Using MVPs to Validate Your Career Path
Deciding which professional path to take is like validating a product except that your career is the product. We should be thinking about our careers as an iterative process in which we use our current roles to learn, grow, and help shape the decisions for our next opportunities. Too often, we focus on what the optimal end product or job should be, and how to get there, before we’ve even begun our first role or built the first version of a product.
Just as teams build Minimal Viable Products (MVPs) in order to validate an idea, you should look at your professional experiences as a chance to validate different career choices. To elaborate, the concept of the MVP is to create a usable product, whilst using the least amount of resources, as a way to test a hypothesis. Not only is the MVP produced with the possibility of failure, but more importantly, the acceptance of failure as a means to influence improvements. The same methodology can be applied to your professional experiences. Each of your roles should act as a verifying step in the process of building your ideal career, without pigeonholing yourself into a predefined path.
At the 2017 Women in Product Conference, Jen Dante, VP of Product at Netflix, highlighted the importance of failure when building products. She described how product success follows a normal curve in which a few products thrive, a few fails, and most live somewhere in the middle. That center 70% is the most dangerous zone as you neither have a successful product nor do you learn enough to change direction. Professionally, you should take on tough challenges that will provide you with happiness or dissatisfaction, giving you the opportunity to adjust your short-term goals. Don’t be lumped in that idle 70% and blindly follow the prescribed career path of your current role resulting in potential mediocrity.
For example, let’s say you are currently an Associate Product Manager and you hypothesize that the next role you want is that of a business-focused Product Manager. You begin to consider which skills you have to develop in order to be promoted to that role. As you work to develop your competencies, you realize that you actually aren’t so great at or, quite frankly, enjoy spending time thinking about business strategy. Instead, you find yourself strong at diving into the technical details of the product.
In today’s ever-changing workforce, it’s the norm to change jobs every 2.5 years. With that mindset, when looking for a new opportunity it’s most valuable to focus on the minimum skills you want to attain in your next 2–3 years rather than thinking about where you want to be in 20 years.
So, instead of spending your time focused on how to become the professional, you think you want to be in the far future, shift your efforts towards validating your interests and skills for your next endeavor. Using your current role as an MVP for your career path will bolster your confidence in whether or not you are on the right career track. Your next role may give you the success and happiness you didn’t even know you wanted.