Saturday, September 1, 2012

Top 10 Characteristics of a Winning Product Manager: Preamble & 1st Post: "Product Manager: The Eternal Optimist"


If you're lucky (like me) to travel between Europe and America, you know the world map is presented differently. Each region draws itself as the center of the world.
I think product managers are the center of the organization. Good ones lead winning products and inspire winning teams.
I've decided to spend some time summarizing what, IMO, makes a strong product manager. While my expectations from a good product manager are well defined (in my head), what characteristics identify a good one (or how to identify your next PM recruit) is more challenging. Seeing a few PMs in action, I thought I'd put some of my impressions down.


Really? another blog post on strong PM skills? YAWN.
Here's why. In a ocean of free digital media, wealth of information, blog contents rarely are original. What's original is the author's personal view. Here are a couple example of blogs I love: Fred Wilson, Bijan Sabet (+his Hallway chats with Nabeel Hyatt), and others. Recent jewels are Hadas Sheinfeld and Guy Nirpaz. Their blogs are worth adding to your reader because they are educational (technology and business) and personal at the same time. I'd like to think I can be interesting like that too.

I split the "Winning Product Manager Characteristics" post because you won't read all of this. Posts need to be short and to the point.

So, w/o further ado:

A Winning Product Manager: The Eternal Optimist  

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A succeful product manager is a team leader. They lead a team internally (everyone who builds the product and sells it: Eng, QA, Sales, Marketing etc...) and externally (customers, analysts, partners and channels etc.). But they are not a formal team leader: nobody reports to them. They lead by vision, optimism and ability to inspire. The product manager shares the successes and gaps of the product in the most transparent manner, and drives enthusiasm around the ability to drive that unique value.
Therefore, a product manager has to be the ultimate optimist. Their belief in the success of the product has to be fundemental and eternal so they maintain their optimism and spread it. Optimism is contagious (and therefore can be precieved as a tool).

Is this the most important feature of a strong PM? Questionable. I chose to start with this one because when you're hydrated, in good spirits, your brain will work out the toughest of challenges. Back to basics. Notice how inspiring leaders are always positive.

Personally, I'm not the eternal optimist, I wish that was different. So I use and recommend adopting a quick dictionary, and interpolating it. Here are a few samples (in no particular order):

  • The competition is doing better = The market size is growing. The competitors are showing you one way to be successful. You have an opportunity to play this game. Figure out what they did well and improve on that.
  • CxO wants a product review = Executives are interested in your product and want to help. Leverage this opportunity to harness them into what you need most. Don't tell them pretty stories, give them the truth and get them to work for you.
  • I'm not getting CxO attention = They trust you and your judgement. You've been given resources, right? go make the best of it, show results and make sure to make that visible such that customers demand increase in product features and investment, and be willing to pay for it.
  • I'm bogged down by thousand of sales calls = The sales force is fully engaged. They (think they) can make 'Club' selling your product. More importantly, the market is thirsty for your product. Teach them how to fish: participate in a few calls, raise the knowledge and more importantly the level of confidence sales reps can have in your product, and let them sail away. Early time investment with your sales force is a well worth investment that will pay off big time. Travel with them, be their friend and let them buy you a steak ;)
  • Engineering are hard-headed = Engineering are smart, passionate and are eager to contribute to the overall success of the product. Leverage it in the product requirements, go to market, whatever. Reach technological understanding with them that makes them feel their opinion is heard and considered, and that they are important to the overall success. Make sure the areas of responsibility are kept clear (you answer 'WHAT' and they answer 'HOW'. Moi importanta. more in a separate post). You'll learn much from engineers experience, knowledge and insight and your product will be better.
  • The product has huge gaps/bugs (usually, vs the competition. Sometimes against minimal shippable product criteria) = Your product potential is huge. And, you know what's missing. Prioritize it, break it down, define your roadmap. Show the case to everyone around you: here's what you get for this investment. Make as much advancements with what you have and incremental, customer-facing meaningful deliverables. Show the world (and yourself) the potential is really there.
OK, 6 little common 'translations' I've adopted to keep my chin up, and to motivate others.

What do you think? makes sense? How do you keep your team (=internal + external, and I mean customers and analysts as well!) motivated and inspired? How important you think subjective optimism is? How do you keep optimistic at tough times?
A penny for your thoughts! 

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