PODCAST #13. The Psychology of Product Management: Unlocking Human Insights
In this latest episode of CareMind’s podcast, we delve into the fascinating intersection of psychology and product management. We had the privilege of interviewing Shane Blackman, the Director of Growth at Noom, who brings a unique perspective to the field thanks to his Ph.D. in psychology and social policy.
Shane’s background allows him to provide deeper insights into human relationships in product development and management. Join us as we uncover valuable tips and actionable advice that you can apply to your own career, and learn how understanding the human element can lead to more successful products.
From Psychology to Product Management: Shane Blackman’s Unique Journey
Shane’s path into product management began unexpectedly after getting his Ph.D. in 2014. A colleague from grad school introduced him to the world of user research at Priceline.com, where he eventually started running experiments on the website using his psychology background. Working with designers and developers, Shane found his passion for product management, despite not knowing much about it initially.
Every product manager has a unique story, emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all path into the field. Shane’s experience in investigating people’s perception of objectivity, beliefs, opinions, and decision-making within social groups aligns well with the day-to-day responsibilities of a product manager. By chance, during his time at Priceline.com, Shane transitioned from a product manager to the head of product analytics, leveraging his expertise in analytics.
The Importance of Growth Opportunities in Product Management
According to Shane, he began working on opaque hotel booking products, focusing on the front-end user experience. He ran experiments to improve the booking process and achieved success in this area. Shane attributes his accomplishments to his background in statistics and experiment methodology, which allowed him to understand the components of a good experiment and how to interpret the data.
I believe there’s a big opportunity for product managers to apply psychological concepts to their organizational practices, including recruitment, structure, feedback methods, leadership representation, and more.
Shane admits that by embracing opportunities and leveraging his expertise in his passionate area, he discovered the challenges and limitations of the A/B testing infrastructure. This piqued his interest in addressing the problem of determining what was actually good or bad when testing, and how much data was enough to make quick decisions. An opportunity arose to rebuild the core A/B testing infrastructure, which led to collaboration with Booking.com and learning from their advanced experimentation approach.
As more data-oriented opportunities emerged, Shane found his path eventually led to the role of Head of Product Analytics. In this position, he oversaw the A/B testing program, system, and a team of analysts generating insights from product data. He believes the core themes of his journey include curiosity, willingness to leverage strengths, and openness to new opportunities.
Shane emphasizes the importance of amplifying one’s own strengths within the organization and saying yes to opportunities, which allowed for diversified experiences and growth within the product management field. He admits that his focus on data analysis provided valuable insights for decision-making and overall success.
Is Data Necessary for Balancing Objectivity and Ambiguity in Product Management?
Determining good data for a particular outcome involves following the scientific method, starting with a clear hypothesis and then designing experiments to test that hypothesis rigorously.
Good data is data that helps you make a decision and understand whether your hypothesis is true or not.
Avoiding confirmation bias is crucial; be open-minded and willing to change your hypotheses based on the data. Collaboration with stakeholders such as engineers, designers, and data scientists is essential for collecting the right data and interpreting it accurately.
Having a clear and specific core hypothesis protects against inferential muddiness or noisiness that can occur when looking at a set of data. If results outside the core hypothesis emerge, consider discounting, replicating, or generalizing them in new situations.
The key to using data effectively is to establish protections, guardrails, and norms when examining data for the first time and deciding what actions to take based on that data. This approach ensures a more holistic understanding of the problem and better decision-making.
The Product Manager’s Role in Clarifying Hypotheses
It’s important to have a very clear hypothesis and to be clear about what you’re trying to learn from the data, and then to design your experiments, design your tests in a way that will give you the data that you need to make that decision.
Product managers, often seen as the CEOs of their products, are ultimately responsible for various aspects of the product, including setting hypotheses and driving experimentation processes. However, this responsibility doesn’t mean they should work alone. Collaboration with teammates in user research, design, and data science can help refine hypotheses and improve the overall approach.
One of the hardest things to do in product management is identifying the fundamental assumption in a product that must be tested.
To maximize the product’s success, product managers must be open to iterating and learning as they go. Creating a culture of experimentation and learning within the team is also vital. Product managers should facilitate discussions, encourage team members to contribute ideas, and develop ways to test these ideas systematically and rigorously.
Understanding the user’s emotional journey and the psychology behind their experience can significantly improve product development. For instance, when asking for sensitive information from customers, product managers must ensure they can provide an emotional outlet that reassures users about the security and necessity of the information. Additionally, dividing the process into smaller, manageable steps, starting with the easiest, can help build user comfort and commitment.
During a period of rapid growth, product managers may also need to scale agile teams to handle increased workloads and maintain efficiency. By leveraging their skills and working closely with their teams, product managers can effectively navigate the challenges and opportunities that arise in product development.
How Can Product Managers Help Scale Agile Teams?
Scaling a team at high velocity can be a challenging yet exciting time in one’s career. To ensure a successful transformation, you should have clear counterparts in engineering and design, and to empower these team leaders to make decisions independently. Also establishing strong communication and collaboration between team members can help temas grow.
Another thing is maintaining sprint retrospectives even under deadline pressure so that emerging issues can be timely spotted, ensuring that the team continues learning and adapting. Quarterly meetings, such as “persevere versus pivot” sessions, can help teams evaluate their performance, goals, and strategies, and decide whether to continue, pivot, or spin down a team.
The collective experience of team members is invaluable in making informed decisions about the direction and opportunities available to a team. In the context of a health-focused company like Noom, leveraging behavioral science can empower people to take control of their health and manage conditions like stress, anxiety, diabetes, and hypertension through weight management programs.
Managing Team Perspectives During Product Development
Shane’s research suggests that people are predisposed to attribute bias to others who disagree with them, even in subjective domains. This holds true in product management organizations as well. When presenting experiment results and interpreting data, it’s important to be aware of our own biases and how they might affect our reactions to conflicting hypotheses. To counteract this, organizations should cultivate a culture that encourages open discussion, acknowledges biases, and fosters an understanding of how biases can influence decision-making.
Integrating psychology and product management can lead to a deeper understanding of human behavior and collaboration, ultimately resulting in more effective and successful products. Key takeaways for product managers include:
- Embracing growth opportunities and leveraging one’s strengths in areas of passion allows for diversified experiences and career growth within the product management field.
- Good data is crucial for product managers to balance objectivity and ambiguity; collaboration with stakeholders ensures accurate data collection and interpretation.
- Product managers must be open to iterating and learning, fostering a culture of experimentation and collaboration within their teams to maximize product success.
- During periods of rapid growth, product managers should focus on clear communication, collaboration, and decision-making processes to effectively scale agile teams and manage challenges
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