We all heard the line that “a product manager has all of the responsibilities but none of the authority”. True. Now get over it. That goes with the territory and is no excuse for not being a great product manager. So what makes a successful product manager? Let's look at the critical responsibilities and what you need...
The product manager must pull all the required functions together to make a product succeed:
A good product manager basically possesses 2 types of knowledge:
A good product manager masters the art of influence without authority:
A Product Manager’s greatest input is in:
Cajole, Persuade. Repeat.
You must have high Emotional Intelligence. Every department and person has their own agenda which may not match your agenda (sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not). You must cajole, persuade, and sometimes get forceful without burning your bridges. Think of Product Managers as the grease that keeps the machine going. You practice what I call “Shuttle Diplomacy” to gain consensus. (Remember the rule: Consensus is 70 percent agreement, 100 percent buy-in. You cannot look for 100 percent agreement; otherwise you will have paralysis.)
Spend Time in the Front-Lines. Don’t be a REMF.
People keep talking about innovation and the need to think outside the box. Well, first learn what’s in the box!
I’ve heard too many Sales and Service people disparagingly refer to product management and marketing people as the "Ivory Tower". Many times, they do this for good reason.
A product manager should be spending 20 - 25 percent of his or her time with the customer and Sales. There is no other way to get real front-line feedback and the benefits of learning user-innovation. In addition, I think that a good Product Manager should go train a customer at installation to see firsthand how a user actually uses the product. There is no better UX experience than this.
A very under-appreciated resource is the Service group. Service people see how users actually use the product. They see what puts a smile or frown on the users’ faces when they train them. Customers also tend to see your Service group more as their friends compared to the Sales group (rightly or wrongly) since they are typically not in a selling mode. Thus, Service people can provide different insights with some more open feedback.
Have a limited travel budget and time? Pick up the phone and call people up. Plan this into your work schedule. I used to “spin the Rolodex”(sometimes randomly selecting a contact name from the customer list) and call the customer s a courtesy call to see how they were doing. These calls from the ‘home office” were always were a pleasant surprise to customers. You learn how satisfied they are with the product and company, how they use the product, and get feedback on how the product could be improved. Additional benefits: a chance to rectify any dissatisfaction, insights into future purchases, a personal connection, and an addition to the customer reference list. Most calls were a quick 5 - 10 minutes and well worth it.
The Product is Your Baby. Protect Your Baby.
Be a product evangelist. This is an over-used term but the concept still rings true. Believe in your product. Know your product and customers inside out, and the unique values over the competition.
I used to audit training classes for my products. Why? I wanted to see how the instructors were presenting the products and how attendees’ impressions during the training. More than once, I found that the instructors didn’t know the products well enough to my liking and made them more difficult than they were. Poor training leads to poor impressions which can last forever. I made sure that the training improved even though the instructors did not report to me directly. Why? That was MY product that they were representing. Remember, you own the product which includes all aspects including training.
Questions that Good Product Managers Should Ask Themselves:
There are nos script or shortcuts for product management. All successful product managers possess keen product and customer knowledge, know how to navigate among people in the organization, and fully own their products.
Finally, do try to keep quiet when you do listen to your Sales, Service people, Customers, and others. As a rule, you don't learn much when you are doing the talking.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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