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Learning To Be Great PM’s in Cincinnati

On the last day of February, Cincinnatian’s overcame freezing temperatures, grid locked traffic, and gusts of wind, hail, and snow, to attend a Women in Product Cincinnati event hosted by 84.51°, in downtown Cincinnati.
While the weather was cold, the discussions inside certainly weren’t. Moderated by Danielle Koval, we were fortunate to gain advice, wisdom, and more from Jennifer Bailey, a Director of PM at 84.51°, Lydia Henshaw, Head of Product at Alchemy, and Mike Varona, Lead Consultant of Thought Works.

​Here are few of the biggest takeaways shared with PMs of at all levels that evening.
1) Influencing without Authority
Being a PM is all about being able to sell your product, whether to stakeholders, consumers, or customers. And having a compelling story for your product can make all the difference.

It’s important to have an elevator pitch ready, but it’s also important to have the knowledge to back up your product. Know the “why” of what you’re building — the market you’re in, the consumers you’re working with, and the problem you’re solving.

It’s only once you’re able to put an idea into words that others can jump aboard. And that’s what your goal should be, to bring people along for the ride.

You want your product to do the influencing for you — you shouldn’t have to spend time convincing others what you’re working on. The ability to be the storyteller is what allows for you to influence without authority: you’re not telling people the problem you’re solving, you’re showing.

2) Soft skills are important!
An often-overlooked skill of a PM is to be a translator. IF you have an idea, you should be able to describe it in ways that the stakeholders, the engineers, and even the barista at the coffee shop should be able to understand. If there’s an issue, you’re able to smoothly work with others to problem solve a solution.

Soft skills are no longer thought of as the easy-peasy skills you can work on over the weekend. They’re in high demand, and for good reason. They help you communicate and find success in group settings.

But it’s not just being great at talking, it’s critical to be an active listener as well. Make people know that their comments are being paid attention to — build empathy with those you’re working with.
There isn’t any emotional labor with using your soft skills. Instead, it’s being an active, curious, and adaptive team member, able to converse and translate problems and solutions over a wide variety of individuals, skill sets, and languages.

3) Be comfortable with ambiguity
As you work through trials and reiterations of your product, it’s important to remember that you’re not always going to know what works on the first try, or how the stakeholders are going to react to a new development… and that’s okay!

Instead of pretending to know the answers to everything (and stressing yourself out), be open and vulnerable with yourself, and with your team members. Don’t settle for messing situations, strive for clarity.

Admit when you don’t know the answer — and then go and look for the answer. There’s still no such thing as a stupid question, so ask right away if something doesn’t feel right.

When you’re ready for the questions, concerns, and failures that will undoubtably arrive, you’re able to roll with the punches all the better. And sometimes, that makes all the difference.

And that is just a sampling of what we heard at our skill building event! We learned many things that create a good PM, but there are fewer things that make somebody a great one. And fortunately, after this event, PM’s in Cincinnati have insights and tools to work at becoming great.