There’s a fairly well-known phenomenon in social psychology called the fresh-start effect. Essentially, it’s the idea that individuals are more likely to perform certain actions or behaviors that make progress towards a goal after specific temporal milestones, like the start of a new year, week, or month.
Since the new year seems like a new beginning or a clean slate, people are ready and motivated to get to work on their goals. We’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to make a new year’s resolution to finally clean out your closet or get a new gym membership, but the list below offers a few helpful things you can do as a product manager in the new year to set yourself up for success.
1. Be more transparent.
At first glance, transparency might seem like a pretty vague concept for a product manager, especially on a list of things they should strive for in the new year. But, we’ll argue that transparency is rapidly becoming one of the most undervalued values (sorry) in product development these days. There are a number of ways the concept applies to product managers.
First, transparency might be a relatively new concept in the tech world (and beyond), but trust isn’t. These days, transparency and trust have become tightly intertwined and companies that speak openly about their future plans, successes, and failures, seem to have a special place in the hearts of their users and customers. Companies and products that conceal failures or manipulate data have a hard time regaining trust among their users and often never recover. As a product manager, you can have a strong impact on the amount of transparency that exists around your product, both to customers and other internal stakeholders.
“As a product manager, you can have a strong impact on the amount of transparency that exists around your product, both to customers and other internal stakeholders.”
One way to increase external transparency is to create a public-facing roadmap, a version of your product roadmap that lets users know which features are coming in the future. Maybe you give exact dates and detailed descriptions of features. Maybe you provide really high-level hints and completely exclude timelines. Either way, giving your customers a glimpse into your product strategy leaves them feeling more informed. If you’re concerned about how much detail you should include, check out our article about how to create public roadmaps. It covers everything from how much information you should include, to whether or not to offer dates and timelines, and even how to gracefully let viewers know the roadmap is subject to change.
While creating a public roadmap helps improve transparency for external customers, it’s also worthwhile to be more communicative and open with internal teams and stakeholders. There are certainly times when it makes sense to show restraint and keep specific features or release dates under wraps internally until things are firmly locked in place and contingency plans have been made. For example, there’s always the potential that customer-facing reps pass along release dates for specific features and then plans change unexpectedly. You don’t want to frustrate those teams or the customers they’re speaking with, but there are ways to keep teams informed at a high-level.
If you aren’t already doing so, hold meetings with leads from other teams in the organization to present a high-level version of your roadmap. Provide rough timelines and high-level descriptions of features so other teams know what’s coming up without promising specific dates. This helps them set expectations for customers or their own work (think marketing teams gearing up for launches). Increasing transparency around your product roadmap should help everyone stay more focused and aligned around this year’s broader strategy.
2. Do some streamlining.
While we promised we wouldn’t tell you to clean out your closet, the new year is a good time to update and refresh your product stack. If you’ve been struggling to build your roadmap in a spreadsheet or presentation tool, now might be the time to switch to a dedicated roadmap solution. If your desk is cluttered with notepads and napkin notes, and you can barely see your monitor because of your rainbow of post-it notes, it might be a good time to adopt dedicated note-taking software, like Evernote, or a more robust project management system, like Pivotal Tracker.
While you’re working on cleaning out your actual desk clutter, consider doing away with some of your digital clutter and unsubscribe from email lists you no longer find relevant or were too busy to opt out of last year. New year, new inbox!
On an even more important note, the beginning of the year is a good time to go through your product backlog and purge it of any items that you know just aren’t going to be a priority moving forward. Take advantage of the fresh-start effect and prune last year’s to-dos!
3. Get more involved.
In our opinion, this is actually a fun one, but one of the more challenging goals to accomplish given the hectic nature of being a product manager. There are lots of business-as-usual activities that get in the way of things like contributing to the broader product management community, but it’s a worthwhile mission for the year.
If you’re drowning in daily work, start small by joining a couple of the public product management Slack channels, like The Product Stack. Dip your toe in by just browsing the channel when you have a free minute, reading some of the articles, or answering a question or two. You can suggest discussion topics, share your own articles, and bounce strategy ideas off of other experienced product managers. Slack is a great way to network with other product managers and get involved in the product management field without much of a time commitment.
Looking for more face-to-face networking? Consider making this the year you start attending some local or regional product management meetup groups. A quick search of meetup.com reveals there are more than 730 local product management meetups around the globe. Meetups are a great way to hear what other product managers in your area are working on, how they’re dealing with similar problems, or just get to know them and do some networking.
“Looking for more face-to-face networking? Consider making this the year you start attending some local or regional product management meetup groups.”
In addition to local meetups, you can also check out some of the national and international product management conferences. Conferences are a great way to do some large-scale networking and get caught up on best practices in the field. Whether you attend as part of your company’s exhibition or just as an individual, conferences usually feature some great speakers and panels on any number of topics related to product management and adjacent disciplines. ProductPlan regularly publishes an up-to-date list of product management conferences for you to review. We hope to see you at one of these events this year!
4. Stay informed.
Lots of individuals make new year’s resolutions about reading more and staying more informed about the events of the day. For product managers, especially those working on products at the cutting edge of technology, staying informed is critical to their professional success (as well as their personal development).
There are tons of great blogs for product managers that we suggest adding to a bookmarks folder. A great place to start is on medium.com where you’ll find articles by some of the best thought leaders in product management, user experience, and engineering. Some of our favorite publications include Hacker Noon, The Product Coalition, and Prototypr.
If you happen to be a product manager and one of the many folks who has vowed to spend more time working out this year, consider checking out some of the many product management-focused podcasts on your next run or bike ride. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favorite podcasts for product managers—including This is Product Management, Product People, and 100 PM—that cover a range of product-related topics. There are also some podcasts from adjacent fields like UX, sales, and marketing on the list if you’re looking to expand your knowledge in those areas as well.
For your post-workout rest days, we recommend diving into some of the latest books for product managers. We’ve compiled a couple of these lists over the last year, including one with titles recommended by our readers. Like our podcast recommendations, these book lists cover a broad range of topics of interest to product managers. Some are hyper-focused on product strategy and development while others aim to add to the breadth of your knowledge as a product manager. Whether you opt for blogs, podcasts, or books, enhancing your knowledge of product management and the field more broadly will only help you in the new year.
5. Level up.
“Part of being a successful product manager involves product managing your own career.”
To some degree, part of being a successful product manager involves product managing your own career. The new year is a good time to take stock of where you are in your professional development and assess your performance during the previous year. It might be a good time to go for a promotion or if you’re already in a relatively senior role, consider how you might pay it forward and make mentoring more of a focus in the coming year. Maybe it’s time to look for a new job and change companies. Whatever direction you’re heading in, the new year marks an opportunity to take advantage of that momentum or pivot.
Have more suggestions for product management-focused resolutions? Share them in the comments section below!