The Perfect Product Manager Methodology
Alena Solutions’ process for selecting Product Managers, and what they need to bring to the table for our partners.
Let’s assume for the sake of this article that you’re in an executive or upper management role at a company that’s expanding your digital product output.
You don’t have too much if any, hands-on engineering experience, but your business savvy is next to none – you know how to run a company well; excellently, in fact. Yet, you’ve noticed that as your company is expanding its stable of engineers and developers, to match the amount of digital product delivery the company is charged with, simply hiring top tech talent and telling them “Coffee is down the hall and to the left, now get to work and let’s make this happen,” doesn’t equal product development success.
The digital industry has noticed that the humorous example above doesn’t work. In fact, even an industry as unseemingly tech-intensive such as publishing has reflected the demand for companies to hire more and more product managers. Engineers and developers are experts at their craft; Executives at steering the ship towards profit; Product Managers an invaluable conduit between the two.
As vague as a job title as Product Manager is, the bridge between technical execution and management has become a strikingly hot role to expand upon within organizations that operate in any of the digital industry verticals.
“There’s a huge demand,” says Eddie Koller III, a managing partner at Koller Search Partners. Because of this demand, product management had one of the largest hiring growths in 2018 and will continue this year.
Further, according to a report by LinkedIn, there are ~12,000 job openings in the US for PMs, which is double both that of the number of real estate agent and data scientist vacancies. Yet, along with such a hiring rush will come a slew of either inexperienced or ineffectual applicants to fill these roles, along with the qualified product management candidates.
You might be asking yourself, “How can I navigate this tide of candidates?” We’ve spent time in the past asking ourselves the same question and now we’re here to share our insights with you.
How do we go about choosing which Product Managers are a fit for the Alena Solutions team?
At Alena Solutions, one of our core services is Product Management for companies that we believe in. We won’t work with a team unless they’re eager to create a product that we ourselves will become personally invested in seeing become a success.
This means, that our Product Managers need to possess some key attributes, of course in addition to advanced product management skills, that align themselves with our company’s beliefs/philosophy, culture, and modus operandi.
Before we get started, keep this is mind – Product Management is a role where the scope and daily activities can be significantly different across industries, companies, etc. It can be as hands-on as needed or performed as a supplement for specific initiatives.
The concept of a Product Manager is the Jack of all Trades on the office floor, but finding a Product Manager King of all Trades is desirable and possible. Here’s what Alena Solutions looks for when we recruit Product Management Kings (PMKs):
- STRONG COMMUNICATION SKILLS
- The executive team and development teams speak different languages
- Let’s face it, you don’t look for verbal and written communication skills when interviewing Software Engineers or Web Developers
- Further, the executive team may have perfect communication skills, but usually aren’t spending their free time learning how to wrangle new technologies
- Strong communication skills are required for an effectual Product Manager, as they will continually need to be a liaison between upper management and the technical specialists. Simply put, if they can’t communicate effectively, they can’t be PMKs
- Keep in mind, more often than not, the Product Manager will be the face of your company during client/customer meetings, progress reviews, problem resolution, etc. They will need to send emails and take phone calls without a language barrier between them (read: your company) and the customer, and in a coherent manner
- While you lead your Product Managers, they need to lead the product development team
- Leading without authority is an attribute that many can claim, but can they back it up? A strong PM will head your guidance, but will also manage the product development team without taking your time away from executive level tasks and decision making
- They need to possess not simply confidence in their communication, but also be able to inspire their team to follow the leader
- A PMK will make you yourself feel motivated, inspired and/or confident during their interview, and after
- EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
- A PMK establishes trust amongst all via EI
- High emotional intelligence is invaluable for a PMK
- Communicating with customers, their product development team, the upper management; the Product Manager needs to be able to know how each role dictates behavior
- Yet, not only is behavior contingent upon one’s role, but also how that person is feeling at any given moment from external or internal influence
