Strong Product Communities

Strong Product Communities

Author
Petra Wille
Year
2023
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Review

This book is light on content and insight, and heavy on plugs for follow-on consulting work. There isn’t a coherent narrative or framework. I’ve been part of some great product communities, this book has reinforced how lucky I’ve been and how special they are.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • A Community of Practice (or CoP for short) is a group of people who regularly interact around a shared passion, that they want to learn about and get better at.
  • CoPs were first proposed by Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger in ‘Situated Learning’ (1991). Wenger expanded on the concept in Communities of Practice (1998).
  • CoPs are about sharing information, improving skills and working advancing the general knowledge of the domain. CoPs are built on personal relationships, networking, knowledge sharing and common skills.
  • Once you have more than six people who are keen, communication gets harder and you need think about starting a CoP to put more rigour around…
    • Rituals, cadence, formats and topics of discussion
    • You might need to define the goals of your CoP too
  • CoPs help product people share best practice and ways to solve specific challenges.
  • CoPs can filter and curate content so it’s most relevant for your company and context.
  • CoPs can help direct personal development and are incredibly useful when onboarding new team members.
  • CoPs should be a safe space to share frustrations.
  • Community of Practice Canvas headings:
    • Purpose: What does the CoP want to achieve? (limit to 3)
    • Values: What’s important to us a community? (limit to 3)
    • Success Definition: How does the community define success?
    • Roles within the community. Who is the community for and what roles can members play?
    • Finding Rituals and Rhythm. Which rituals deepen the bonds among members? (also worth limiting)
    • Content and Curation: What content creates value for the community?
    • Workshops: Which workshops will nurture the community?
    • Shared Experiences: How to create shared experiences within the community?
    • Practicalities: How do people join, or leave? What are the rules?
    • Channel and Platform: What channels does the community use to communicate and gather?
    • Incentives: Are contributions rewarded in some way?
    • Financing, sponsorship and leadership support: What is the community plan to be financially sustainable?
  • How to start a Product Management Community (Phases / Steps)
    • Phase 1: Create the minimum viable community:
      • Successful communities start from real personal connections between 2-3 people. Find a couple of people who are passionate, and get going, share and learn from each other. If successful you’ll have some momentum.
      • Don’t get too involved. Allowing the group to have autonomy increases motivation.
    • Phase 2: Give it some structure
      • Steer the conversation from updates toward reflecting no which tools, methodologies, and frameworks made them successful.
      • Keep the group small but add a ritual that allows everyone to engage. Make sure it is a value add ritual, else participation will be low
      • Create a shared learning goal between peers.
      • Start by making these events a “one-off.” Don’t worry too much about setting them up as community rituals in the first place.
      • Let time go by, and let people learn the things they want to learn.
      • If new sessions aren’t happening organically, there could be a systematic problem with time or culture.
    • Step 3: Formalise it and find community management allies
      • Ideally the community itself is voting to spend more time together an organise better.
      • Desire to do more raises questions like…
        • Who has bandwidth to help organise?
        • Is there any budget?
        • Do we have permission for an offsite?
      • Get out of their way and help them get the support and sponsorship they need to follow their passion.
      • Align learning goals to company needs where possible.
      • At 40 members and 3–4 different rituals consider allocating official time and resource to maintain the community (like prepping sessions etc.)
  • CoPs don’t necessarily need rules and structure when they’re starting out.
Example Community Guidelines:
  • The community purpose is to share product management knowledge & best practices.
  • Members are expected to contribute by sharing their experiences, insights, and expertise.
  • Respect the views and opinions of others, even if you disagree with them.
  • Personal attacks, bullying, and discriminatory language are not tolerated.
  • Keep discussions focused on product management.
  • Do not share confidential or proprietary information without permission.
  • Use the appropriate channels for specific discussions and keep the conversation organised.
  • Help to create a safe and welcoming environment for all members by being respectful and considerate of others.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to community moderators.
  • By joining the community, you agree to abide by the guidelines.
  • Establish rituals in larger more mature CoPs.
A strong set of product rituals…
  • creates a rhythm and glue that holds the community together.
  • fosters a sense of belonging and shared identity through interactions.
  • facilitates learning and collaboration.
  • can be formal or informal.
  • are well-planned and organised, with clear agendas and goals.
  • are inclusive and participatory.
  • have ground rules (respect others, stay on topic, listen to each other).
  • Consult the community about adding or removing rituals
Examples of CoP Purpose:
  • Building social connections
  • Creating best practices
  • Identifying and addressing skill gaps
  • Learning from others
  • Learning together
  • Sharing with others
  • Talking about and solving problems together
  • Sharing success stories
Examples of CoP Success Measures:
  • High return on time invested by members
  • Self-sustaining (the CoP is not reliant on a few people)
  • Safe environment to share and to learn together
  • Improved employee onboarding
  • Increasing mastery (as described by Daniel Pink)
Questions to ask when thinking about adding more rituals…
  • Which rituals deepen the bonds among members?
  • Which rituals embody the community’s values?
  • Which rituals mark specific milestones in the membership experience?
  • Which rituals are members-only vs. open for others (engineering, design, the public)
  • Which rituals help us run or mature this community?
  • Which rituals happen online?
  • Which rituals happen in person?
  • What is the right rhythm for the rituals?
Questions to ask about content sharing and curation…
  • What content creates value for the community?
  • How can the community tell the stories of its members?
  • What content will create deeper bonds among members?
  • How do members contribute valuable content to the community?
  • How do we bring in external stimulus?
  • How can content support the ritual’s rhythm? Editorial calendars = stability + freshness
  • Product managers can feel lonely on their teams.
  • Be careful of CoP presentations feeling like they are ‘high stakes’.
  • If participation is low → join forces with another CoP that has some overlap (e.g. UX)
  • Management should make it clear that it’s encouraged to spend time with the CoP.
  • Expect 10% of people to actively take part and come to every meeting.
  • Steal from the best: invite and watch thought leaders
  • We really do learn in community, by discussing ideas with each other, by hearing about what other people are doing, and by seeing lots and lots of examples.
  • Set monthly challenges: designed to help people invest in a discovery skill.
  • Monthly Book Club: read a book one month → discuss the one we read the previous month
  • When you participate in a CoP, it’s very important to have a goal for why you’re doing it.
  • Crowdsource what people are struggling with. Identify common pain point, then grab material or speakers that can help.
  • Just start the community with a few people. Once you build the core, then the others will join and gain value from it.
  • Just because there is no visual engagement on a post, that does not mean that the post was not valuable to the community.
  • CoPs only work if you can find committed individuals investing in keeping them up and running.
  • The smaller and more personal a community is, the less effort it takes to keep it alive.
  • Generally people want to contribute, they just need some encouragement.
  • Find the allies within your organisation
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Chapter 1: Communities of Practice: The Essentials

