A Learning Roadmap for Product People
Working in product management can be very rewarding. But it can also be very challenging. One of the reasons is the diverse skills that are needed to succeed as the person in charge of the product. To acquire and deepen them, you will benefit from a focused learning plan. This article discusses such a plan in the form of a learning roadmap. I explain what a learning roadmap is, how you can create one, and how you can effectively put the plan into action and become an even better product professional.
🎧 You can listen to this article here: https://www.romanpichler.com/podcast/a-learning-roadmap-for-product-people/
Overview of the Learning Roadmap
Like a modern product roadmap, a learning roadmap states the specific outcomes or benefits you’d like to achieve to become a more competent product person, and it captures them in form of learning goals. These help you direct your learning efforts, track progress, and measure how much you have learnt. To make these ideas more concrete, let’s look at a sample learning roadmap.
The roadmap in figure 1 is based on my GO product roadmap template. It contains the following four rows:
- The first row describes when the learning goals should be met for the next 12 months. I’ve chosen quarters in the sample roadmap above, but you can use shorter time frames, of course, if you can meet your learning goals more quickly.
- The second line names the skills areas the learning goals belong to, which I’ll cover in more detail in the next section. For the first two quarters, the area is strategy; for the last two, it is leadership.
- The third row contains the most important information. It lists the learning goals you want to achieve. The first goal is about creating a new strategy, the second one talks about the product life cycle model, the third one covers decision-making, and the last one addresses active listening.
- The fourth and final line states how you intend to meet the learning goals. In the roadmap in figure 1, I listed the key topics to be addressed and the learning measures that will be used to acquire and deepen the skills. Note that you may want to make the measures as specific as you can and state, for instance, the title of the books you intend to read.
A learning roadmap like the one above offers four benefits: First and foremost, it gives you a goal-directed plan that focuses your learning efforts. Many learning plans I have seen were lists of learning measures. They lacked clear, achievable learning goals that built on each other and described a meaningful learning journey. Second, a learning roadmap allows you to leverage your product roadmapping skills and use them to create an actionable learning plan. For example, the guidelines I have developed for the GO product roadmap template directly apply to the roadmap in figure 1. Third, capturing the plan as a roadmap concisely describes the learning path you want to take and nicely visualises it. Fourth, a goal-oriented, outcome-based roadmap is compatible with OKRs. You can view the goals as objectives and the dates, topics, and learning measures as key results. This can help you tie individual learning goals to team and department goals.
Creating the Learning Roadmap
To build a learning roadmap, take the following three steps. First, reflect on your current product management skills and determine any gaps and shortcomings in your current skill set. Second, identify the right learning opportunities. Third, derive the right learning goals, put them on your learning roadmap and add the additional information. Let’s look at these steps in more detail.
➤ Step 1: Understand the strengths and weaknesses in your product management skill set
To analyse your current product management skills, I recommend using the following three subsets: Tactical skills, strategic skills, and leadership skills, as the following picture shows.
The tactical skills in figure 2 include the ability to create user models and personas; stock, prioritise, update, and refine the product backlog; capture user stories; apply the right solution validation techniques, for example, product demo, usability test, and early release; and have a rough understanding of how the product is designed and architected.
The strategic skills comprise the capabilities to create, validate, and evolve an effective product strategy; develop, review, and update an actionable product roadmap; use the right KPIs; choose the right business model and create a financial forecast.
The leadership skills, finally, include the ability to empathise even with seemingly difficult users and stakeholders; earn people’s trust and build strong connections; to actively listen to users, stakeholders, and development team members; to set the right goals — from the product vision to individual sprint goals; to resolve disagreement and conflict; and to effectively involve stakeholders and dev team members in product decisions.
As (digital) product management is a diverse and comparatively young profession, it is completely normal to have gaps or shortcomings in your product management knowledge and skill set. You might find, for instance, that you know what information an effective product strategy should contain but that you are not able to create such a plan on your own. If that’s the case, then don’t feel bad. Instead, recognise that you’ve just discovered a learning opportunity that will help you become an even better product professional.
➤ Step 2: Select the right learning opportunities
Once you understand your current skills, decide which learning opportunities you want to take. While I generally believe that it is helpful to acquire a balanced product management skill set and cultivate tactical, strategic, and leadership capabilities, I recommend that you use your current job as well as any career progression plans you might have to determine the right learning goals. Identify the skills that will help you be even more successful in your current job and/or allow you to take on a new role. For instance, if you want to move into a more senior role, you are likely to benefit from strengthening your strategy and leadership skills. Then compare the desired skills to your actual ones; select those learning opportunities that will help you be more successful in your current or new role or in the new one.
➤ Step 3: Create the learning roadmap
Finally, formulate specific and realistic learning goals, based on the learning opportunities identified. Don’t be over ambitious: You should be able to achieve the learning goals if no unforeseen events unfold. Add the goals to your learning roadmap and order them so that they build on each other and a clear learning path becomes visible. Then determine time frames, topics, and learning measures and include them on the plan. You are now ready to embark on your new learning journey.
Putting the Plan into Action
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans,” Peter Drucker once said. Having a plan is all well and good. But if you don’t follow it, it is useless.
The issue is, of course, that as the person in charge of the product, you have plenty of other tasks besides meeting your learning goals. There is a product that has to be managed, sales and support queries that have to be answered, a product roadmap and a product backlog that have to be updated, questions form development team members that have to be addressed, and stakeholder requests that have to be dealt with, to name just a few other common duties. It’s therefore easy to de-prioritise or neglect your learning goals in order to make time for other, more urgent tasks. Don’t make this mistake. You’ll hamper your own professional development and most likely be a less productive and effective product person in the future.
Instead, block time in your calendar to carry out the relevant learning tasks, especially when they involve some form of self-study like reading a book or a blog post and watching a video. I recommend setting aside at least one hour per week. Ringfence this time and only sacrifice it in truly exceptional circumstances.
Additionally, reflect on your learning progress at least once per month. Review how much headway you’ve made towards the current learning goal and update the learning roadmap if that’s required. This will help you successfully complete your learning journey and become an even better product professional.