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Living in the future

 

As a PM you always live in the future. Or so you should. 

A product management job is the closest you can get to be a time-traveller. In fact, it's almost a permanent relocation to the future with occasional glimpses back to the present to make sure all goes according to the plan. 

If we split PM activities according to the time perspective, here's what we'll have: 

Past

  • Data analysis
  • Retrospectives 

Present

  • Sprint review (user acceptance) 
  • Competitive analysis
  • Customer interviews 

Future

  • Product vision/strategy
  • Roadmapping
  • Iteration planning
  • Market research
  • Goal setting 
  • Go-to-market planning 
  • Growth hacking
Those are only some of the PM activities but the split is evident - most of the things we do are meant for the future. And so we need to position ourselves in that future we want to build. We need to not only anticipate what the future would look like but also position ourselves in this future to make full advantage of it. 

How to live in the future as a PM

Working backwards

One way to time-travel in product management is to work backwards from the place you want to be. Popularised by Amazon, this approach encourages you to describe the future you seek to create and then lay out the steps to get to it. 

The great thing about the working backwards approach is that it puts your customers in the centre. You describe the future for your customers and if it doesn't resonate with them, you immediately see the problem and can change course. 

Dual-track product development

Another way to live in the future as a PM is to practice dual-track product development. It comes with different names, but the essence stays the same - you run simultaneously delivery and discovery processes. In one track you're finding and validating market problems, in another - you solve them with your product team. 

Usually, your discovery track should be at least two iterations ahead of your delivery track. It gives you enough time to validate your market problems without those outdating. 

Prototyping

Another powerful way to imagine the future is to build it, as a prototype. Nothing beats the actual design process, be it a prototype or the real thing. All your decisions, both good and bad, will be for everyone to see. Only with a prototype, it's quick and cheap to fix them, while in the real product it is not. 

Having an up to date prototype for your entire product team to see is one of the most powerful ways to express your vision, strategy and the details of the experience you're aiming to create. 

Remember the butterfly effect

As countless science-fiction movies showed us - the future is really unstable. Anything you do in present might affect it, likewise for anything other people do. So the last piece of advice on living in the future as a PM is to not get too attached to it. Especially be relaxed about the details. Those can always change, even radically change. But if you're sticking to your vision, to the positive change you seek to create - you're already increasing your chances to make your future the present. 

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