How blogging helped me become a better product leader
I’ve been working out how to develop as a product leader for the last few years. Blogging has been a critical tool in my development. This post summarises and shares the reasons I’ve found blogging to be helpful.
I needed to work out how to develop as a product leader. Product leadership is a relatively new concept. There’s little guidance out there that’s ‘ready to go’.
To be more specific:
- I’ve progressed from product management to product leadership
- There’s some way to go until product leadership roles are understood and used to their full potential. ‘Senior Product Manager’ and ‘Lead Product Manager’ can sometimes mean ‘really busy product manager’ in practice. ‘Head of Product’ can sometimes mean ‘glorified people manager’ in practice.
- I don’t have a product leader responsible for my support and development
- There’s a lot of guidance and training on product management. There’s relatively little on product leadership.
Leaders lead, and that means going first. The gap in guidance for product leaders is an opportunity to develop it for myself. Blogging has helped me to collect the lessons I’ve learned so I can use them in the future. Here are some of the ways that blogging has helped me.
Statement of intent (to myself and for myself)
I published posts conveying simple tips until late 2017, like ‘the five stages of applying the service standard to technical stuff’. I used a post in January 2018 to tell myself that I needed to start figuring out wtf product leadership means. This post summarises thinking begun in late 2016 when working with an agile coach on developing my product leadership skills.
Reflecting on things I’ve experienced
I’ve hoovered-up ‘stuff’, by accident or design, and used blog posts to help me make sense of them.
- Coaching to improve my performance
- Books on general topics that contain nuggets of wisdom relevant to product leaders
- Meetups (Mind the Product’s leadership meetup; cross-goverment Heads of Product meetups; suppers and coffees with product peers from outside the Civil Service; cross-government product manager meetups, etc)
- Coaching to help others improve their performance. I spend at least 2 out of every 5 work days supporting members of my profession. Every time I help someone else to figure out their problem I hear a fresh way to approach my own problems.
This ‘stuff’ gets mixed in the maelstrom of the working week and starts to make sense in the quieter moments. During these quieter moments I’ll make notes. These notes are re-written, re-worked over time. At a certain point it’s clear that there’s a theme worth thinking about in more detail. That’s often when I’ll start writing a blog post as a tool to reflect on some thing I’ve learned.
Looking for ways to conceptualise my observations
I found The Art of Business Value to be helpful. In particular, it helped me to think what value looks like when we don’t measure it through profit. I read the book over a couple of weeks on the way to and from work, taking photos of bits that I found particularly useful. I then turned these photos into notes in a Google Doc over another couple of months. My notes were rewritten over 2-3 months as I used bits of them at work, finding out what was useful in practice. This post finally emerged in March 2018, at least 6 months after I first read the book. It took months to distill a complex set of ideas into something I could start to use in a practical setting. A year later I simplified it further based on what I learned, publishing post called ‘how we can measure value without profit’.
There are limits to blogging but the discipline remains useful. Lean Enterprise contains valuable insights. I read Lean Enterprise in 2015. There was a free evaluation copy doing the rounds within ‘agile’ circles. The content didn’t sink in at the time. I decided to re-read it in March 2018 and this time it struck a chord. This time I could see it as a blueprint for how to work with agility at the scale of a large enterprise. I read it over a couple of weeks, and again I took photos of the most interesting bits. There were so many photos that it took me months to type them up. I had a 20-page booklet that I started to calling ‘lean government’. I could not find a way to shape this booklet into a single blog post, or even a short-series of blog posts. I still refer to my personal ‘lean government’ booklet but have failed to turn it into a blog post. In reality it has infused 10-20 practical projects at work. The discipline of wanting to blog helped me re-working my notes until they were useful.
I can now explain what product leadership is, in simpler terms. This simple explanation will be the focus of a future post. Simplicity is hard-won. This blog has provided space for reflection. Reflection has helped me turn experiences it into lessons I can learn from. I have been the main audience for my blog posts over the last couple of years.
This has reminded me of my time in education. I worked on the ‘digital transformation’ of education in the 2000s. My focus was improving teacher training. My team funded digital tools to help trainee-teachers. These tools helped collection of evidence and reflection on experiences. I took a module in the Open University’s postgraduate course in online and distance learning. One aspect that I found useful was thinking of learning as several stages, that all need to happen if we’re to genuinely ‘learn’:
- concrete experience
- reflective observation
- abstract conceptualisation
- active experimentation.
This is known as David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.
I have concrete experiences in my job and in my quieter moments I note observations. Notes grow over time. Sometimes my notes converge with concepts from reading or conversations I’ve had. This helps me to conceptualise my experiences and observations. My blog posts help me to pull this together. I can test my posts in practice, refining them based on how they work in the real world. My blog helps me turn experiences into lessons I can use in the future.
If you can relate to my context then I can recommend blogging as a way of helping you to develop as a product leader.