In Part 1 of this post, I shared some of the practices that I use to define my personal development needs and focus. In Part 2, I am sharing some of the ways to address these needs.
Step 3. Building my development plan
Coming to this step, I know what I am aiming at in 1-3 years from now, and an overview of the gaps I might need to close to get there. It’s time to think how I could advance my skills to the next level.
I like to diversify my development activities, and put my investment of time and budget into a few categories.
Formal training (classroom or online)
Passing a formal training course might be a very efficient way to get a condensed overview and build a thinking model around a topic. I find it very helpful specifically in 2 scenarios:
- When getting started on a completely new topic to build an initial guidance and understand where I need to dive deeper;
- After gaining some empirical learning that is scattered and I want to frame and structure it, so that I can build up and answer specific questions that came up from practical experience.
This is the first pillar of my development plan, but I am careful with the investment I put here. Typically, I will plan for 1-2 training courses per year.
As a trainer myself, I have experienced the other side of the coin as well. For every training I design and conduct, I try to find a balance between the practical and the theoretical part. Because of the goal to provide foundations or a broader picture to participants, in most cases I include a variety of topics and examples. At the end of the training, when we collect takeaways, it is a common scenario that each person has taken a specific point. It is most likely the one that is most relevant for where the person is at the moment with their own challenges. A lot of the knowledge remains passive until later, and you might need to refresh and build on top of what you heard in the training before. This is usually done on the job, or as part of other activities, such as peer exchange, mentoring, and coaching processes.
Learning from the industry and peers
Here, I would include the multitude of continuous learning and improvement options, such as events, meetups, communities of practice, podcasts, blogs, and so on. In terms of investment, I would typically plan for attending 1 or 2 conferences over the year, and I would typically read at least 1 blog post per day, and on average 2-3 books per month (not only pure product management, but also related to soft skills, processes, etc.).
I believe this is a very important pillar in my personal development plan, because of the ongoing value you can derive from all the experience in the domain. You can check out my product management list of books for some ideas on content to lookup. I also love getting recommendations for books to add too 🙂
Regarding events, you can have a look at some of the upcoming conferences in 2019 here. There are plenty of options to choose from, and it can be difficult to decide what is most worth attending. Over the past few years, I have attended several big conferences in Europe. Being at such a large event with thousands of participants, many tracks and speakers has been very helpful in terms of seeing and hearing about major trends, and getting a feeling of what is going on in the industry overall. What I miss in these big events though, is the more intimate peer-to-peer sharing and networking, as well as the opportunity to dive deeper into a specific topic with speakers and experts that you meet on the breaks over a coffee.
Right now, I am involved in co-organizing an event with ISPMA – the Software Product Management Summit in Frankfurt, and this is the setting we are aiming to create. We are intentionally keeping the size of the event small enough, so that we can allow for participants to really meet and exchange – not only as part of workshops and how-to sessions, but also outside the conference content, in a space that fosters free networking. If you are still wondering what might be a good event to attend this year, check out the SPM Summit too.
Mentoring, coaching, and empirical learning
Learning in training and events provides great input but it’s still not actionable enough. We need to really put this knowledge into practice to yield real results. This is where I personally put the most effort and energy and find most benefits.
If you are new to product management, getting a mentor is invaluable for your personal development. Mentors are people with a lot of experience who are also committed to helping others succeed, and this is part of their personal development as well.
If you don’t have a mentor yet, look around in your organization or even in your broader network for people you consider great professionals, and reach out to them with a request for mentorship. Some of those people would be thrilled to support you, and you can share you goals with them, so that you can find a good working mode to learn from their experiences. As a mentee, I usually focus my mentoring sessions or particular challenge I have at the moment, and use the time to get feedback on different scenarios to address them. By the way, if you decide to come to the SPM Summit, and register by the end of February, you will get a free mentoring session with a PM expert from ISPMA. You can use it to try this approach and see how it works for you.
Coaching is another format that I find very helpful especially when you already have some knowledge that you want to put into practice. As opposed to a mentor, a coach will not necessarily give you direct answers or feedback. Rather, he or she will support you with questions, so that you can formulate your goals even better, explore opportunities for yourself, and choose from many alternatives that you might have on the table. They will also keep you accountable with the decisions you make, so that you keep the focus and pursue your goals. The coach is not necessarily a different person – sometimes your mentor might choose to coach you if they believe you already have the answers, and this is a great way to build self-confidence and turn your passive knowledge into actual results.
And finally, it’s the empirical learning that helps you develop as a professional at most. I used to work with a person who was amazing at turning theory into practical experience. Every time he would attend a training, an event, or a mentoring session, he would come back with a list of specific points that he wants to try out in his daily work. And he would actively search for opportunities to do it as soon as possible.
So, if you already have your list of takeaways and learnings from a training, event, or peer exchange you attended recently, don’t wait. Pick one and try it out. Today.
I have shared my view and approach on personal development as a product manager, and I am happy to learn from you too. Please, share what you do to be an awesome professional.