I recently completed a six part series of articles entitled:
How to be a GREAT Product Manager
I started writing the series as an analogue to Ken Norton’s posting on his blog: How to hire a product manager.
Ken lays out six major points on how to hire a PM. Each part of my series focused on the flip side of his points and focused on how to be a great PM. The following table shows the two side by side:
Hiring a great PM
Being a great PM
|1||Hire all the smart people||Don’t just sound smart. Act smart and be smart.|
|2||Have a strong technical background||Be technical without becoming a technologist|
|3||“Spidey-sense” product instincts and creativity||“Spidey-sense” instincts are good. Hard data is way better|
|4||Leadership that’s earned||The 4 Cs of Leadership: credibility, commitment, communication and courage|
|5||Ability to channel multiple points of view||Be an integrator, translator and communicator. Don’t be a terminator.|
|6||Give me someone who’s shipped something||Own the product from conception to completion and beyond|
There’s probably a lot more to write on both hiring and being a great product manager. When hiring you only have a limited amount of time to assess the person, ask key questions, see some of their previous work if possible, check references etc. Most of the time, the hiring decision comes down to a mix of the person’s performance in the interviews and a gut call made by the hiring manager. Some people interview well but perform poorly. Others don’t interview as well but deliver results. Finding good talent is always tough, and this is especially true in the case of PMs.
Being a great product manager is not easy either. Aside from rising to the challenge on your own, there can be organizational, political or business hurdles hindering your path to success. The role of a product manager in a larger company is likely very different from the same role in a startup. It can be very hard to make a big imprint in a larger company where strategy and major product direction decisions are oft-times made at the senior management level, with product managers being tasked to execute on those decisions. In a startup, I’ll bet you’re likely understaffed with more to do than time to do it.
In either case, you can still rise above the noise and be effective. Focus on the key objectives you need to deliver and ensure those get done in a timely manner. Don’t be a “just-in-time” product manager. It leaves you no wiggle room if you meet unexpected delays and makes people depending on your rather nervous.
Beyond the key objectives, keep watch for places where you can help improve how the organizations builds, markets, sells and supports your products. If you notice that the evaluation process for your software is cumbersome and this is impacting sales, help identify and define the solution. If you see that sales consultants aren’t adequately trained then work to get them the help they need. If you notice that customers are getting frustrated with the quality of support (despite what the results of the 3rd party customer satisfaction survey says), raise it with Support management or other executives. The point here is that beyond the product(s) you manage, identify ways to make the company better and be part of the solution team.
Be wary of internal power structures and political circles. It is far too easy to get encumbered by company politics or suppressed by hostile power structures. This is more often the case in larger companies, particularly those who’ve grown quickly and where many of the original or early employees have risen to management positions. Dealing with and navigating internal power structures could be the subject of a series of blog postings (hmmmm), but all I will say for now is tread carefully and knowingly when in enemy territory.
In the end, there is no magic recipe to ensure you are a successful product manager. It takes a lot of effort, insight and thinking. But if you keep those 6 rules in mind and try to apply them wherever possible, you’ll certainly increase your chances of success.