Superhero Product Managers

Superhero

Product managers are the leaders in organizations that lead by unfluence, adapt to changing circumstances, understand domains and markets, and communicate effectively with executives, customers, and development. They set scope, understand value, prioritize and define direction. They leap tall buildings in a single bound…

Killer Quote

In my opinion, there are two really hard jobs inside a company. One is being a CEO, and the other being a product manager. A few reasons why I believe this. Both the CEO and Product Managers are expected to be the most flexible acrobatic kind of leaders — adjusting to people’s styles, making sure to communicate with clarity the requirements of what is needed, translating vision into specifics and constantly at the beck and call of many constituents. It’s a wonder someone would take the job. Either one.

Nilofer Merchant, Founding Principal at Rubicon Consulting

Great opening to a great article! And a hat-tip to Steve Johnson at Pragmatic Marketing for sharing it with us. Definitely check out Nilofer’s article.

Visionaries

Like CEOs, product managers have to be visionaries. They identify exploitable market opportunities. They inspire their teams to strive towards the success of the products designed to meet those needs. And they help get the message out to customers about the solutions.

Organization of the Organization

silos

Nilofer points out that the old corporate silo structure (design/build/market/sell/deliver) is no longer “the best way.” Product management is a cross-discipline skill. As product managers, we have to work with, understand, and inspire people in all areas. When we optimize on each silo achieving independently, we lose out on cross pollenation.

Nilofer suggests that “B players” who work together well are better people to have on the team than “A players.” We respectfully disagree. A true “A player”, like the free electron developer (see the people section of this article), is not someone who is good in their silo, but can’t work with others. An “A player” is someone who is good at executing within their area of expertise and collaborating with people in other areas. Are people with good collaboration skills better to have on the team than people who can’t collaborate? Absolutely. Should we sacrifice execution ability for collaboration? No. But we don’t have to. It isn’t an either-or proposition, it is more of a magic square.

a players

With a focus on combined collaboration and capability, Nilofer offers some suggestions on how to best succeed:

  1. Create a culture in which product management leads.
  2. Get the right information (to the PM) and peer support (for the PM).
  3. Listen to customers, executives, and competitors.
  4. Hire product leads and engineers who can collaborate.

We also believe that it is important to

  1. Execute incrementally. Feedback is organizational learning. Incremental delivery yields more feedback, therefore more learning, and ultimately better products.
  2. Keep product managers strategic. If product managers are doing other people’s jobs, who will do the product manager’s job?

Conclusion

Let product managers drive direction for the company. Make sure they, and their collaborators across the company work together, not in isolation. Deliver incrementally with this organizational structure.

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