The Midior Mailbox Midior
Volume 3 Issue 1
A Product Manager's Playbook
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The Plays
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The Midior Team
Team MIDIOR
Led by Founding Partners  Susan Loconto Penta and Michael Goldberger, the MIDIOR team is focused on  the discipline of product development and management, helping clients seize new opportunities and respond to changing markets.  
 
MIDIOR.
Changing the way you think about products

Where are the Great Product Managers?
Background: As the head of product management for an online and print solutions vendor, Bart is responsible for hiring and motivating his product management team.   Despite the number of job seekers, finding the right combination of skills and experience has been difficult and he tells us that turnover has been a challenge.
Bart
Question
Where should we be looking for product managers and what type of background is ideal?  Are there key signs in the interviewing process that we can look for to tell us that we have a candidate who will succeed in the role?
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Dear Bart,
Your focus on finding the right people goes to the heart of what defines a successful product management organization. We often use a military analogy when we are thinking about product management against a corporate backdrop; great product managers are akin to being members of a "special operations group" in the armed forces where each individual is highly skilled and has a critical role which, if not performed, can put the entire mission in jeopardy. Your success as the head of a product organization has everything to do with identifying and recruiting the people for these "special forces," honing their capabilities and configuring teams with the right complement of skills to match the "mission."
 
Finding great product managers is never easy but the good news is that when you find the right attributes in a candidate, you can grow the talent by supporting a culture that reinforces the right behaviors.
Bart
So in the interview, what's the ideal background we should be looking for?
Rather than focusing on the background, we recommend looking for a hierarchy of personal attributes that are strong indicators of future success - we find that these key characteristics in a candidate are more important than years of experience, job titles or educational degrees.  So put aside the resume and look for these attributes in this order: 
  • Energy - the best product managers lead by example, have no staff and hold themselves accountable for every aspect of product success.  Instrumentality is the DNA of the successful product manager and persuading the organization to support the right outcome takes boundless energy.
  • Enthusiasm - if you can get someone else excited about your product anywhere in the world, you will get mindshare for the mission.  A born product manager is always looking at the world from a product point of view.  He/she should easily be able to tell you about their list of favorite products and what puts them in that category.
  • Intelligence - knowing what you need to know, having the intellectual capital to think on your feet, understanding how to get things done.  Balancing the here and now with a longer term view takes practical intelligence. Without innate brain power, a product manager will struggle to tackle the unexpected daily problems and at the same time, chart and execute a course that aligns their product with the larger corporate objectives.
  • Organization - it's all about fit with your culture, or at least the vision of the culture.  In the interview ask about how the candidate addressed challenges within a team and across functional boundaries.
  • Understanding - background in the technology, competitors and customers will get you off to a quick start. But specific domain expertise is not actually critical to success, which is why we put this last. If you have enough energy to be the last "man" standing, enough enthusiasm to get a rock excited about your product, enough intelligence to know what you don't know, you'll be able to master the subject matter.
Bart
Are you saying that domain expertise is not important to the success of a product manager?
Not at all.  Rather, we are saying that domain expertise is nice to have and may get a new hire off to a quick start but a person with the right skill set can just as easily acquire the domain expertise needed to succeed.  A combination of the key attributes we identified enables a product manager to succeed in the role as the organization exists today and more importantly, to hold the vision of where the product or service business will be in the future.  Seeking out a stellar product manager from a similar business is unlikely to be the best hire. In fact, that individual's mindset won't be asking the hard questions with an open mind to cut to the chase of what customers want.
Bart
What about motivating the team once on-board? What makes product managers tick?
One of the problems with conventional, hierarchical organization models is that they motivate people to think of themselves as reporting to a supervisor or department. Successful product managers see themselves as accountable to their product. This view of the world has significant implications for reward systems and, in many businesses, we see that promotion polices are not aligned with motivating successful product people. Incentives and recognition must be tied to measurable product success, not to span of control or budgetary responsibility.  If you need help in motivating the team then perhaps you don't have the right players.  You may be interested in 20 Ways to Know Your Product Managers are Doing the Right Thing.
 
One note about career paths. Don't expect to hold onto the product superstars for more than a handful of years because they won't be challenged by doing the same thing year after year or moving up the corporate ladder in the conventional sense. Unless you can create an opportunity or new challenge such as spinning out a new business or giving them responsibility for a division or an acquisition, these entrepreneurs will eventually move on to run their own businesses.
Bart
Good point about product managers being entrepreneurs. That said, what is the best management style to get the most from my product managers?
The best way to take the motivation out of a product manager is for you to jump in, make the decisions and do their job. We find the best management style for the product group leader is that of a coach - - call the play, when the play isn't working, rework the play and hold the individuals accountable for getting the job done. Come to think of it, maybe that's why the best coaches are rarely former Heisman trophy winners.
 
For more information about building your product management organization, contact MIDIOR.
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Go to The Product Line Blog
The statistics are grim. Research shows that regardless of the business case, more than half of development projects fail.  Why is that?
In the Next Issue
What's different about managing services?  The next issue of the newsletter will help you sort out the confusion between products and platforms and gives you key leverage points for success with services.
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