Too Cool For School? Try These Four Tips For Effective Product Manager Upskilling
The job of a product manager isn’t getting any easier. The introduction of continuous improvement processes, the ubiquity of rapid agile product development and release cycles, and increasing competitive threats across most industries have made it even more important for product managers to have a broad range of skills. From conducting customer interviews to identifying and sizing market opportunities to developing product strategies and prioritizing postlaunch product enhancement requests among many stakeholders, the challenges product managers face are ever present throughout the product lifecycle.
It’s not surprising that many of the product management leaders we speak to pinpoint improving their team’s competencies as a key priority. Although signing up for specific training sessions is certainly better than no training at all, limiting upskilling to a one-time event is unlikely to produce the desired results.
It’s been clear for well over 100 years that learning that’s not immediately repeated, leveraged, and used is forgotten. In the late 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that we forget most of what we learn — 90% — within the first month, but retention can be improved through more dynamic and continuous learning. Today, programs aimed at improving retention include engaging content, examples for learners to follow, opportunities to practice new skills, and continuous reinforcement and feedback.
At Forrester, we’ve been upskilling product management teams for years and have identified the best training approaches for driving the understanding and adoption of best practices for product managers. Below are four elements of best-practice upskilling product management leaders should consider when selecting training or implementing a program for their team:
- Incorporate a broad range of learning approaches. The program should present information in various formats, not just through articles or text-heavy presentations. To appeal to the range of learning styles and ensure information interest and clarity, look for different ways to communicate information using diagrams, engaging videos, and interactive elements such as gamification. For product managers, information delivered via videos from interviews with customers and sales reps will likely be more memorable, providing a stronger foundation for capability improvement.
- Show learners what good looks like. Learning programs should include demonstrations of what good looks like for activities and deliverables. Videos of well-executed customer interviews and examples of strong business cases — along with the criteria for evaluation — help learners better understand specifically what to aim for. Provide examples, templates, and checklists that clearly show what good looks like, including relatable examples of best practices being applied in scenarios that learners would encounter regularly.
- Allow learners to practice. Individuals who have the opportunity to apply new skills and receive feedback on their progress are much more likely to retain, leverage, and build on what they’ve learned. Product management leaders must identify opportunities for team members to use their new skills and get feedback. Recruit learners who have demonstrated success to support practice and provide specific and constructive feedback. Suggest that mentors and other learning champions offer office hours as a forum for casual discussion of challenges regarding new learning and an opportunity for feedback.
- Establish a culture of learning and skill building. When learning and upskilling are directly related to accomplishing business goals and driving business results, learners take mastering new competencies more seriously and senior management can provide better support. Focus on building skills that are critical to achieving growth objectives. For example, if the goal is entering a new vertical market, improve competencies around understanding new buyer and user needs, typical use cases, and market-specific competitors. Make continuous training a key component of the growth strategy — as critical as investing in new sales reps and marketing campaigns.
I’ll be presenting these ideas and much more at Forrester’s B2B Summit North America on Monday, May 3, during my session “World-Class Product Management: What It Looks Like And How To Get There.” Register for Summit here!