Product Managers: Fight for Curiosity
In the healthiest high performing product teams, curiosity is a compulsion. A relentless drive to learn that sparks action and unique value faster than the competition.
Those teams know how powerful curiosity is — and how easy it is to lose, especially as your company grows. If you don’t fight for it, it disintegrates. Your best Product people think about leaving. And your product drifts.
It takes work — you need to fight for curiosity.
As I’ve talked with product managers on this topic, here’s the visual that’s emerged:
Apathy. Danger zone. Easy to drift into — do the meetings, answer the emails. All the sudden, it’s been a while since you’ve talked with a customer or looked at the data. You slow down. You stop caring about the customer and the product.
Wondering. Skimming through data and conversations with customers. Learning in spurts and sprints, then firing off questions to teams that cause confusion and churn. Curiosity must translate to clarity and direction. The magic is on the follow through.
Myopia. And in the bottom right corner, the product manager myopically focused on shipping That Feature — strong sense of purpose. Never late. And not curious enough to think critically or ask questions. Lacking imagination.
Intentional curiosity. Choosing your questions with precision and context, and finding the right way to ask them. It’s lifting your eyes while executing with speed. It’s caring enough to ask, “Why?” and pivoting where necessary. It’s a motion, a feeling that’s honed with experience. Curiosity and action = Consistently delivering on the right problem, faster than the competition. Demands trust, empathy, access to the data.
Curiosity in the product lifecycle
Does this resonate with you? Zooming into how curiosity often plays out in the product lifecycle:
At the start of research/discovery, you’re on fire. You’re talking with customers, combing through data, sizing up the competition.
As you move into validation and delivery though, your aperture narrows and shifts, especially under pressure — just like a camera lens: You’re letting less (or different) light in. Your sense of curiosity wanes to make space for an increased focus on delivering. Primed to increase the chances of delivering the wrong thing.
Now what? Some tips.
Five ingredients to moving towards intentional curiosity: Empathy, Trust, Access, Speed, Passion.
We unpacked those at the webinar, and thanks to the incredible work of João Reis, here’s an infographic!
Product People — So much of our job feels like we must know the answers. What’s in the sprint? What are the biggest bets for this quarter? How does this fit into the annual strategy? Where are we going and what’s our vision?
You become an action-oriented answering machine. It’s habit forming! Interrupt the cycle; it’s our job to fight for curiosity.
For now, a few quick tips. Stay curious about your customer, your product, your craft:
- Trust is an unlock and an outcome of a culture of curiosity. It’s a loop that builds and builds. When you have a team that feels safe, their minds aren’t consumed with calculating the risks of asking a question.
- Look at your product portfolio and do a thought exercise. What new learning might cause you to stop something mid-flight? What would it take to over-power the inertia?
- Teams need access. Is the data accessible, usable? How much friction is there is getting time with a customer?
- Struggling to care enough to be curious? Find something related that you do care about, and connect it back. (This is a tool that’s often recommended to neurodiverse folks who operate more with an interest-based nervous system rather than an importance-based nervous system.)
- For those of you who use your own product each day, what a double edged sword! So easy to become numb to the papercuts and gloss over the opportunities. Don’t let a week go by without talking to a customer for their perspective.
- Curiosity is contagious. Make a note of the questions you’re asking individually and publicly.
- At FullStory, we use a simple exercise called One Number. Each PM brings one piece of data to our team meeting. It helps ensure we’re constantly in the data, and always generates rich dialogue: Each insight sparks a flurry of questions, and curiosity takes over!
- Curiosity requires trust and humility. An empowered org where teams can ask questions and prioritize the answers based on clear frameworks and goals. How would your team rate trust?
- When asking questions, pair curiosity with context. “I’m curious: Where can I find more data on X? Context: Was talking with a customer yesterday and…” Disarming. Brings others along.
- As you interview, know that they’re paying attention to the questions you’re asking, too. Curiosity is a key characteristic of product managers.
Above all: Product work is a joy! Stay curious.