Finding great product people is hard, probably because they are rare. We have found that instead of focusing on pedigree, certifications, prior job titles, or experience a better approach is to focus on personal attributes and entrepreneurial inclinations. When you look for candidates, go past the resume and look for these characteristics, in this order – something we like to call EEIOU:
If you have enough energy to be the last “man” standing, enough enthusiasm to get a rock excited about your product, and enough intelligence to know what you don’t know, you’ll be able to figure out the subject matter quickly enough.
A combination of these attributes enables a product manager to succeed as the organization exists today and more importantly, they will live the vision of where the product or service business will be in the future.
To think about it another way using a military analogy, great product managers are akin to the “special forces” segment of the army. In the latter, if a soldier cannot fulfill his role, there are others ready to immediately take on the task. In special forces, each individual has a critical function and if one person fails, it puts the entire mission in jeopardy.
One last note about career paths. Don’t expect to hold onto the product superstars for more than a few years because they are rarely challenged by moving up the corporate ladder. Unless you can create an opportunity by 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 companies.