Mentorship is the partnership between two parties called mentor - the actor that shares knowledge and offers guidance and mentee - actor that receives the knowledge and is being guided. Together, they will embark on a journey of self-discovery and development in both of their professional and personal lives.
Mentors gain leadership capabilities, develop personally in terms of emotional intelligence (social skills, empathy, motivation, self-awareness and reflection), re-validate their product knowledge, increase their social networking, enjoy professional growth and satisfaction, share their SME (Subject Matter Expert) product experience with other peers, and complete their CV with relevant experience.
Mentees learn more about the product domain, extend their knowledge in this area, become organized and committed to achieve a series of goals, have the opportunity to learn both theoretical and practical things from a person with expertise, gain insight into the product world with tips and tricks, boost their confidence and motivation to keep learning, and approach a new career in the product domain.
On the same page, both mentor and mentee will showcase respect, clear expectations and open communication in the mentorship program - like a written contract where both parties sign and commit to deliver their side of the work. The expectations need to be agreed on and aligned to assure the success of the mentorship.
Good mentors will always have enough passion to engage in the mentorship program and to deliver their best version to their mentees.
There are two main areas when talking about mentorship: knowledge and emotional intelligence, both being must-have skills for a mentor.
Knowledge - the product mentor must have vast and relevant expertise in the product domain and is willing to share that knowledge with others. Mentors will share both failures and success stories to their mentee as proof that anyone can make mistakes and keep learning to improve themselves in the end.
Emotional intelligence - the product mentor must meet all of the main skills of emotional intelligence such as: being an active listener to their mentee, offering advice/guidance, being a born or skilled product teacher, showing authentic empathy to their mentee, having patience and investing time in coaching, building - trust, respect and collaboration with positive outcomes for everyone and lastly offering an encouragement/support system to pursue a future career in the product domain. The mentor is constantly motivating the mentee to keep learning and ask for more, therefore boosting their confidence to succeed as product managers.
Good mentor will always make sure to keep their mentees engaged in the mentorship program. However, there is a need of a genuine interest from the mentee to commit and learn in order to gain more product knowledge. The mentee is willing to take advice/guidance from their teacher, accept constructive feedback and is self-motivated to succeed by learning both theoretical and practical elements. At the same time, the mentee must have good time-management skills to balance the mentorship program and the actual work.
The recipe is focused on the friendship developed between the mentor and the mentee.
Both mentor and mentee are open and align their expectations, sign off on a mentorship plan, can freely discuss any issues which might arise, have a relationship built on trust and respect, keep touch on a regular basis, and are committed to invest time and energy into making this partnership a success.
Both can become friends to some extent during the program and in this way the experience becomes a fun-and-learn experience where they feel comfortable in reaching out to each other.
In the end what's very important is for both to be in a safe, secured zone, to engage and maintain a positive attitude, an easy going relationship with a freedom of speaking in confidence about all the topics involving mentorship matters.
The most important element is making sure you as a mentor can offer your mentee a secure and comfortable environment to resonate and share expectations, thoughts and feelings. Take care of your mentee as a human being both on a personal and a professional level by a well-defined support system, to achieve all the product mentorship goals.
What steps should we take on a mentorship product program?
There are a series of steps we recommend taking when starting a mentorship program:
The mentor and mentee can meet briefly and see if they have a compatibility in the way they interact with each other. They need to resonate at some level and feel comfortable in engaging in such a mentorship program.
Sometimes, it is better to keep looking until both mentor and mentee can connect and discuss any aspects on this matter, otherwise the relationship can become a burden, strained and awkward in some crucial moments. Make sure the program is based on the free will and choice of both parties, and it is not mandatory, recommended, guided or lead by external peers.
Before starting the mentorship program, both mentor and mentee could meet and agree on the following main points of the contract:
Mentor and Mentee expectations
Mentor capabilities to fulfill the expectations of the mentee
Mentee willingness to learn all the items tracked in the mentorship program
Mentor and Mentee commitment to invest time and energy to make the mentorship a success
Ways of working during the mentorship period
Duration of the mentorship program
The mentorship program should contain both Theory - reading materials to develop the theoretical knowledge and Practice Sections - have the opportunity to put into practice all the lessons learnt.
For the Theory section we recommend the following topics to be studied and read on the product domain expertise like: Introduction to Product Management, General Software Development Knowledge and Methodologies, Agile Methodology - Ceremonies, Roles and Responsibilities, Product Owner/Product Manager - Profile and Skills, Stakeholder Management, Requirement Management, Product Components - Vision, Goals and Business Cases, Product Prioritization - Techniques , Product Roadmap and Backlog , Backlog Refinement, Feature, Epics and User Stories, Acceptance criteria and Validation and User Acceptance Testing.
