Defining the product manager role is a moving target. It’s tough to put our finger on the skill set we need to land the gig. And then we’re not always confident about what to do once we arrive.
In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Josh Anon. Now a product manager at Roblox, Josh has worked at the intersection of art and technology throughout his career. A quick review of his resume (in addition to sparking bits of envy) and you’ll understand why Josh’s approach to product management – blending the right amounts of creative expression and systematic analysis, with bias toward neither – provides the balance we need for our products to succeed.
Before Roblox, Josh’s career includes stops at Pixar, Lytro, and Magic Leap where he performed roles as a software developer, cinematographer, and product manager. Josh is also author of The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager, a best-seller written precisely for new product managers.
An amazing storyteller, Josh’s unique journey has led to the key learnings and important insights he shares with us today. Listen closely to find a nugget that will nudge your career forward.
[02:13] No matter the industry, product is about being the voice of the customer.
[03:08] Keep in mind that the right solution depends on the situation.
[04:22] Expect to be disrupted. Better still, think about how to disrupt yourself.
[05:52] The scientific approach to goal setting. It’s reasonable, when you’re working on different goals, to start off with a hypothesis to test.
(06:23] We can develop intuition, and we can develop good instincts over time. The more experience you get, the better you can put yourself into a customer’s shoes.
[08:43] Product management, in a nutshell, is about who is the customer, what problem you’re solving for them, and can the technology deliver a solution with trade-offs that the customer will accept.
[12:19] Four critical PM skills. Learning, researching, writing, and experimenting.
[14:30] Storytelling and PRDs. Use documentation not as a massive, static thing that’s not going to change. But rather to tell a story about where we want to go and the key things we want to make sure we don’t lose as we execute toward it.
[17:46] What if my hypothesis is wrong? As a PM, one of the things that keeps me up at night is, what if I’m wrong about my hypothesis? Writing or telling a story is a quick way to do a gut check to answer: “is my solution going to fit into the customer’s life in a useful, meaningful way?”
[19:11] Detail matters to good storytelling. The right level of detail can help you realize, what are the features on your product that really are critically important, and what’s the stuff that just doesn’t matter?
[23:17] The technology is in service of something bigger.
[23:50] Saying no. You have to have a strong ability to say no to things. It’s better to do less that’s better than to do every single feature possible and deliver it poorly.
[24:32] The value of technology. Technology doesn’t exist because we’ve managed to figure out how to build a feature; the value in it is focusing on, what is it that a customer is trying to achieve?
[26:04] Innovation. Innovation has become a mix of, how do you have a novel solution to a problem that is way better than what people are doing now to solve it, and you’ve made it available in an accessible way that has minimal tradeoffs for the customer. You know you’ve achieved innovation when you actually see it out there and you see it being adopted. It’s not just that you’ve done the inventive process of that.
Josh’s recommended reading:
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu.
Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success, by Ken Segall.
Anything science fiction. Says Josh: I tell PMs that they should really read science fiction. Because every day, especially if we’re thinking about user narratives, we’re imagining a future that doesn’t exist. Sometimes it’s really far out there if the project’s going to take years, other times it’s just like a month or two. But science fiction is all about, what is a future-state world that extrapolates where technology could go and the implications that that might have?
Josh Anon is a Product Manager at Roblox, in charge of 3D creation in Studio. He started his career at Pixar as an intern on Finding Nemo and was a software developer, cinematographer, and more on every show through Monsters University. After Pixar, he switched full-time to tech as a product manager and worked on bringing sci-fi to life with light field cameras at Lytro, AR glasses at Magic Leap, and socially assistive robotics at Embodied. He’s the author of the best-selling book for new PMs, The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager.”
When not social distancing, Josh can be found photographing at the north and south poles, and you can see the photos at joshanon.com.