  • A Community of Practice (or CoP for short) is a group of people who regularly interact around a shared passion, that they want to learn about and get better at.
  • CoPs were first proposed by Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger in ‘Situated Learning’ (1991). Wenger expanded on the concept in Communities of Practice (1998).
  • CoPs are about sharing information, improving skills and working advancing the general knowledge of the domain. CoPs are built on personal relationships, networking, knowledge sharing and common skills.
  • Through sharing information and experiences members learn from each other.
  • Once you have more than six people who are keen, communication gets harder and you need think about starting a CoP to put more rigour around…
    • Rituals, cadence, formats and topics of discussion
    • You might need to define the goals of your CoP too
  • CoPs help product people share best practice and ways to solve specific challenges.
  • CoPs can filter and curate content so it’s most relevant for your company and context.
  • 👀
    This is one of the stronger arguments I’ve seen for internal CoPs
  • CoPs can define your product culture and your product management approach, through the methodologies you use.
  • CoPs can help direct personal development and are incredibly useful when onboarding new team members.
  • CoPs should be a safe space to share frustrations.
  • They can help drive change, through forming a single voice and view on how to improve company interactions between disciplines.
  • Very few companies are currently making use of the CoP format or aware of its power.

Chapter 2: Getting Started: What you need to do

  • The author teases a Community of Practice Canvas (but you’ll have pay for consultancy to learn how to use it 🤷‍♀️).
  • Community of Practice Canvas headings:
    • Purpose: What does the CoP want to achieve? (limit to 3)
    • Values: What’s important to us a community? (limit to 3)
    • Success Definition: How does the community define success?
    • Roles within the community. Who is the community for and what roles can members play?
    • Finding Rituals and Rhythm. Which rituals deepen the bonds among members? (also worth limiting)
    • Content and Curation: What content creates value for the community?
    • Workshops: Which workshops will nurture the community?
    • Shared Experiences: How to create shared experiences within the community?
    • Practicalities: How do people join, or leave? What are the rules?
    • Channel and Platform: What channels does the community use to communicate and gather?
    • Incentives: Are contributions rewarded in some way?
    • Financing, sponsorship and leadership support: What is the community plan to be financially sustainable?
  • How to start a Product Management Community (Phases / Steps)
    • Phase 1: Create the minimum viable community:
      • Successful communities start from real personal connections between 2-3 people.
      • You can’t stick this stage. Large artificial communities tend to fail.
      • Find a couple of people who are passionate, and get going, share and learn from each other.
      • If successful you’ll have some momentum.
      • Don’t get too involved. Allowing the group to have autonomy increases motivation.
    • Phase 2: Give it some structure
      • If your Product Managers are sharing resources and learning form each other you’re ahead of most companies.
      • Steer the conversation from updates toward reflecting no which tools, methodologies, and frameworks made them successful.
      • Keep the group small but add a ritual that allows everyone to engage. Make sure it is a value add ritual, else participation will be low
      • Create a shared learning goal between peers. You can find the right goal by running a workshop. Find several people with similar challenges then find a good format to tackle them (e.g. reading a book, watching a talk together, attending a meetup). Then bring folks back into a group to share perspectives and learning.
        • Start by making these events a “one-off.” Don’t worry too much about setting them up as community rituals in the first place.
      • Let time go by, and let people learn the things they want to learn.
      • Remember people have a job to do, this make attendance hard but incentive high for learning new skills.
      • If new sessions aren’t happening organically, there could be a systematic problem with time or culture.
      • We need to invest time in learning and reflection to master our craft.
      • Leadership should encourage people to attend.
      • Call a product community retro. Focus on the things you can action. Give them four headlines to think about:
        • Community Purpose
        • Success measures
        • Rituals
        • Time investment
