Being a good Product Manager is not just about getting the job done.
I’ve been recruiting product managers for many years now. I’m a big believer in the value of diversity in my teams and have recruited many product analysts and product managers from non-product management backgrounds. For me in hiring, I look for attitude and skills as well as cultural fit. It’s about the value these can bring to my team and the opportunity for that person to both contribute to and grow within the role. I also want people in my team who are open to learning and new ideas.
I’ve debated with many the merits of recruiting ‘hard core’ product managers over those who have a passion for product but have other domain and career experience. I’ve hired both – depending on the needs of the team and the needs of the business at any given time.
Either way, it still surprises me how many candidates present at interview (both experienced and would-be product managers alike) with their own experience as their primary point of reference for the world of product management.
Let me give an example. I recently interviewed a product manager who was looking to join my team; to transition from a product role that was limited to BAU product management. She wanted to expand her experience and move to a role which offered both BAU product management as well as product design and development opportunities. During her second round interview, I asked her to outline her approach to product design and development.
“Well, I don’t really develop products, I just manage them”, she replied.
My response was to then ask her what framework or approach would she take if tasked with designing a product proposition for our business.
“Umm..maybe talk to Sales?”
Not a bad starting point and definitely a source of valuable insight, however not an answer which demonstrated her understanding of best practice product design.
My advice to anyone wanting to further their career or move into a role in which they have limited experience, is not to let that constrain you. Take the time to keep up to date with current debates and best practice in the field you are in or want to be in.
Had she done so, this candidate could have answered my question along the following lines:
“In my current role I don’t have the opportunity to develop product propositions. However, as part of my BAU management role, I have to assess product performance which means I actively monitor, analyse and understand how my products are peforming compared to key competitors and whether they are still delivering value to our customers. To inform this view I regularly talk to and observe customers, talk to sales and other channel owners such as our digital team. I am also very interested in exploring the jobs to be done framework in designing products.”
There are many fantastic resources available to product managers – both incumbent and aspiring. Whether you are an experienced product manager or someone just starting out on your product management journey, take the time to grow and learn; take inspiration and insight from other sectors, other product managers and people making a difference in the businesses they work in.
To start your journey of ‘exploration’ here are some of the people I regularly follow and resources I refer to:
Product Management and Innovation
Eric Ries, Author of The Lean Startup
Leading the Product, Australia’s National Product Management conference
Cass Sunstein, Professor at Harvard
The Science of Us, a playful look at human behaviour
No one can afford to have their own experience as their single point of reference. Whether you are already a product manager or looking to become one, to be truly effective and innovative you need to continuously grow and learn. Think of it as your own, personal continuous improvement program. Good luck – hopefully next time you go for your dream role, “you will be the one”!