by • January 14, 2015 • UncategorizedComments (0)2662

Earning your “Geek Cred”: Advice for Women in Product Management

business woman presenting“No, we’re not doing that, young lady,” said the head of the development team flatly. “The problem is Sales doesn’t know how to sell the product.”

I left the meeting stunned and angry—so angry that I didn’t realize at first that he had called me “young lady.” I was only a month into my new job as the first and only product manager for a product in which $millions had been invested, and it was failing spectacularly. I had just given an impassioned pitch on why the product needed further development work, and proven my case, so I thought. Did he wantthe product to fail?

No Developers, No Product

A woman in product management in a high tech organization is likely to find herself in a unique position. With women holding less than one-third of programming and other computer jobs inevitably some gender dynamics come into play. Women also generally come into the pm role with less technical skill. In a tech world, high value is placed on tech skills; it’s what makes this world spin.

The cold reality is if there no product manager, companies will simply fill in the void. Without developers, there is no product. Establishing influence and credibility with the development team is critical for women in product management. To borrow a phrase from a female programmer, how do you earn your “geek cred?”

Do it with Data

What developers value and understand is data, lots of it. As a pm your collection and interpretation of key data can help bridge the divide between “you” and “them.” In another post I stressed the importance of a product manager being a great storyteller. A great story is built on good data. To a developer good data is usable data.

If a developer is honest, what most product managers provide is useless data. The focus group—the time honored way of gathering customer feedback—is often viewed with skepticism. “Too vague!” “Contradictory!” “Anecdotal!” developers claim. Worse, it’s not actionable.

The customer relationship side of product management is fun (focus groups, interviews, etc., are enjoyable) and they often make us feel good. But to be effective a product manager needs to provide customer insight in a way that is valued by those receiving it.

For me, usage data on product trials was the key. Trials were spread far and wide—Sales was doing their job but time spent in the product was short. People were exiting fast, always at a key critical point—in very specific and measurable ways.

Women are often reluctant to own data but own it they must. It levels the playing field and frees them from charges of focusing on the “softer side” of tech. Today there are many ways to gather data and analytics around customers, users, and products. Explore it. Own it.

Your ability to analyze and own product data is vital to your success.

If you liked this post, please share it and follow me on Twitter at @mlharper.

Photo: Alamy

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