      • Step 2 is about creating a real community connecting all the product folks in the organisation. Help them connect and find things to learn together.
    • Step 3: Formalise it and find community management allies
      • Ideally the community itself is voting to spend more time together an organise better.
      • Desire to do more raises questions like…
        • Who has bandwidth to help organise?
        • Is there any budget?
        • Do we have permission for an offsite?
      • This is a sign if a healthy curious community, help where you can
      • A CoP can encourage folks to learn and master their craft. It can also keep senior staff more engaged and motivated.
      • Get out of their way and help them get the support and sponsorship they need to follow their passion.
      • Align learning goals to company needs where possible.
      • At 40 members and 3–4 different rituals consider allocating official time and resource to maintain the community (like prepping sessions etc.)
      • Generally senior product people like doing community management work. Find community allies, and get them the support to do it well

Chapter 3: Community Guidelines (3 examples)

  • CoPs don’t necessarily need rules and structure when they’re starting out.
Example Community Guidelines:
  • The community purpose is to share product management knowledge & best practices.
  • Members are expected to contribute by sharing their experiences, insights, and expertise.
  • Respect the views and opinions of others, even if you disagree with them.
  • Personal attacks, bullying, and discriminatory language are not tolerated.
  • Keep discussions focused on product management.
  • Do not share confidential or proprietary information without permission.
  • Use the appropriate channels for specific discussions and keep the conversation organised.
  • Help to create a safe and welcoming environment for all members by being respectful and considerate of others.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to community moderators.
  • By joining the community, you agree to abide by the guidelines.

Chapter 4: Community Checklists and Questions

  • Establish rituals in larger more mature CoPs.
  • A strong set of product rituals…
    • creates a rhythm and glue that holds the community together.
    • fosters a sense of belonging and shared identity through interactions.
    • facilitates learning and collaboration.
    • can be formal or informal.
    • are well-planned and organised, with clear agendas and goals.
    • are inclusive and participatory.
    • have ground rules (respect others, stay on topic, listen to each other).
  • Consult the community about adding or removing rituals
  • Examples of CoP Purpose:
    • Building social connections
    • Creating best practices
    • Identifying and addressing skill gaps
    • Learning from others
    • Learning together
    • Sharing with others
    • Talking about and solving problems together
    • Sharing success stories
  • Examples of CoP Success Measures:
    • High return on time invested by members
    • Self-sustaining (the CoP is not reliant on a few people)
    • Safe environment to share and to learn together
    • Improved employee onboarding
    • Increasing mastery (as described by Daniel Pink)
  • Questions to ask when thinking about adding more rituals…
    • Which rituals deepen the bonds among members?
    • Which rituals embody the community’s values?
    • Which rituals mark specific milestones in the membership experience?
    • Which rituals are members-only vs. open for others (engineering, design, the public)
    • Which rituals help us run or mature this community?
    • Which rituals happen online?
    • Which rituals happen in person?
    • What is the right rhythm for the rituals?
  • Questions to ask about content sharing and curation…
    • What content creates value for the community?
    • How can the community tell the stories of its members?
    • What content will create deeper bonds among members?
    • How do members contribute valuable content to the community?
    • How do we bring in external stimulus?
    • How can content support the ritual’s rhythm? Editorial calendars = stability + freshness
  • Ideas for rituals and meetings…
Informal get-togethers
Game night PechaKucha nights (20 slides, 20 seconds each) Drinks Pub quiz Go-karting
Talking formats
In person Online Asynchronous (video, chat, whiteboard) Broadcasting (newsletter, internal blog) Learning library (physical books)
Talking rhythm
Daily: Slack channel Weekly: 1:1 suprise lunch Monthly: learning challenge, product team game night, employee onboarding session, themed learning session Quarterly: book clubs, training days, product academy Annual: 2 day product summit
Cross-Cop Sessions
With engineering, design etc.

