Spoiler: At Pixelmatters, the Product Owners aren't machines that know everything about all the topics - and should any Product Owner be? (I guess this is a discussion for later and not the focus of this article).
Therefore the focus should be on learning and adapting to the domain we’re in. This will make a difference in becoming a subject matter expert quickly, and as a consequence, driving results more efficiently. Let's see why and how we do it.
What is “Domain Expertise”
Firstly, when I refer to domain expertise, I interpret it as the knowledge, proficiency of skills, and comparable expertise within a domain sphere. It also relates to the right amount of knowledge about the domain in which you are working since it doesn't matter if you know all of the theory if, in reality, you don't know what's needed in the context of the product.
Tips and tricks to acquire and develop “Domain Expertise”
If you explore our portfolio, you'll see that we work in various industries, from Healthcare to Education. Considering this, having industry-specific knowledge at Pixelmatters isn't essential. Instead, learning the different techniques, needs, and specificities of each is. Below, you'll see some examples of how we do it and our strategies to domain the unknown.
Tip #1: Identify and consume content from relevant resources
The internet can be overwhelming with so much information available, but it's also an excellent provider of technical and valuable information curated by experts. This is where the magic and potential are. A good strategy is to find industry experts or leaders and look for literature or articles in which they are either the authors or someone they recommend. Following them on Social Media is also a good trick, as most publish content regularly and can mention other industry experts for you to follow.
For example, in one of my recent projects related to Web3, I discovered the Odyssey DAO (a Web3 community) and their free lessons on Web3 concepts. All because I was following Peter Yang on LinkedIn, and he shared the news with the network. It was my first step in reaching for more industry-specific knowledge, and it greatly impacted how I understood the Web3 space and all its basic concepts.
Tip #2: Turn yourself into a user.
In the case of Web3, in which there's a vast great sense of community, using Discord and reading some trends and discussions available there also helped. This helped with getting more domain expertise and understanding the users of the product I was about to work with: a 2-in-1 that added lots of value to this path!
Trying to be in the trenches with the users within online communities can be a great booster. This is also valid for other areas of expertise.
Tip #3: Make sure you create a learning database
A significant point during your learning journey is documenting all your findings. You'll be able to set and keep track of your process/learning path, cementing your discoveries and allowing you to refresh your knowledge when needed.
Also, remember that sharing is caring, so sharing and making sure this documentation is available to the rest of the team is also very important. New colleagues joining the team will help them get up to speed and be valuable to other colleagues interested in the theme. This will enable you to transform a siloed learning path into a collaborative place full of value that multiple persons can use time and again.
Tip #4: Notes are your best friends.
Have you ever finished a book without being able to recap the important topics you've explored? Taking (good!) notes is something essential as a way to consolidate learning. Notes will first allow you to organize your ideas and information and, second, think critically about what you just read.
There isn't a magical recipe for taking good notes, as it varies from person to person and depends on the type of content you are consuming. Nevertheless, you don't need to copy a load of information to take good notes — in fact, copying is something that won't engage your brain and so is not a recommended strategy for learning. To begin learning in a new space, some pivotal points to log could be acronyms, terminology, and definitions.
💡 Extra tip: do you remember the previous tip? Attaching these notes to your database will take its value to the next level.
Tip #5: Consolidate your learnings
Imagine this: you reach someone to get clarification around a certain topic and that person, instead of helping you learn a new thing, uses jargon, vague words, and complexity. The result? You end up the conversation more confused than you were before and will probably reach out to someone else to get the information you were looking for.
Here is the great news: using the Feynman Technique will allow anyone, to quickly learn, internalize and easily explain a new concept. This model was developed by influential physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman and has four steps:
Step 1: Identify the topic.
Identify the topic you want to learn and once it's done, take out a blank sheet of paper. The next step is to write the concept's name at the top of the page and then list everything you know about it as if you were explaining it to a child.
You can add it to your sheet as you learn more about the topic. A cool thing might be to use a different color pen to track your progress and see your learning grow. Do you reasonably understand the topic? Great! Just go ahead. Step 2 is waiting for you.
Step 2: Explain it to a child
(I bet you were missing a post talking about kids, right? 😁)
This step is as simple as explaining what you know to a 12-year-old. You can use your sheet as a reference, but the key here is to keep your language simple — no complex terminology or jargon — so that any 12-year-old would easily understand it.
Using simple vocabulary is important because jargon hides your lack of understanding. Doing this step and explaining an idea from start to finish will allow you to discover the gaps in your knowledge — if you don't know them, you can't fill them.
Step 3: Identify your knowledge gaps
This is where the learning begins. Read your notes and identify if there are any parts you need help understanding. If they exist, that's an indication that you need to reflect and refine. It's time to go back to your learning materials and compile information to help you fill in the cracks. Repeat until you have a simple explanation.
Remember: you only understand the topic once you can explain it in simple terms.
Step 4: Test it
This is the phase in which you'll try not to be the person described at the beginning of this tip. The idea is to test yourself and your knowledge by explaining the topic to, for example, your colleagues. You should see if your explanation was adequate, what questions they asked, or the parts in which they seemed confused.
Save the simple explanation in your notes if you're happy with your understanding. This will give you an archive full of learning you can review every time you need.
Although this article might be full of good ideas to follow, please remember that everyone learns differently, so you should find and use the resources or techniques that work best for you.
Make sure you consolidate your learnings and keep track of them. You can either prefer learning in freestyle mode or methodically, it doesn't matter as long as it allows you to capitalize on your knowledge and impact your product management skills.
And if, after reading this, you are encouraged enough to venture into new domains and grow your expertise, that's the way to go. We'll find each other somewhere during the journey! 😉