- A PMK will be able to read body language, choice of words and speech at any given time to quickly ascertain the emotional state of the person they’re communicating with, and how to accommodate their communication to most effectively communicate with the particular party
- High EI affords the Product Manager the ability to circumnavigate issues that would otherwise be problematic for product development, that don’t have to do with the actual technical tasks being performed
- THE RIGHT MIX
- A PMK DOESN’T EXCELL IN ONE CAPACITY, BUT ALL
- Your Product Manager needs to persistently have their hands in four spheres of the project:
- Customer/Stakeholder Relations
- Roadmap Management
- This dictates that they shouldn’t be a savant in any of these single fields, but rather that they can effectively balance, juggle and pivot all four at once
- In the same breath as we mentioned before with leadership, Alena Solutions’ particularly also look for charisma in our Product Managers. When charisma is added to the aforementioned mix, you are likely in the presence of a PMK
- ANALYTICAL SKILLS
- As Product Managers are going to be dealing with data more than anything for their decision making, a candidate needs to possess strong analytical skills
- This doesn’t mean that they need to have a degree in Statistics. Yet, they should naturally be able to monitor KPIs and determine performance trends, as well as spotting outliers and identifying which efforts are contributing to greater efficiency. While a lot of people can read reports, few can gain the insights provided by the numbers. PMKs are in that rare breed
- Curiosity is paramount to uncovering the diamonds in the rough
- Curiosity may deliver a “Eureka!” moment that smashes a roadblock out of the way and deliver a customer more than they bargained for
- A PMK’s curiosity fortifies your organizational skill set, as developers and engineers are often focused on completing their individual tasks, and upper management is often occupied with more than one development team
- Further, if your PMK is charismatic, their curiosity will become contagious, providing a cascading effect on your organizational capabilities to deliver
- VENDOR MANAGEMENT
- As we mentioned before, the Product Manager is the primary face of your organization during a product development project
- This is one attribute that doesn’t need to necessarily carry a wealth of experience with it, but combined with high EI and experience in customer relations, a PMK should be able to communicate and negotiate with vendors with confidence and tact
- Often, but not always, the case is that the executive team will leave the Product Manager responsible for a budget regarding products/services to facilitate the project’s execution. A PMK will have no issue with writing PRDs, maintaining the budget, or approaching upper management if and when a budget needs to be adjusted
- PRIORITIZATION & PROCESS SKILLS
- The Product Manager is not only a conduit between the executive and product development teams, but is as well an extension of upper management
- A PMK will be able to independently schedule and manage project review calls with the customer, morning stand up meetings, and reflect your vision and culture to the entire team
- PMKs will be able to make adjustments on your behalf to the project processes that lend greater project success than first planned
- We saved this attribute for last, because while empathy cannot make a PMK on its own, it is the most vital of all
- Empathy for the customer, as a delighted customer equals a positive bottom line for your organization. It is MUCH harder to build the right product for the right customer if you can’t lie in the customer’s shoes, see the world from their point of view, and feel their pain
- Empathy for the company, so vision and culture are maintained throughout each project
- Empathy for the team, as they are responsible for the people doing the actual work to make the project a success
Food for thought – be cautious
Even if you’ve worked with Product Managers before, don’t start salivating once you’ve received a seemingly stellar resume from a Stanford graduate with years of experience at a Fortune 50 company.
People can always talk the talk, and much of what we’ve covered in this article contains industry buzzwords that anyone can regurgitate and sound informed. Exercise empathy when evaluating Product Managers, but also exercise scrutiny and caution. Take the liberty of proposing a set of hypotheticals for how they would manage several situations that are common to your organization’s typical projects.
Each organization’s pipeline varies in terms of scope, complexity, staff, etc. You know your company better than anyone, so familiarize your candidates with the ins and outs of what makes yours unique, and continue to evaluate whether they match your team’s culture, while possessing the aforementioned attributes as well. Line those up and you have a Product Management King of all Trades in your hands.
Questions? Insights? Industry stories? Leave them in the comments below – we’re eager to hear from you and discuss.