Golf And Product Management: An Unlikely Parallel?

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For 14 years of my life I thought I would pursue a career in professional golf. That was my goal from the time I was 8 years old, so day-in and day-out I focused on that goal with endless hours of practice, physical awareness, health and later, an – NCAA DI scholarship and tournament wins.

Then, during college, my life took an unexpected turn into the land of software development. To my surprise, it took about a year’s worth of interning at a software company to realize that I would much rather dive head first into a line of work that was the opposite of professional athletics – software product management.

Interestingly, these two apparently unrelated fields have quite a few things in common. And, from the viewpoint of a Product manager, I’ve managed to draw some interesting parallels:

Teamwork

Golf is an individually focused sport, but you cannot (and will not) succeed on your own (Wait. What?).

You need a support group – family, a swing coach, a mental coach, and a fitness coach. You need people who specialize in each of those disciplines to ensure that each part of your game is attended to by a professional (Yes, I consider family to be support professionals).

Similarly, delivering software is the very definition of teamwork.

Solely engineers write the code, but it takes a lot more than engineers to deliver software that solves customer problems. The pieces of the puzzle include : requirements gathering, design and planning, execution, QA, documentation, field enablement, sales, deployment, and support.

These professionals (or multiple groups of professionals) form the team that marches towards the common goal of software delivery. It’s the same with your golf game, you need professionals attending to every piece of the process to guarantee the best quality and yield success.

Attention To Detail 

You might think golf is straightforward, but there are a huge number of details that go into the game.

For example, you need to consider the brand of your clubs, balls, gloves, the loft (bend) of the heads of the clubs, the swing path, swing direction–I could go on and on. If you fail to ensure that each detail is properly tailored to your game and correctly executed on, you will risk endangering your success. 

There is no room for oversight or laziness when it comes to the details. This probably does not come as news for Product Managers. Because being a Product Manager is all about the details.

You start by making sure you ask the customer one too many questions to ensure that you get the use case right. You say statements like, “I was thinking,” or “Make sure to check out” too often to engineering—to ensure that as many edge cases as possible will be covered.

You also make sure that features are documented correctly and do a proper and thorough field enablement to make sure your field knows how to use the features correctly and about any limitations.

Failure to give any one of those pieces your full attention might cause unnecessary code reds, features that fully do not satisfy the customer, or missed deadlines.

Continuous Exceptional Performance

In golf and product management, you don’t strive for a single outstanding performance. Instead, you work towards a continuous stream of exceptional performances.

In golf, you will not be recognized for one good round of golf. Sure, you’ll get a pat on the back and a “good job,” but one good round won’t make any money. In tournaments, there is no purse paid out unless the tournament has commenced at least 36 holes of golf.

Why?

Any lucky player could come out for one round and shoot an astronomical number, but it takes skill to repeat it two, three, or four times in a row every week.

This is similar to software delivery. If you put out one on-time release with all the planned functionality, you will get some great feedback, but only by consistently hitting your release cadence and filling your customers’ expectations will you will be recognized as a trustworthy software delivery company and that’s when you will truly earn your customers’ trust and loyalty.

In the End

While thinking about these parallels is entertaining, the real question is: why does it matter and what do I gain from knowing this?

First, I will never assume that I can succeed all by myself. Software is a team effort.
Second, I know that details are crucial to success.
And last but not least, I know to never stop striving for improvement, growth and that next exceptional round of golf or software – a single good day at work does not mean I’ve made it. 


Interested in more from Mara? Register for our webinar on January 28th at 12PM ET and learn how to maintain context across your integrated ALM tools: Strong ARM Your Tools.