Chapter 5: Learning from Other Cop Leaders

  • Community is a place where…
    • where people belong
    • where they turn to for help
    • where they can contribute to help others
  • Product managers can feel lonely on their teams.
  • Meeting ideas:
    • ‘Product and Friends’ is a great name for an open community meeting.
    • Product training day → A theme, a keynote, some activities, wrap up.
    • ‘Product Academy’ → to onboard and teach more junior PM. 1 week of:
      • Understanding Our Users and the Market
      • Delivering Impact
      • Data & Analytics
      • Engineering Basics
    • Product teardown meeting → analyse other products, discuss the findings, and learn together. Only one person to prepare something.
  • Be careful of CoP presentations feeling like they are ‘high stakes’.
  • If participation is low → join forces with another CoP that has some overlap (e.g. UX)
  • Don’t book CoP sessions over stand-ups.
  • CoP engagement is mostly driven by intrinsic motivation.
  • Management should make it clear that it’s encouraged to spend time with the CoP.
  • Expect 10% of people to actively take part and come to every meeting.
  • Steal from the best: invite and watch thought leaders
  • Internal communities allow you to talk about things you can’t talk about on the outside.
Three circles model developed by Michel Bachmann
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  • Creating a space for people to come together, share, learn, and talk about what’s working and what’s not working.
  • We really do learn in community, by discussing ideas with each other, by hearing about what other people are doing, and by seeing lots and lots of examples.
  • I’m done with being the “expert.” That’s not the role I want to play.
  • Set monthly challenges: designed to help people invest in a discovery skill.
  • Monthly Book Club: read a book one month → discuss the one we read the previous month.
    • Design in weekly activities to help people apply what they read in the book
  • Have a new member call with everyone who joined in the last two weeks.
  • Create a new member journey and an onboarding process. Outline all the things you’d want a new member to do (e.g. introduce yourself, reply to somebody else’s post).
  • Conference clubs → prepare for external PM conferences, raise awareness, builds networks
  • Large networks are important in Product Management.
  • When you participate in a CoP, it’s very important to have a goal for why you’re doing it.
  • Friday “Product Coffee” → share things that happened during the week like successes and challenges and pick each other’s brains on particular themes.
  • Some people are just ready to receive but not ready to give.
  • Post about your failures, make it OK to be vulnerable.
  • Crowdsource what people are struggling with. Identify common pain point, then grab material or speakers that can help.
  • Start with basic tooling, even an excel sheet of resources can be useful.
  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
  • Just start the community with a few people. Once you build the core, then the others will join and gain value from it.
  • Just because there is no visual engagement on a post, that does not mean that the post was not valuable to the community.

Chapter 6: Digging into the data

  • CoPs only work if you can find committed individuals investing in keeping them up and running.
  • Think about how to reward the right behaviour: learning, sharing, and CoP building.
  • The smaller and more personal a community is, the less effort it takes to keep it alive.
  • What are rituals/formats/channels that work well for your company’s community:
    • Bi-Weekly Call: Random updates + focused learning
    • Monthly Events: E.g. Learn about Product Analytics Session
    • Monthly informal get-together
    • Quarterly formats: book clubs or external speakers
    • Quarterly off-sites Product training camp.
    • Attend external events and share back.
    • Onboarding calls and workshops.
    • Product academy/community training days.
    • Community newsletters.
    • Weekly learning challenges Quizzes.
    • Chat tool + weekly roundup.
    • Wiki sharing/weekly worthy reading.
    • 1:1 matchings.
  • Generally people want to contribute, they just need some encouragement.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

  • Follow more product people for ideas
  • Find others building a product community and swap notes
  • Find the allies within your organisation