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A tool for the forward-thinking PM
Recently, I came across an encouraging post advocating for building habits around “the boring bits”, which for product teams is a foundational aspect of driving real business outcomes.
One of the practices mentioned is a learning backlog. I’ve been doing a version of this for the last several years, and I wanted to share what I’ve found to be a powerful routine.
We all (occasionally) have product intuition. But we end up not following through because…reasons.
the market timing isn’t right
the team staffing isn’t there
you can’t quite articulate value
there is a lack of data to +1 it
I call these product hunches. Something (a customer conversation you had, a design review you attended, an analyst report you read, a JIRA comment you saw, etc) put the seed of an idea in your head. And while you may downplay it in the immediate-term, one of your jobs as a PM is to come back to it in the long-term. And what I’m proposing is a structured mechanism to revisit these half-formed ideas.
I’ve posted previously about writing things down so that you can circle back when the moment is right. The specific technique I use I picked up from Steven Johnson. Basically, it’s a “Hunch Tracker” - every time an idea pops into my head, I add it to a long-running Google Doc. Every new idea is added to the top of the doc (just a quick tl;dr), along with the date plus some context on what sparked it (it’s a very simple journal entry). Once a quarter (you can pick your own cadence) I comb through the doc in chronological order (so from bottom to top), and this is where the magic happens…
The ideas start connecting when you read them as one, long, narrative thread. Fully-formed concepts emerge from disparate bits and pieces, like portions of your subconscious coming to the forefront of your brain. The key parts of this process are cataloging potential bets in one place and actually making time to review.
So try it out. Would love to hear about readers’ attempts at “hunch tracking” and what dots started connecting from them…
further reading / references
The Spark File as a counter to writer’s block
Hunch tracking can be part of a larger investment in mind gardening
A Tweetstorm on the value of layering ideation
A thread on the need for PMs to have a knowledge management system (KMS)
childish drawing / interpretation