PRODUCT MANAGEMENT FUNDAMENTALS: PEOPLE

Defining a Product Manager’s responsibilities and personality

- A Product Manager resembles a CEO
- Product Management should be a high-stakes job! If you’re not feeling the cognitive pressure, then you’re not doing ‘real’ Product Management
- An ideal Product Manager needs to be passionate, sharp, inventive, resolute, and cognitively resilient

Nima Torabi

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What a Product Manager shouldn’t be?

A true Product Manager will steer away from the following roles as they will only bring about mediocrity:

  1. Being a backlog administrator or scrum master that escalates every issue and decision to a senior with decision-making power
  2. Being a roadmap administrator that calls all stakeholders into meetings and asks for their opinions

This generally happens in big organizations with legacy systems that transition Project Managers or Business Analysts into product management roles with buzzwords such as “We’re going agile”.

In reality, top-performing Product Managers should be among the strongest talent in the organization that have:

  • The technological sophistication and understanding
  • The business savvy
  • The relational and network credibility
  • The deep customer knowledge
  • The passion for the product vision, and
  • The respect of peers

Defining the role of a Product Manager

Product Managers are in charge of assessing opportunities (i.e. demand) and deciding what is built and delivered to customers (i.e. solutions)

This is a difficult task because Product Managers need to ensure what gets built is worth the effort as other members of the team including engineers and designers and those who hold the budget want to see the proof. Furthermore, because the product is what customers choose to buy or use, the Product Manager (or Product Management team) is generally the person (or the team) held accountable for the product's success.

In short, when a product succeeds, the credit goes to everyone on the team. When a product fails, it’s the product manager’s fault…

The Product Manager’s core assets

There are four significant assets that a Product Manager brings to the table:

  1. Customer obsession
  2. Data-orientedness
  3. Business acumen
  4. Market and industry knowledge

Customer obsession

A successful PM needs to have deep knowledge of the product’s users and customers across their customer journey including issues, pains, desires, psychology, how they operate, decide to buy, etc. Without customer insights, PMs will be guessing features and product strategies.

To have deep insights, PMs need both qualitative (i.e. why users and customers behave the way they do), and quantitative understanding (i.e. what they are doing and its degree of impact) of a product’s users and customers.

Data-orientedness

These days, a massive part of knowing the customer is understanding how they interact with products. Most PMs should start their day by reviewing the previous 24 hours of user interactions using analytics tools which could include reviewing sales and usage analytics or A/B tests.

Business acumen

Successful products are loved by customers and create economic value. Therefore PMs need to understand the economics of their business, how it works, and the role of the product in the business’s value chain. This requires knowing the business’s various stakeholders (e.g. senior management including the CEO, revenue, marketing, finance, legal, sales and business development, customer service, etc.) and the constraints under which they operate.

Success in Product Management requires convincing key stakeholders that the product team understands their constraints and is committed to delivering solutions that meet those constraints.

Market and industry knowledge

This entails a variety of topics including competitive dynamics, customer behavior, technological trends, distribution, and communication, and a variety of macro-environmental factors. Having this knowledge is important because:

· Competitive forces shape customer expectations and meeting feature parity is not enough to maintain or grow the business

· Understanding the external market will be key to finding a winning product positioning or product and message market-fit

· Forward-looking trends that make or break industries will only be discovered when a PM is looking at the external environment

In most cases, a new PM should ramp up know-how within 2–3 months of dedicated work. Furthermore, in some organizations such as tax software or medical devices, PMs could be supplemented with domain or subject experts to help navigate decisions due to the complex nature of the business and market environment.

An ideal Product Manager’s personality

An ideal Product Manager needs to be passionate, sharp, inventive, resolute, and cognitively resilient:

  • Passionate: for building solutions and solving customer problems
  • Sharp: this is the eagerness to learn and apply new methods and technologies toward solving problems, reaching new audiences, or enabling new business models
  • Inventive: refers to thinking outside the traditional rules and norms of work to solve problems
  • Resolute: in overcoming resistance by pushing the organization beyond its comfort zone with compelling evidence, constant communication, and cross-functional collaboration
  • Cognitively resilient: the PM role is not a 9 to 5 job with motory movements but a cognitively challenging work that occupies the mind well into the night, weekend, and vacations. An astute PM needs to handle the mental pressures of this job

The Product Manager should also be the Product Owner

The role of Product Owner on an Agile team refers to the person in charge of the product backlog. Product Managers must also be product owners; if the two are separated, the product team will most likely lose creativity and the agility to consistently create meaningful value for customers.

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