We find ourselves at an exciting moment in Product Management – a time when the product function is increasingly elevated and visible. This manifest in a variety of ways. We see product managers on boards. We see them leaving the purely functional sphere and , taking on more business responsibility, becoming P&L owners, general managers, and CEOs.
This shines a light on the product managers, which is good news. But it also creates a new set of challengers for those who take on the role.
We addressed these challenges in a recent panel discussion led by PeakProduct, a product management consulting firm. At their Product Management Festival, we talked about the changes and opportunities facing product managers, and we also took questions from viewers who all wanted to know: If you’re a product manager in this turbulent time, how can you go from good to great? Here are some tips for the ambitious Product Manager:
Assess the role before you take it.
During the interview process, look for evidence that the senior management is invested in the success of the product manager. If you’re a product manager in this organization, does the CEO have your back? Will senior management stand behind you? Are they willing to use the word “fight” to describe their support for you? This can be critical because sometimes, depending on where product sits in the organization and how political an organization is, you need the power and time and willingness from the CEO to fight the battles with you. One way to test this in an interview is ask how have they solved conflict in the past when product was involved. Ask different stakeholders this question so you get a sense of how much support you can expect.
Be sure to “right size” your role.
One of the pitfalls product managers face emerges when their efforts are not in sync with the larger corporate strategy. To deal with this, product managers must adjust their process to meet the larger corporate goals. Friction occurs when product leaders introduce their processes that are not matched to the company’s vision of the product journey. This is particularly common in growing companies. It’s up to the product manager to adjust and fit the phase and culture of the company overall.
Advocate for your function.
The role and responsibility of a product manager is evolving. It’s up to the product manager to advocate for the role to ensure other factions can understand and interact collaboratively. Product leaders must be exceptional communicators and exceptional advocates to bring others on board. Your internal stakeholders may not use the same language so you need to get them to but how do speak your language, to provide input and to feel that they are participating in the product process. This piece around collaborating, influencing, and communicating at an exceptional strong level is very important. Further, you may find you have new stakeholders. Perhaps now you must interact more with your investors or your board. That’s a new language you’ll need to convey your message. Great communication skills are key.
Understand the fluidity around the product function.
Product is not a function with clear-cut boundaries. Indeed, we have found when we are conducting searches for a product leader that the parameters are different every time – and often change during the search. Few product searches end up where we started! Often we are wrestling with the different terms business prioritizes – is this opening for a product leader? Or for a digital leader? Are these the same thing? Does it matter? To deal with this challenge, consider working backwards from the needs of the company. What are the jobs that need to be done? What are the gaps right now? Then package that information to design the role and find the right fit. Labels are not what makes this happen. Titles can even be confusing. That’s why is makes sense to look at the jobs that need to be done and use that as a guideline for the role.
Follow the trends in product management for clues.
The landscape for product managers is changing and growing – staying in touch with trends is critical to success in the role. Our latest observations: We have seen a blurring line between product and customer experience and a greater role of data in both. We see a significant move of product leaders towards customer experience and user experience. We also increasingly see product owning the data teams because so much is underscored by the data and analytics function. That’s going to bubble up opportunities for product to experiment and be more user-oriented. It’s a shift that pushes product more customer-leaning than technical.
For product managers, and those who want to move into the function, it’s an exciting time. The trend is moving from a function-based career to more a of a business career and this brings new opportunities and challenges.