Over the last 30 years, I have held the title of product manager, director of product management, and Chief Product Officer in different software, hardware, and services businesses. About 12 years ago, I began my martial arts journey, learning a style of kung fu called Eagle Claw.
Kung fu, also known as gong fu, is a Chinese martial art that has been developed and practiced for centuries. It is a comprehensive system of physical movements, self-defense techniques, and philosophy that encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques. Kung fu is not only a form of combat but also a way of life that promotes discipline, focus, self-awareness, continuous improvement, and respect for oneself and others. In watching and learning from my instructor, a master in his own right who humbly goes by the title 'sifu' (Chinese for teacher), I have come to see many parallels between mastering product management and the art of kung fu.
To become proficient in kung fu, a student must practice regularly and consistently, often for years on end. Similarly, to excel in product management, a product manager must have a disciplined approach to their work to excel in product management. This means setting clear goals and priorities, managing their time effectively, and staying focused on the task at hand.
In kung fu, a student must remain focused on their training to develop the necessary skills and techniques. Similarly, in product management, a product manager must remain focused on their work to develop and deliver successful products. Both require a great deal of hard work and dedication to achieve success, and the ability to stay focused on the goal is essential.
Continuous Learning and Improvement
Sifu has taught me the value of continuous learning and improvement, which is critical for both kung fu and product management. In kung fu, a student must always be striving to improve their skills and techniques. Similarly, in product management, a product manager must constantly be learning and adapting to new technologies, market trends, and customer needs. This requires a commitment to ongoing learning and a willingness to adapt and evolve over time.
Clear communication is essential in both kung fu and product management. In kung fu, a student must communicate clearly with their instructor and fellow students to ensure they understand the techniques and movements. Similarly, a product manager must communicate clearly with their team members, stakeholders, and customers to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.
Just as sifu has taught me to be creative in my approach to sparring/fighting, a product manager needs to be creative in their approach to problem-solving. They need to be able to come up with innovative solutions to customer problems and find new ways to differentiate their product from the competition. This requires a willingness to experiment, take risks, and think outside the box.
Both kung fu and product management require strategic planning. In kung fu, a student must have a clear plan for their training, setting goals and working towards achieving them over time. Similarly, in product management, a product manager must have a clear roadmap for their product, identifying key milestones and strategies for achieving them.
Finally, both kung fu and product management require mastery. A kung fu master spends years practicing and honing their skills until they achieve mastery. Similarly, a product manager needs to continue learning and growing in their role. This means staying up-to-date with industry trends, learning new skills, and seeking feedback to continuously improve.
Mastering product management requires many of the same skills and principles as mastering kung fu. Both require discipline, focus, and a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement. By applying the principles of kung fu to their work, product managers can develop the mental and physical discipline needed to excel in this challenging field. With a clear plan, clear communication, and a willingness to adapt and evolve over time, product managers can achieve great success in their work, just as kung fu students can achieve greatness in their training.
To help product people at any step of their journey, Sopheon has created a family of software products, including Acclaim Products, Acclaim Ideas, Acclaim Projects, and Accolade for portfolio and strategy management.