learn from others

Ok. Hard work up to this point, right? Keep the process as light weight as possible. It’s better to be quick rather than exhaustive, because next up is the important bit.

  • Find someone who is better at this than you. They don’t have to be an expert, but better so that you can learn from them.
  • Watch them do the task. You will want to see them do the task at least 6–12 times depending on how complicated it is. Ideally map this out; I use process mapping, but bullet points, or drawings would be as good, if not better. Here is an example from Teresa Torres on what is involved in ‘Understanding the problem’.
Teresa Torres — Continuous discovery habits — Experience map
  • Highlight leading indicators of success. What are the common features that lead to success? What don’t you do? For me, when I was working on understanding the problem it came down to one single thing: “Speak to customers at least once a week”.

6. Mapping it out (SMART goals)

I hate ‘SMART’ goals. I can never remember what the acronym stands for. And every year I have written some for performance reviews only to forget them until it’s a year later.

  • I don’t learn enough from customer interviews. ⇒ I don’t know how to interview customers ?
  • It’s too hard to maintain a pipelines of customer interviews. ⇒ How do I organise customer recruitment?
  • Notes are rarely helpful and take up too much time. ⇒ What am I missing in note taking?

7. Anti-patterns

There are two anti-patterns that I made the mistake of doing earlier on in this process.

  • Don’t ask others what it takes to be good at ‘X’. Chances are they have been doing this for years and it is instinctive. They are ‘unconsciously competent’, and won’t give you a helpful answer. Even if they want to.
  • Don’t ask what the hardest part is for them. It won’t be relevant. They will likely give you a personal answer, that they themselves are working on. But this is unlikely to be the bottleneck for you.

8. Find a coach

*Looking for coaching? Coaches are excellent. If you can afford to get a coach or apply for a coaching scholarship then please stop reading and go and seek expert advice; I promise you won’t regret it. I have been incredibly lucky enough to have been coached by product leaders and great past managers.

  • I’m looking to take on the next cohort of 3 junior product managers. If you are interested — apply here. NB it is free!
  • More senior and want to get product management coaching? I would thoroughly recommend Petra Wille.
  • I’m looking for my next role in product management with coaching responsibilities. If you are looking for someone, please get in touch.

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Sam Buddington

Sam Buddington

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A new product mentor, figuring the best way to learn new stuff, and teach it in less time than I took to learn it.