Azeem Azeez

Product Manager

Automotive Enthusiast

The 4 pillars of good product management

A question I often get asked from new product managers is how they can measure themselves to understand if they’re getting better at product management or not. Now, this isn’t a simple, straightforward question and depending on who you ask, and what background they’re from, chances are that the answer you’re going to get will vary.

Product Managers inherently vary heavily depending on what they learned in school, what sort of projects they’ve worked on and also who their previous manages were. This means that the success measurement of a product manager can vary vastly. For example if a PM comes from a finance background and has worked on FinTech or Revenue projects, their bias and preferences will vary from a PM who comes from a data background and has worked on engagement or retention projects.

However, over time, I have found that there are certain signals that you can look at to figure out if you’re going in the right direction or not. These pillars might not be relevant for every use case, but if you’re relatively new to the PM world, this might offer you a place to start.

1. Vision/Strategy

The first pillar (and arguably the most challenging one), is coming up with a Vision/Strategy for your product. As a Product Manager, when you’re given keys to the product, there is a huge amount of trust put on you to own and drive the direction of the product. Depending on your organization, company structure and your focus area, this could be as simple as figuring out what you want to achieve for the next quarter or for the next year.

The challenge with this pillar is that it requires you as a Product Manager to understand your users, the business, the right data and metrics, and various other factors to validate and plan on what you think should be the strategy of your product. Coming up with a plan just because the two users you interviewed promised that they would spend thousands of dollars if you built that feature isn’t good enough. Your plans require context, backing with data and research for it to sound like a compelling, cohesive strategy.

As you progress in your career, the expectation goes from creating a simple roadmap to be able to have an outlook for your product for the next couple of quarters, and even years.

2. Communication

Now that you know what you want to do with your product, the next challenge is to communicate your strategy both to your stakeholders and to your teams to get them excited and onboard consistently.

Now there are a lot of formats and tools you could use to do this, but there are a couple of things to consider here:

  • What format do you want to use to communicate your strategy? (All-hands sessions, weekly emails/slack messages, monthly newsletters)
  • How often do you want to communicate this? (Once a quarter, weekly, monthly)
  • How do your customize the content to the audience? (Assuming you’d probably use a different format to send updates to the CEO vs updating your direct team)

Once you’ve figured this out, the most important thing to remember is that Consistency is King. Creating a rhythm of updates allows you to get into a habit of writing and reflecting on your progress and prevents stakeholders to have to chase you for updates (and reduce escalations etc)

3. Execution

You now have a strategy and you’ve gotten your stakeholders and your team excited to start delivering. Amazing!

Here comes the part where you start to deliver on your strategy. Sounds like this is the easiest step right? Not always. For some people, it feels more natural to go out and create plans and get people aligned and motivated on their vision, but don’t have the patience or know-how on how to build products that actually define value.

Some things to look out for when you measure yourself in this pillar:

  • Are you able to look at a plan for a feature/product and able to focus on the details?
  • Are you able to slice the problem small enough so that your team can deliver in small chunks?
  • Are you building features/products in a way that allows you to constantly learn and iterate rather than waiting 6 months for results?
  • Do you understand what makes a good MVP (Minimum viable product) and use techniques like AB testing to get better at incrementally building the right product?

4. Leadership

Even though you might not have people directly reporting to you, remember that you’re responsible for what your squad/team works on, not to mention the ability for your business partners to sell or market products or features.

As a product manager, you need to be able to rally the troops when things don’t go well, have the ability to provide context and rationale for why the feature you’re building is important and be able to protect your team from distractions, productivity killers and everyday distractions. You also need to balance stakeholders from the business side, along with the ambitions of your own team and come out with a balanced solution that makes everyone happy.

Putting it into practice

Now that you have some insights on a few aspects that make a good Product Manager, the next step is to engage in some self-reflection and figure out where you stand within each of these four pillars. If you feel that communication and execution are your strong points, then it’s an opportunity to try focusing a bit more on topics like Strategy and Leadership.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for product managers, but by trying a variety of things and experimenting with several skills, you’re bound to get better at your craft. It’s also important to remind ourselves to take a break, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and focus on improving them.

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