Five Ways to Practice Parenting on Your Product


My life is one continuous episode of "Supermarket Sweep."

Each day is about throwing as much as I can into the cart and hoping for a win. Diapers, product meetings, formula, support inquiries, bath time, team reviews, pediatrician visits, etc. Whatever it takes to meet the demands of my three children - Wade, 21 months, Avery, 3 months and ClearVoice, 2 weeks.

The past two years have been a blur of two pregnancies and the development of a SaaS content production and distribution tool for digital marketers, but somehow I have developed a coping mechanism that groups my worlds together.

I don't change my approach. I manage all my babies in the same way.

These are my rules for effective, fast-paced product parenting:

Treat the Product Team Like Children

Talented and far smarter than me in many ways, my peers on the product team are still the easiest to manage, inspire and grow when I apply the principles of authoritative parenting.

Set the rules of operation. Establish baseline processes, meeting guidelines and sign-off procedures, but give team members freedom within these expectations.

This promotes creativity and a culture of accountability. It also means that missteps aren't met with punishment, but rather support and encouragement.

We undoubtedly have made mistakes while creating ClearVoice, but we make it a policy not to point fingers. And as cliche as it sounds, we glean a lesson from each stumble. There is simply no use in crying over a spilled sippy cup.

There are tantrums, though. My world is far from nursery rhymes and kumbaya all the time. Product meetings derail and teams disagree. It's like I've been toddlered at work.

My style is to redirect. I swiftly move my 21-month-old son or 6-person product team into a new activity. Eventually, we revisit the heated issue (the wrong crayon color, the train fell apart, the join button is too small, the pasta was too cold or too hot) and try, try again. But in the interim, we get another activity -- or perhaps agenda item -- checked off the list.

Skip the Consensus
Step up, make decisions and act swiftly if you have the experience to back it up.

I used to wait on my husband for nearly every parenting decision, but let's face it, when the mac 'n cheese hits the fan, we're all better off if the parent of the moment relies on instinct and experience to take charge. Looking back on each day, we don't always agree on how things were handled, but we learn from each other and are generally met with shorter meltdowns, less chaos and fewer strands of spaghetti on the wall.

Effective product parenting looks the same, minus the noodles. Trust team instincts, and nurture and promote innovation by giving team members authority within their specialties. What about dissenters and disagreements? Embrace them.

Innovation is born out of debate. Everyone on your product team doesn't have to agree, but everyone should unite to support final decisions, no matter the outcome. Groupthink and forced consensus will only cripple the product.

Don't Bend to Every Customer Reaction
Yes, the customer is always right when it comes to service, but what about mapping and defining a product?

Henry Ford said,"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

In both my roles, I try to encourage my team to be innovative, not reactive. As parents, we don't give in to every toddler whim and fit. We wait it out and gauge if this is something that deserves a deeper look.

Will the same feedback occur again? Is there enough data to show that this single instance of feedback is appropriate to act on? Changing a product (or the bath schedule, for that matter) can be risky and costly.

Being reactive is simply not a sustainable model for product and parent happiness. Build in processes for evaluating customer feedback from day one.

Tune Out the Competition
Great innovation comes from playing the "I'm not listening" card. Yes, you might as well put your fingers in your ears and sing "la la la."

I taught myself this tactic years ago while working in print magazines. In an effort to focus on a new issue and create novel concepts for our audience, I designated competitor blackout periods. No looking at other women's magazines. This kept our editorial perspective fresh.

Sure, competitive analysis is important to any business, but if not tempered, you run the risk of second-guessing innovative work. Don't get caught in an anxious game of keeping up with the "other guys." It will only hinder product growth.

Need I draw the parallel here to the slew of social mommies who fill my feeds with unsolicited parenting advice and perfectly styled photos of their perfectly blissful lives?

Yes, I block out my parent competition, too. Pinterest and I have been through several separations.

Support Communication
Our product team is a mix of the genius engineers, the smart creatives and the visionary CEOs. Strong individuals with strong opinions. Handling all the ideas and maintaining communication would be disastrous without collaborative tools in place.

We use Slack at ClearVoice. Conversations are segmented by channels to keep the various facets of our product build organized. My parenting life is also optimized with a collaborative tool. At home, we rely on project management tool Wrike. Parenting todos and lists, for what I literally need to add to my cart during a lunchtime errand run, live here.

Handy yes, but these magical lists are not for every day. Learn from my mistake and avoid running a baby errand the day before a product launch. The co-worker you take a long will think you're crazy, but ultimately, she'll give you a great analogy for a blog post.

"It's like we are on 'Supermarket Sweep' -- I feel like I need to race you!" Suffice it to say, I was a bit manic that day, anxious to get back to my launch checklist. And yes, I did win... at least, I did on that day.