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Nancy Chu on storytelling, product sense interview questions, and seeking a PM Coach
Product State Q&A
Nancy Chu is a PM Coach, Product Adviser, and Fractional Product Leader. She’s a former Director of PM at Roku, and previously worked in product roles at Facebook, Sumo Logic, Axcient, Clearwell, and Oracle.
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EC: How can product leaders incorporate storytelling?
NC: Product thinking and storytelling are not separate entities but rather go hand in hand. The notion of a PM incorporating storytelling assumes that it is a skill that is separate from product thinking. However, this is a misconception.
Storytelling is a powerful tool to convey a message in a way that emotionally resonates with the audience. As product leaders, our primary responsibility is to understand our users' motivation in order to create solutions that are not only usable — but also resonate emotionally with them. To do this, we need to think about the experiences we want users to have, the thoughts we want them to have, and the desired outcome that addresses their needs.
Product thinking and storytelling are similar, as both require us to understand our audience's motivation. We need to think through what feelings and experiences we want them to feel from the story, just as we do in product thinking.
Product leaders can incorporate storytelling by applying product thinking when creating product visions in a way that resonates with both internal stakeholders and external customers. By truly understanding what motivates our audience, we can inspire and align cross-functional teams, leading to better product outcomes.
Another way product leaders can apply storytelling is during development — by sharing customer stories with the team to help create a shared understanding of the user's experience and foster empathy among team members.
Finally, storytelling can also inspire and motivate the product team. By sharing stories of successful product launches, customer wins, and team achievements, product leaders can help their team see the impact of their work and feel a sense of pride and purpose.
Product management is not just about understanding what people need but also about communicating that understanding in a way that inspires action. Storytelling can be a powerful tool for product leaders to achieve this, and it's already an inherent part of product thinking.
EC: How may product leaders best leverage product sense hiring questions?
NC: The goal of leveraging ‘Product Sense’ hiring questions is to evaluate a candidate's ability to make sound product decisions in complex and ambiguous situations, a crucial skill for any product manager who must understand user motivation and assess different options to achieve differentiation in the market.
Product sense is a critical skill that enables product thinking and empowers individuals to make good product decisions despite ambiguity and often-times lack of data. Per Sheyas, Product Sense composes of cognitive empathy, domain knowledge, and creativity. By crafting questions that asses these 3 components (or without domain knowledge depending on the company/role), product leaders can gain valuable insights into a candidate's product thinking, decision-making process, mindset, and potential fit for the role.
Additionally, product sense questions can also be used to assess a candidate's communication skills, including their ability to articulate ideas, explain complex concepts, and collaborate effectively with cross-functional teams.
Effective communication is essential for product managers to succeed, making this another crucial factor for product leaders to consider when evaluating candidates.
By the way, here’s a series of mock interview videos from a session with Carnegie Mellon University.
Also, I have a course coming up (Product Sense Masterclass: Small Cohort, Big Results for Your PM Interviewing Success) — which is rooted in improving your ‘Product Thinking’ muscles.
EC: When should a product leader seek the help of a coach?
NC: Product management is a challenging and dynamic field that requires constant learning and growth. Whether you're a senior product leader or an associate product manager just starting out, there will inevitably come a time when you're faced with a new challenge or obstacle.
When that happens, you have two options: you can try to figure it out on your own, or you can seek the help of a coach.
Working with a coach can be incredibly beneficial for product leaders at all levels. A coach can provide guidance, support, and a fresh perspective that can help you navigate new challenges and achieve your goals faster than you would on your own.
So, when is it time to seek the help of a coach?
Here are a few signs to look out for:
You're feeling stuck or overwhelmed and need help gaining clarity on your goals and priorities
You're facing a new challenge or opportunity and need guidance on how to navigate it effectively
You're struggling with a specific skill or area of expertise and need help developing it
You're looking to grow personally and professionally and need guidance and support to achieve your goals
When a product leader is coached, the benefits extend beyond just themselves.
By improving their skills, performance, and leadership abilities, they can create a more positive, efficient, and productive work environment for their teams. This, in turn, benefits the organization as a whole by driving better results and achieving business goals.
“Product thinking and storytelling are similar, as both require us to understand our audience's motivation. We need to think through what feelings and experiences we want them to feel from the story, just as we do in product thinking.”
- Nancy Chu
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