“Inspect and adapt” is a familiar mantra in agile software development, which is about building a flexible process that anticipates and embraces change. Many of the things I enjoy about product management are related to building and adapting processes based on what is going well and what could be improved. In my role at BoardEffect, I immediately noticed a correlation between my work as a project manager and how I approach some of my non-work pursuits, in particular, homebrewing. I initially got into brewing simply because I liked beer and I wanted to learn more about how to make it, but it quickly spiraled into obsessing over how to improve the beer I was making, how to change the process based on which style I wanted to make, and how to troubleshoot off-flavors. I don’t homebrew because it’s cost-effective, because I don’t have access to unique beers, or even because it’s that fun (it’s a lot of sanitizing). It’s really all about the process.
- Improving efficiency – The very first time I brewed, I cleaned and sanitized my entire kitchen. Then, I learned that you really don’t need to sanitize anything until the last 5-10 minutes of the boil. Anything before that is a waste of time and resources. Similarly, in the Product Management department, we make an effort to continually question why we do things a certain way, or if they’re even necessary at all.
- Troubleshooting – Brewing a beer from start to finish represents a very complex system, with many steps and dependencies. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to think through the possible impacts of multiple factors, including temperature, light, water quality, time, pH, etc. When I’m testing our software and something unexpected happens, I write up a bug report with enough information for developers to replicate the issue and identify the root of the problem, which could have to do with any number of variables, such as the platform, user credentials, workflow, or something else.
- Maximizing value / ROI – There are many extra steps that I could do and tools that I could buy that would improve the quality of my beer. However, in the interest of having a life outside of brewing, I have to continually prioritize what will give me the greatest return on my time/effort. One thing I always do is to make a yeast starter. Making a yeast starter is a twenty-minute process that will drastically improve the health of the yeast you pitch and eventually the quality of your beer. Likewise, the role of the PM is to prioritize ideas and features by their ROI and level of effort.
- Ruthless documentation – Organization is important for any position, but this is the first role I’ve had that depends almost entirely on constant and meticulous note-keeping. As a team, we have a scrum board on our wall that organizes our work, so that we can agree on team goals, set expectations, and see work in progress. While my recordkeeping for homebrewing isn’t nearly as rigorous, I do have a paper notebook that I use to record recipes, record what I did, and purchase ingredients. I also set calendar reminders that let me know when to transfer or bottle my beer. Without these notes, it would be impossible to recreate a recipe or backtrack to see where I may have made a mistake.
At BoardEffect we’re continually looking to improve the process. It’s gratifying to me when I produce a batch of good beer, and when our team ships features that add value to your workflows.