In my previous post I was sharing my perspective about how to be a great Product Manager which is a very important role for any company -particularly the ones having a Tech-Products business. But anyway, I am a tech-guy so everything I talk about business has a connection with technology. Now that we’ve seen what the product manager needs to contribute to the team, let’s consider the kind of person who thrives in this environment. For that, again according to my engineering experience and based on what I have seen since 2003 I can say now that the successful product manager must be the very best versions of smart, creative, and persistent. In a tech product company each Product Manager must have at least this 3 qualities.
Smart, Creative & Persistent
By smart, I don’t just mean raw IQ. I especially mean intellectually curious, quickly learning and applying new technologies to solve problems for customers, to reach new audiences, or to enable new business models.
By creative, I mean thinking outside the normal product box of features to solve business problems.
By persistent, I mean pushing companies way beyond their comfort zone with compelling evidence, constant communication, and building bridges across functions in the face of stubborn resistance.
The passion for products and for solving customer problems is not something I think you can teach. That’s something you either have or don’t have, and it is among the first things to interview for when we are evaluating potential product managers. If you are a founder of a company I assume that you have this.
The level of time and effort required by the product manager role is extremely tough to sustain if you’re not personally passionate about your products and your role. Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you to help you succeed is that you simply must take very seriously your preparation for this role.
However, you must take this role extremely serious. Sure each product has its own particularities and to create a general template to be applied in product management is impossible. But some similarities for sure exist and from my experience as Product Designer in automotive here are some tips which I can give you. I am sure these can add value to your project as well. Doesn’t matter if your industry is different. So here they are:
1). Start by becoming an expert in your users and customers. Share very openly what you learn, both the good and the bad. Become your team’s and your company’s go-to person for understanding anything about your customer-quantitative and qualitative.
2). Work to establish a strong relationship with your key stakeholders and business partners. Convince them of two things:
I. You understand the constraints they operate under.
II. You will only bring to them solutions that you believe will work within those constraints.
3.) Become an undisputed expert on your product and your industry. Again, share your knowledge openly and generously.
4.) Finally, work very hard to build and nurture the strong collaborative relationship with your product team.
I’m not saying that doing all this is easy; it’s not. But believe me when I tell you it’s table stakes for being a successful product manager.
Product Manager Profiles
Anyone who’s ever worked in product for any amount of time knows that creating products is never easy. The big points I hope you take away from this post are:
1. Product management is absolutely distinct from the other disciplines. It’s clearly different than the contribution of the designers, and it’s also clearly not a project manager. There is some amount of project management inevitably involved, just as there is for all leadership positions. But to characterize this as a project manager is to completely miss the essence of the role. The role I would argue the product manager is most similar to is the role of the CEO. But with the obvious difference that, unlike the CEO, the product manager is not the boss of anyone.
2. Like a CEO, the product manager must deeply understand all aspects of the business. The product manager must ensure a business outcome, not just ensure a product gets defined. This requires a good understanding of the many interrelated parts and constraints of the business-financial, marketing, sales, legal, partnership, service, the customer environment, the technical capabilities, the user’s experience-and figure out a solution that works for the customers as well as for the business. But don’t think this means an MBA is required-or that you need to have all these skills yourself. You must simply have a broad understanding of how a product can affect a business and work with people from your team and across your company to cover everything that’s important.
3. The winning solutions doesn’t come from users, customers, or sales. Rather, great products require an intense collaboration with design and engineering to solve real problems for your users and customers, in ways that meet the needs of your business. In most cases the users have no idea the solution they fell in love with is possible.
4. True leadership is a big part of what separates the great product people from the merely good ones. So, no matter what your title or level may be, if you aspire to be great, don’t be afraid to lead.
Product Manager versus Product Owner
You’ve likely encountered the term product owner, and you may wonder how it relates to the product manager job.
First, product owner is the name of the role on an Agile team for the person responsible for the product backlog. Keep in mind that Agile is used in all types of companies, not just product companies. In product companies, it is critical that the product manager also be the product owner. If you split these roles into two people, some very common and predictable problems result-most commonly, the loss of your team’s ability to innovate and consistently create new value for your business and your customers. Moreover, the additional responsibilities of the product manager are what enables good product owner decisions in a product company.
Second, even if for product managers is always important to learn the development process their team is using, taking a class or certification on the product owner role covers a very small part of the responsibilities of a product manager.
To summarize, product owner responsibilities are a small subset of product management responsibilities, but it’s critical that the product manager covers both.
The Two Critical Classes for Product Managers
Product managers come to the role from any and all disciplines. Certainly, many come from computer science, while others may come from business or economics. But you’ll find great product managers that come from politics, philosophy, art, literature, history-and everything in between.
If you want to be an engineer or a designer, there is an academic education to be had that will prepare you for a career in those fields. That is not the case with tech product management. That’s because what’s most essential for this job is the smart, creative, and persistent qualities I’ve discussed. That said, I believe there are two specific academic courses that every product manager should take. Maybe not really for all industries, I am material science engineer and mechanical designer but I do consider that today and in the future the Tech products are and will be very much based on information technology and computers. I am still leaning this as well. So no mater what type of Tech-Products you deliver as Product Manager you must have at least this 2:
1. Introduction to Computer Programming
If you have never taken a course in a programming language, then this is your first necessary class. It doesn’t really matter which language but not HTML. You can try to do this online, but I will tell you that many people struggle with learning their first programming language; therefore, an actual course for which you’re accountable for turning in programming assignments every week is what it usually takes. You may love it, or you may hate it, but either way it will fundamentally expand your technology horizons and enable you to have much richer discussions with your engineers and designers. It will also give you a better appreciation for the power of enabling technology.
2. Introduction to Business Accounting /Finance
Just as you need to know the language of computing, you also need to know the language of business. If you have never done so, you need to take a course in the basics of business finance. You will need to understand how for-profit companies work and the main business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are important to your business-including, but not limited to, lifetime value of customers, average revenue per user/customer, customer acquisition cost, cost of sales, and contribution margins, among others. A good general marketing course will often cover these topics as well. The key is to make sure you gain a big-picture understanding of how businesses work. You can easily do this through a community college course or through self-study, especially if you ask someone in your finance department to guide you a little. This is a good thing to do in any case.