It was the best of jobs; it was the worst of jobs. (apologies to Mr. Dickens)
While everyone else has carved out their own place in the organization, the product manager is the person nobody works for. And who, it often seems, works for everybody else. But their role also puts them at the center of the action, wielding influence that drives product success.
In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Rich Mironov – a 40-year Silicon Valley product veteran, executive coach, writer, and self-proclaimed smoke jumper (more on that later in the pod). The product manager’s sphere of influence isn’t limited to the user, Rich says, or even to the client. PMs dance to the beat of many drummers, working to convince finance, sales, and customer support – not to mention industry analysts and C-suite executives – why their product is worthy of investment.
As the non-hierarchical leader in the organization, product managers have to meet our audiences where they are, Rich adds, “instead of expecting them to love product management so much that they just want to do it my way.”
Whether you’re a junior product manager still practicing the hard skills or a savvy product leader refining the soft ones, the job of the product manager is about understanding all your audiences and how each rewards you for delivering what’s important to them.
What you’ll hear:
[00:51] Validation & discovery. Convincing the C-suite to invest here is really hard.
[02:09] Mistakes we make. We believe our users when they tell us how to fix the problems instead of doing the hard work to figure out what problems they actually have.
[04:20] Timing. The time to figure out what the market wants is 9, 12, even 15 months before we give the product to the sales team and tell them to go bring money in.
[05:29] Shock me and surprise me. Use open-ended questions when interviewing users to extract everything out of their heads.
[06:52] Don’t lead the witness. Only after drawing unprompted, unaided insights from customers should you show them mock-ups of your design.
[07:12] Validate ideas way before we code. Most ideas don’t play out. Better to have them fall flat before we spend the next $2 million dollars building it.
[08:20] The job of salespeople is to bring money in, not to get all fussy about the technology.
[08:30] When PMs aren’t helping salespeople bring money in, they should make sure they’re building the right product and preparing answers to questions users are going to have.
[09:17] 2 huge changes in product management. The availability of data to help make decisions, and the social network to talk them through.
[10:50] Why product management is like parenting. We’re not really parents until we’ve gotten some poop on our hands – and laughed about it.
[13:12] Why product management is like smoke jumping. In both roles, we’re bringing order to chaos.
[14:29] A note to CEOs. When you’re looking for a product leader, hire for the right skill set.
[16:48] KPIs, OKRs, MAUs, and GA. Performance metrics are not one-size-fits all.
[18:14] The mark of success. Be sure you’re measuring your users’ success, not your own.
[20:23] Keep your developers happy. When they love the product as much as PMs do, they’ll do anything to make it right and keep it that way.
[23:16] Guerilla discovery. How eager are you to embarrass the executive team?
[24:56] Discovery. You can pay for discovery now, or you can pay later. But make no mistake. You are going to pay – whether by design or default.
[26:10] The evolution of a product leader’s skills. From the hard skills and workflows to the soft skills and communication.
[27:08] Outputs vs. outcomes. Which should you invest in?
[27:41] Resilience. A measure of the product leader’s emotional range.
[28:20] Product Managers are the product person nobody reports to.
[32:09] Innovation exists at every level of the organization, at every level of scale.
[34:12] It’s okay to “beat your chest.” We have to not only love our products; we have to make sure our team gets the credit.
[35:01] Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t cost a nickel.
Rich’s Recommended Reading
Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams, by Mickey W. Mantle and Ron Lichty.
Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, by Henry Chesbrough.
Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value, by Melissa Perri.
John Cutler, blogger on Medium.
Teresa Torres, blogger on Product Talk.
Rich Mironov is a 40-year veteran of Silicon Valley software companies. Currently, he coaches product executives, designs product organizations, and parachutes into companies as interim VP Products/CPO. In an earlier incarnation, Rich was the “product guy” at six B2B start-ups including roles as VP of Product Management and CEO.
Rich is a relentless writer, speaker, teacher, and mentor who has been blogging on software product management since 2002. Rich launched the first Product Camp in 2008. You can catch Rich’s work (blogs, talks, and pods) here.