How to best cope with changes. In product management and in life
The product was finally scheduled to launch next Wednesday, after a whole year of hard work by a large cross functional team. Last minute, a blocking issue came up in the final stage of testing. Now you’re forced to push out the launch, again, the 3rd time in the last 2 months. Worse yet, as a PM, you’re responsible for communicating the bad news to leadership and customers who have been anxiously waiting for it.
After grueling rounds of interviews and difficult decision choosing between a number of offers, you finally joined a hot start up with rocket ship prospect. You were all pumped up to go all in, grow your career, and also make some fortune. Just a month in, boom, economy got hit hard, the company had to down size, and you were let go just like that, before you even have your first cut of the paper equity.
Your best friend at work decided to leave for another opportunity. Your favorite projects got cancelled. The manager you got along well transitioned to a new role. Customers bailed on you. Team re-org. Etc. Etc.
So many changes you had to experience in your career so far, mostly negative. You thought to yourself: “sigh, why am I in such bad luck, all the time?”
Have you experienced anything similar? Have you had similar feeling?
In this post. I’m going to discuss change and change management.
The Only Thing Constant…
Yes the tech industry changes all the time, probably more frequently than any other industry that I know of. But is it the only reason?
Think about your life. Is there anything you had or experienced, that never changed?
You age every second. Your comfort and discomfort, pleasure and sickness come and go. You have different thoughts and feelings going through your head in any given moment that the last. Even your breath and heartbeat are at least slightly different from the last one. Not to mention what’s around you. Your connection, your belongings, your money.
This is to say. Change happens to all of us, all the time, whether you notice or not. You feel the pain when the change is particularly negative. You might not even think of it when the change is positive. You might have just taken it for granted.
It’s just important to first keep this fact of life in mind.
Now lets get back to product management…
As a PM…
We manage products in tech. Change management is a part of what we do. Or it’s definitely not wrong to think of us as “problem managers”.
In the early days when software product development wasn’t as complex or when the scale was much smaller, PM wasn’t recognized as a required role. Engineering builds software. Design builds UX. Marketing brings to the market and Sales sells it. And when it’s straight-line simple with all the functions in the right place. There’s no need for a PM.
In modern software product development, it’s much more complex, because of the new market dynamics, more cross functional roles to coordinate across, speed of change in tech, and a much bigger scale the software products aim to serve. That’s why a product manager role that oversees these complexities and be on point to ensure overall product success, becomes increasingly important.
So lets view the frequent changes and problems that come with the high complexity as blessing, not curse. Because if there’s no change, we don’t have a job.
How to Best Cope With Change?
I have simple 4 A’s for you. Anticipate, Acknowledge, Analyze, Act.
If you know the only thing constant is change, you should always anticipate it at any point. Carry with you the right mindset that things can change and they will.
In product management, the more experience you have, the more you might even be able to see what potential changes might be happening. Or sometimes we call them “risks”. And you pre-plan for any mitigate in case it happens.
Assuming things will not change and will always go your way is the recipe for disaster panic, and huge disappointment.
When the changes do happen, acknowledge it and face it. Don’t deny it or blame. Let go of any “I wish it didn’t happen” or “It was supposed to be this way” mindset.
Start from a clean slate. Focus on what happens in this present time. And be prepared to deal with it.
Before you jump into reacting, carefully analyze your situations at hand. Come up with a plan.
What’s changed? What stays the same?
Why did these changes happen? What were the root causes?
Which ones are in your control? Which ones are out of your control?
What could be the impacts of these changes? Which ones are the most important to deal with first?
What are the options we might have to respond? What are the pros and cons of each options?
Who should I be communicating with about these changes?
Analyze the changes structurally like a great PM. Even if the changes happened outside of your projects but in life.
Now that you carefully understood the changes and had a plan. It’s time for you to act with a proper response, not a knee-jerk reaction. But make sure you do take actions.
Getting stuck in blaming bad luck doesn’t help.
Thinking about how it could’ve been perfect doesn’t help.
Going in endless loops of analysis-paralysis without actions doesn’t help.
At the end of the day, it’s what you DO that determines the outcome from any adversity and unexpected changes.
This Too, Shall Pass
However surprising or negative the change is, next time it happens to you, remember this.
Yes it can be frustrating or devastating (trust me I’ve been there, countless times). Carry the right mindset with you, stay present when it happens, and respond well. You will be more than fine in no time.
Lastly - how many times when you looked back on a negative event did you realize that it actually provided you something quite positive in the longer term?
March on, my friends!