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Product Sense with Google Docs

Updated: May 24, 2022

Recap - Product Sense mini-challenges workshop

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For both practicing and those looking to transition into product roles, the topic of "Product Sense" brings both a level of excitement and some nervousness.

This is one of the interview hurdles to be crossed to get your first or next role.

So, what is Product Sense?

Have you ever wondered what product sense really is? Or why do you need to develop it? Adrienne Moench, a Fellow from PMDojo Spring 2022 cohort shared her perspective on this. You can find her original post on Twitter here:

She says, "Sense, by definition, is to be able to detect or perceive something externally. To observe, feel, create awareness, discern or assume through sensing activities. ... When we stop thinking about the product and dig under the soil we have the potential to uncover and excavate something hidden. This is a way of MAKING sense. When we don’t understand something, the process of making sense is a response to discovering awareness of a problem."

This is a great way to think about Product Sense in layman's terms. Essentially when we superimpose this into the world of product, this equals us asking questions such as:

  • Who are the users who would benefit from this?

  • What user problems to solve for?

  • How do we know what product to build?

  • What should be built into the product?

Our key responsibility is to be able to brainstorm ideas that solve user pain points in a way that creates value for the business. That ability to narrow down on the important pain point to solve, identify a good solution, and come up with ideas to make the solution even better while also achieving business goals is referred to as product sense.

Product Sense - Born with or Developed?

We believe that product sense can be developed. While it can be argued as vague and probably the hardest to learn, it gets better with practice. Practice they say makes perfect. To get to the level that product sense becomes an innate skill for you, you need to practice! practice!! and practice!!

Developing the Product Sense skill

If product sense can be developed through practice, how do we go about it?

There are two important things to develop: love or empathy for the problems, and creativity with ideas and solutions.

To develop these two important things, simple examples of activities you can start doing right away are as follows:

  • Pay conscious attention to products around you - this can include products you use personally or that people around you use.

  • Identify what problems these products are solving or trying to solve

  • Who has or experienced these problems

  • How is the problem currently solved - what existing solution is available

  • How can the existing solution be improved upon

The activities can be done mentally or by journaling multiple times in the day. They can be time-boxed for 10-15 minutes. Constantly and consistently doing this will help develop your product sense skills.

Another way to develop the product sense is to constantly be around great product thinkers. These can be product leaders that have built great products you admire or people with the same goal of developing their product sense skills.

The PMDojo community came together recently where we kicked off the product sense mini-challenge series. Our goal is to provide a safe platform for people that are set out to improve their product sense skills in a peer-to-peer setting. Whether you are in it to prepare for an interview or to hone that skill for your current role. The event is basically a platform for us to learn from each other. We had people from all over the world including San Francisco, New York, Oxnard, Dallas, London, Vancouver, Fairfax and others.

At the first event, we reviewed Google Docs and all the attendees worked through several question prompts in the small breakout room sessions. Then they came together to share their learnings with each other and ask questions. It was a great learning experience and we look forward to subsequent sessions of the product sense mini-challenge.

Here are the key takeaways from the first session:

Contrary to common wisdom, product sense skill is not about frameworks but the ability to ask the right questions to brainstorm and solve problems at scale. Product Sense is like a muscle that needs to be developed. This skill comes super helpful not just during interviews but also for experienced PMs to problem solve.

Some of the key elements of product sense are:

  • User empathy

  • Unpack market, competition, and business level insights

  • Creativity

We also discussed briefly some methods that can be applied during these exercises. These methods we briefly were double diamond, assumption mapping, archetypes (or personas)

Here are answers to some of the questions that we received in the chat:

Q1: What is the biggest challenge for someone to break into a PM role?

Ans: The answer depends on what gaps are the most critical for the individual. Given how competitive the field is and the fact that candidates are competing against people who already have some previous PM experience, the most common challenges I have seen are:

  • Lack of prior experience

  • Self-doubt and lack of confidence

  • Shallow responses where candidates jump too quickly to frameworks

  • Not being able to tell a compelling and unique narrative of their “Why”

  • Communication skills

  • Not being able to advocate for themselves

  • Spinning wheels in trying to get certifications (Spoiler: Hiring Managers do not look at certifications). Intrigued, check out our blog here.

If you need support to gain real-world experience to transition into product roles, check out PMDojo Product Accelerator which was uniquely designed to address the challenges above. You can also check out what our Alums have to say here in our Wall of Love.

Q2: What are some necessary steps when transitioning into a Product role?

Ans: Take a look at our blog here we had published recently. If you have more questions, feel free to reach out.

If you’re interested in honing your product sense skill, you should consider joining our next product sense events. Follow PMDojo on LinkedIn or Instagram to be notified when registration for the next session opens.

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