How to Be a Product Manager

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Denver Startup Week Product Panel 2015

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Meet Your Panelists Eric Carlson Natty Zola Dan Podsedly Jared Polivka Director of Product at Kapost
 @manlybean Managing Director for Techstars Boulder
 @NattyZ VP and General Manager of Pivotal Tracker @danpodsedly (Moderator) Chief Evangelist at Galvanize 

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Eric Carlson Director of Product at Kapost Eric Carlson has a background in human factors, machine learning, and software development. He's been in product management for 10 years. He's also worked as a software engineer and had a dark but mercifully brief stint in project management. Eric has worked on a wide variety of products, from platforms for collaborative marketing campaign planning to mobile apps for organizing disaster relief efforts. When he's not working he can be found climbing or hacking on some iOS or Arduino project.

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Eric’s Product Specialty My speciality is understanding users. How people behave and how people “think” they behave are very different things. Designing solutions that work well in the real world requires designing for users' actual behavior, which you can only learn by studying users both in data and in person. Eric’s Path to Becoming a PM Part purposeful, part luck. I've always been more interested in what to build rather than how to build it. I initially worked as a software engineer but found implementing others' vision unsatisfying. Then I lucked into a spot with a great small company in Boston, Charles River Analytics, that has really loose job roles. Everyone there is free to gravitate to the part of the work that interests them. There I moved from writing software to studying users, designing solutions, and guiding development. I kind of woke up one day and found that I had become a product manager. Eric’s Favorite Aspect of PMing The process of understanding user needs. The real world is fascinating when you look closely enough.

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Natty Zola Managing Director for Techstars Boulder Previously, Natty was Head of Consumer Products for MapQuest, where he helped MapQuest return to profitability and year-over-year growth for the first time since 2007. Before MapQuest, he was a founder of Everlater.com, a travel blogging platform and CRM system for tour operators, that participated in Techstars in 2009 and was acquired by AOL in 2012. He also graduated from GE's Financial Management Program and worked with Jim Collins on the best selling books "Great by Choice" and "How the Mighty Fall." Natty is passionate about helping startups find product market fit, accelerate their growth, and develop company culture. His hobbies include mountain biking, reading business books, testing new apps, anything design related and gardening. He welcomed his first son into the world in May.

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Natty’s Product Specialty Product strategy, prioritization, design, UX, analytics, go-to-market and customer research. Agile, SCRUM, lean methodologies. Culture. Natty’s Path to Becoming a PM Founder of a startup that was acquired. Did product, front end engineering, design and ux at the startup (in addition to many other roles). Via the acquisition, ended up as a PM at Mapquest. Natty’s Favorite Aspect of PMing The problem solving involved: understanding a complex problem space that involves business opportunities, user behavior, and technical possibilities and finding a solution.

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Dan Podsedly VP and General Manager of Pivotal Tracker Dan Podsedly is a Pivotal Labs VP and the General Manager of Pivotal Tracker, the popular project collaboration tool for modern agile teams. Dan has been with Pivotal Labs since their nascent days in the mid-2000s, and has experience in every aspect of software development, including engineering, product management, and UX design (though his utility on this last point is up for debate).

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Dan’s Product Specialty Product management, engineering process, herder of all things. Dan’s Path to Becoming a PM Developer -> Engagement Manager -> Product Manager Dan’s Favorite Aspect of PMing No dull moments. It's choose your own adventure and you get to use a ton of different skills. Being in the middle of everything. Coordinating among stakeholders. Seeing a team come together and build something that solves a problem and users want. Building and shipping things that make people's lives at least a tiny bit easier and more enjoyable, in a sustainable way.

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Jared Polivka (Moderator) Chief Evangelist at Galvanize Startups, storytelling and fitness; these are a few of Jared's favorite things. Before donning the Evangelist hat, Jared served as Director of Product at Kapost (where he learned a ton from Eric Carlson and Mike Lewis); he also had a brief stint as a Marketing Manager at Uber. When he's not working, Jared can be found playing speed chess in the park, doing brazilian jiuj-jitsu, reading or hiking.

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Jared’s Product Specialty Understanding users; user research (surveys, qualitative Interviews, usability testing, AB testing, etc.). Hypothesis creation and testing. Prioritization. Agile / SCRUM. Jared’s Path to Becoming a PM Founder (I wore many hats, including web dev) => Director of Growth at Rafflecopter => Marketing Manager at Uber => PM at Kapost => Evangelist at Galvanize Jared’s Favorite Aspect of PMing The process of understanding users’ problems and motivations; then designing solutions for them. Creative problem solving in iterative loops is addicting.

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Softball question, what does being a Product Manager mean to you?

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What is your team structure / composition?

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What is your management method? Is it a flavor of agile or something else? Walk me through the flow of your ideal iteration.

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How do you organize your research for product planning?

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What techniques do you use for understanding users?

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How do you approach hypothesis, creation and testing?

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How do you build data collection into your products? How do you decide what data is important to collect and analyze?

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How do you prioritize your roadmap and decide what to build next?

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How do you decide when to kill a feature or reimplement?

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How do you deal with roadmap interruptions and prioritize unexpected work?

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How do you work with stakeholders and give other teams visibility into product? Any tips for cross team collaboration?

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How do you foster culture on your team (and across teams) and keep morale high?

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How did you get into Product Management and what advice (or resources) do you have for the would be PM’s in the audience?

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Question Time Additional product questions? 
 Fill out this form: 

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Thank you! A writeup of this panel and all slides are available at galvanize.com/blog.

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