For the Practice part, there should be a detailed plan where the mentor gives the mentee assignments to work on to develop the necessary skills to act as a Product Manager/Owner/BA in the future. Let's develop each topic and see what activities we can organize for the mentee to practice their abilities:
The mentor explains to the mentee what a Product Owner/Product Manager in a specific context is, what the main skills are and what the main profile is - a job description might be helpful to clarify all the expectations on this role.
The mentor teaches the mentee how to identify stakeholders using different techniques (for example Stakeholder matrix, RACI Matrix, Stakeholder Map) and how to engage with them via meetings, emails, other channels of communication. In this case, the mentee should be shadowing the mentor in all types of sessions where stakeholders are being engaged like: Roadmap Prioritization, Requirements elicitations, Sign Offs, Demo's etc. We recommend to delegate different tasks to the apprentice in this process on different projects for practice, and share tips and tricks in how to handle different types of stakeholders.
The mentor shows the mentee the management of requirements for an initiative: how to gather the requirements from different sources, how to clarify asks using different elicitation techniques (interviews, brainstorming, workshops), how to analyze and define requirements (create business cases), and how to validate the requirements by obtaining the sign off from all stakeholders. Mentors can involve and give the mentee the task to create the documentation for a specific initiative where all these requirement management process aspects are being tracked. The documentation can be created in different tools such as Office, Atlassian and others.
The mentor presents to the mentee the product vision, goals and business cases of an initiative and how these product components are being built. The mentor can give some examples, templates, practices to use and challenge the mentee to write down some samples for these components of a given product at free choice.
The mentor showcases the mentee different techniques to be used to prioritize the requirements within an initiative such as: MVP, Moscow, Relative prioritization. Mentors can involve mentees in the process of discussing and clarifying the priorities for practical initiative using two methods and highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each technique. The mentor can give the assignment to the mentee who needs to apply a prioritization technique for an initiative or product at free choice.
The mentor shows to the mentee how the roadmap and backlog are being decided and built for a product, and maintained over time. Mentors can demo how they create and maintain the backlog for a product, and involve the mentee by giving small assignments in handling different asks from the backlog.
The Mentor can invite the mentee in refinement sessions where they can see how the requirements are discussed, clarified and estimated together with the development team. Mentors show mentees the steps taken before, during and after each backlog refinement session. Before refinement, they prepare together the set of elements to discuss, during the session the mentee observes and takes notes and after the backlog refinement both mentor and mentee discuss how the refinement went, pointing out a series of tips and tricks that can be shared in how to manage this type of sessions.
The mentor demos to the mentee how to create and write good features, epics and user stories under a specific initiative. Mentors can give mentees the assignment to create the features and user stories for a given product with support and examples. A series of Tips and Tricks can be shared in how to write a GOOD User Story (for e.g As a
Mentors can invite mentees in demo sessions where the requirements of an initiative are validated by stakeholders and feedback is shared across all channels. Mentors can assign mentees the task of defining acceptance criteria at high level (Feature) or low level (User Story), and execute tests (while tracking the Pass/Failed results and performing self-exploratory testing).
A series of Show and Tell can be organized where the mentor shows the mentee how to define an Acceptance criteria, how to execute an UAT at User Story and Feature Level with the development team. Share Tips and Tricks on how to write a GOOD Acceptance Criteria by using for example the GIVEN, WHEN, THEN statement, customer perspective or formulating it by using the "I" technique.
Once we have found a good mentor-mentee and have a well-defined mentorship program, we need to make sure that we act on the plan we defined, which means the execution process of both theory and practice sections. After each act or execution, the feedback loop is facilitated where both mentor and mentee share they input on what went well, what went wrong and what improvements can be made to strength the partnership. After a period of time, after agreeing on a series of steps about what needs changed or improved, a follow up is necessary to reinforce everything which was discussed and decided, setting the basis for preparations for the next sessions.
The mentor and mentee should meet and discuss on a regular/ad-hoc to keep the connection/bond flowing. In this catch up they can talk about mentorship matters, socialize and discuss any other topic which is of interest to both parties. Remember, the eyes which aren't seen are easily forgotten, which also applies for the mentor and mentee that don't keep in touch and loose the connection because of the lack of communication. The catch ups are vital to keep the relationships close and strong.
Keeping real and transparent makes a mentorship program successful, and that involves the opportunity for the mentor and mentee to have a heart-to-heart talk on all the "sins" of the product world.
This is an important aspect, because the mentee can learn about all the different challenges they can face once they embark on this product journey and about the ways to handle issues from the start. Build a strong, confident mentee who will know how to act in different situations and who will know what must be done in a given context.
Mentorship is one of the win-win situations we can enjoy that brings back the passion for our daily job by sharing knowledge and experiences with others. Sign up for a mentorship today and you will learn more about yourselves and have a sense of accomplishment fulfilled.
by Ovidiu Mățan
by Daniel Butean , Alex Ghiran , Călin Manea