We’re often told that Product Managers “lead through influence” — that we don’t generally have the direct authority to get things done, but rather do so through convincing others of the best option available from the myriad choices they have. The bad news is, that’s really damn hard. The good news is, we’re not alone — in any given organization there are many different teams and members who lead through influence rather than authority…and identifying who they are and how we can work together with them is an essential tool that every Product Manager needs to have in their back pocket in order to be successful. Here are some clues that we can look for to identify those fellow influencers so that we can work with them and not against them.
Never have I heard a better description of the challenge that faces Product Managers than a quote that I overheard at this year’s ProductCamp Seattle — “Humans are hard…” spoken by none other than my fellow General Assembly Product Management instructor Tricia Cervenan, as part of a panel discussion. Those simple words struck a chord with me, as it made me think about all of the different ways in which we as Product Managers attempt to understand, document, and predict human behavior. Every single day I can come up with some variation on the idea that “humans are hard” impacts us in some way. [Read more…]
While Product Management might be my career of choice, my primary hobby of choice has to be gaming. I’ve been playing games in one form or another for as long as I can remember — tabletop games, video games, role-playing games…you name it, I’ve played some permutation of it in my life. As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, I’ve begun to see the benefits that come to people who play such games on a regular basis. The best games, after all, are based in some fundamental way on reality — and the lessons that we learn from gaming can easily translate into skills, knowledge, and talents that you can use in your everyday life as a Product Manager…
Note: The links below go to Steam where the game is available online or Amazon for the board games mentioned; The Clever PM makes no commission on any purchases through these links.
A lot of Product Managers wind up rolling into the position with little to no preparation, training, or even a real understanding of the role, and it’s common for early struggles to really hamper a newly-minted Product Manager’s success. To avoid this, it’s important to approach your job and your career just like you would any other product — by creating a vision of an intended future, and an action plan to get there. Your future vision should be focused on establish a set of relationships based on trust and respect, having a solid bank of social capital, and making important decisions that are trusted because you are trusted by others in the organization. Here’s a good framework for success that I’ve used (and advised others to use) to establish and build a successful role in nearly any organization. If it seems like a long time, don’t worry — 90 days goes by so fast in a new Product Management role that your head will spin; accelerate the plan at your own risk and to your own needs…
We’ve already touched on the importance of working with Designers and Sales — and UserVoice gave me an opportunity to discuss working with Engineers — so today we’re going to continue the logical progression of teams that a Product Manager must have good relationships with by talking about the proper care and feeding of your Marketing teams. Product Management often has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Marketing — they provide us with many opportunities for direct contact with the market, but often the positioning and materials are viewed as not reflecting reality. So how can we not only improve the relationship that we have with Marketing, but also help them to be more effective and accurate in their own work?
Of all of the teams that Product Managers must deal with on a regular basis, I really can’t think of any that have a worse reputation amongst our kin than Sales teams. Common tropes that I hear when talking about Sales teams with other Product Managers include things like “they don’t understand the product” or “they make commitments we can’t follow up on” or even “they just lie to make their commission.” And while each of these statements has a kernel of truth buried inside it, much of the responsibility for these failures on the part of the Sales team can be traced back or shared by the Product team itself. I personally believe that it’s absolutely essential for a successful Product Manager to have a strong and productive working relationship with their Sales team, and without that it’s nearly impossible to provide the kind of holistic guidance that separates a “good” Product Manager from a “great” one.
It seems to be a pretty common question in the PM world these days — just how technical does a Product Manager really have to be? And what baseline amount of technical knowledge and/or skill does at PM really need to have in order to be successful. Many development teams will tell you that they want a PM who can code — but I’m not sure that’s really a function of their needs, or whether it’s a reflection of them wanting someone who knows their domain and is on “their side.” And many technical businesses short-change the business and strategic knowledge that a good PM can bring to the table, relegating them to “spec-writers” whose interactions are primarily internal.
Having said that, while I don’t believe in any way, shape, or form that all Product Managers must be “technical” — I do believe that all technology Product Managers should have at least a conversational understanding of some key technical topics.