On the tombstone of your product — would you want it saying “Managed by a Mediocre Product Manager”?

In my years of experience as product manager, two of the recurring problems that I have faced are:
  • Untimely death of product
  • a Product Manager not performing to his best potential.
While there are many a reasons why an untimely death of product occurs, its also largely a reflection of the capabilities of a product manager. Similarly, if you find a product manager not performing to his best potential its largely because the product manager doesn’t fit with a product. (Product-PM fit).
This a complex topic and there are so many variables to decode. I have tried to enlist the key parameters and I make no claim that this is an exhaustive coverage of all types of products in the industry. However, I have made a humble attempt to drive home the key concept of product-PM fit which could make a difference between the product landing in the hands of your customers vs getting buried under a tombstone.

Product-PM Fit

What does this mean?
Ensuring that the right product manager is fit with the right product.
What happens if there is a fit?
A product manager journeys towards peak satisfaction on her day to day work as she plays on her natural strengths and continues to accelerate the success of the product.
How do you assess Product PM Fit?
Its worth stepping back and understanding that ‘not all products are created alike’. If that be the case, how can we generalize the job descriptions of the product managers who have to manage it. I rarely come across a job description that explicitly calls out the nature of a PM that is required to manage the job.
Assessing Product-PM fit essentially is an answer of these 2 questions.
  • What is the stage of the business? early or growth or mature. In addition, its worth considering the extent of tech savviness required? Market heavy (amazon) or tech heavy (youtube)
  • What is the nature of product?
Once the above is mapped, look at the natural strengths of a product manager that may fit the above.
Characteristics to consider:
  • Curious Vs Cautious — In my first day of being at Amazon, one of the product leaders that I till date admire, told me that he was successful at his job because he was naturally a curious person. Such persons do well in a fast moving environment given their natural keenness to learn more. My experience with Intuit was on the other hand of the spectrum where we had long release cycles as I was managing a tax product (less frequent, high reach). The nature of a tax product was such that it was released only a few times a year and will be there in the market primarily during the tax season which spans around 4 months. Given the above, a product manager needed to be more cautious in terms of what features that she really wants to consider before the product hits the market.
  • Scrappy Vs Deliberate — The nature of the business also calls for the speed of decision making that is required. Fast moving companies such as Facebook, Uber may require someone who is thinking on the feet and being ‘right enough’ at the moment. On the contrary, when I worked at PayPal, there needs to careful considerations, deliberations and attention to details around product decisions especially while dealing with compliance, risk management and customers’ money as there could be dire consequences, if not managed well.
  • Organized vs Unorganized — Some of us are naturally organized and love being in a business where everything forces you to do what you are good at. In a highly fast moving environment, you cant do away without being organized which means you should be bloody awesome at prioritisation, not just good. In Amazon, I always had a never ending list of things to do which meant you also constantly made decisions of what to do and what not to do. On the contrary, when you work for products in mature business with long shipping cycles, not being organized can be tucked under the rug.
  • Collaborative vs Individual contributor — Product manager is akin to being a superman, you probably need to know just enough of everything. One other layer which makes a successful PM is the ability to be social/collaborative. It goes natural that in such an environment one needs to excel at managing communication, ability to influence and manage perception. Some just don’t make the cut given their nature of being asocial or aloof in which case tech centric products such as WhatsApp or Instagram may better fit as the team size may be small and one get away with being an individual contributor. Similarly, an early stage start up can get a lot done from individual contributors as they naturally don’t have big teams.
  • Awesome at synthesis vs good when focused on few things — A big plus to the above point of being collaborative is being able to synthesize inputs from different directions when you work in a highly collaborative environment. While synthesizing input is a very important nature for every PM, the degree at which synthesis needs to be done differs from a highly collaborative environment to small teams. Usually, enormous amount of synthesis is required when you work at highly collaborative environment. Example: In an ecommerce environment, managing a roadmap may include inputs from customer support, finance, logistics etc.
  • Good temperament vs Impatient — If you are working on an early stage start up or new functions like Growth (product management), the extent of success that you will have might be very small initially. A good temperament is essential to keep it going and trying out new things before hanging your boots.
Apart from the above, there are some other things such as judgement, ability to understand data, customer empathy, problem solving and strong execution which I assume are the baseline for one to get into product management.

Summing Up

  • In terms of nature of the business and tech savviness, the nature of PM to consider for fit are:
  • In terms of nature of product, the nature of PM to consider for fit are:
Ensuring that the natural characteristics of a product manager aligns with the nature of the business/product not only will increase personal satisfaction but also the probability of success of the product.
I will be happy to hear your feedback on this. Feel free to comment here or tag me on twitter @viveckpkumar or mail me at viveckpkumar@gmail.com

Author Viveck P Kumar

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