Why Mentors Are So Important For Product Managers And How To Get Them

by drjim on December 10, 2012

Every product manager needs a mentor…

Every product manager needs a mentor…
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When you become a product manager, the reason that you’ve been able to achieve this position is because you know everything that you’ll ever have to know, right? You’ll never make a mistake again and every decision that you’ll make will be the right decision. Correct? I’m betting that you are probably shaking your head right about now and that’s a good thing. You’re always going to need some help. Looks like it’s time for you to go out and find a mentor.

Why Mentors Are Important

Perhaps we need to start this discussion by making sure that we all share the same understanding of just exactly what a mentor is. Simply put, a mentor is somebody who knows more than you and who is willing to help guide you towards making the right decisions.

We often think of a mentor as being an older person; however, that does not have to be the case. It is entirely possible that a mentor could be our age or even younger than us. What is important is the amount of experience that they have had. We want them to be able to draw on this experience when we need their help in making important decisions and determining what our next steps should be.

You need to keep in mind that a mentor is not paid for their services – that would be a consultant. Rather, a mentor volunteers their time and talents. More often than not, a mentor has been very successful with their career and they have now reached a stage where they would like to start to give back. Helping you is one way that they can go about doing this.

How You Can Go About Finding A Mentor

Hopefully we can all agree that a mentor is a good thing to have. However, how you can go about finding a mentor is another thing altogether. Once you’ve identified someone who has the experience that you need and whom you would like to be a mentor to you, you’ve got to find a way to get them to agree to do it.

This can actually be much trickier than it seems. The reason is because when you ask someone to act as your mentor what runs through their mind is the amount of time that acting as your mentor is going to require and time is the one thing that none of us seem to have enough of.

The secret for you is to simply start to treat them as a mentor without formally asking them to be your mentor. You can do this by adding on to the end of a conversation that you are having with them the phrase “… I’ve got a quick question for you. Can you provide me with any suggestions on how I can…”

Generally you’ll get an idea from the person that you ask this to. The most important thing is to be sure to follow up with them and say “Thank you very much for your advice. I followed it and it worked out very well.” What happens is that your pseudo-mentor feels very good about having given you good advice and so the next time that you ask them for advice they will be more than happy to give it to you.

What All Of This Means For You

Even the best product managers need to find mentors in order to help them get better. It doesn’t matter who you find, what does matter is that they have the experience to be able to help you to make better decisions.

It’s not always easy to get someone to commit to being your mentor. A way to get around people’s unwillingness to agree to devote that much time to mentoring you is to not ask them. Just ask for their advice and then provide them with feedback on how it turned out.

They’ll be pleased that you listened to them and they’ll be willing to provide you with more guidance in the future. We all need to have a mentor, take the time to go out and get yourself one!

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What should you do if the person that you’d like to be your mentor doesn’t want to give you advice?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Most of the products that we product managers are responsible for are made up of many different parts. Even if you are in charge of a service product, I’m willing to bet that there are a number of different “parts” that go into creating the product that you offer to your customers. Here’s a very important question for you that should be part of your product development definition: when your product is being created, should you work with it in large or small batches?

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