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What you need to be a great Product Manager

What should you look for in a candidate you are evaluating for a Product Manager role

Saturday October 15, 2016,

5 min Read

Before I jump into talking about the main topic of this post, a bit of background and context on what triggered me into writing this in the first place. Ever since I decided to move from a core engineering role towards a Product Management kind of role a couple of years back, I have been constantly treated to all kinds of queries from recruiters – and hiring manager alike – around how a candidate without any prior Product Management experience could transition into a PM role easily. I view this as nothing short of serious shortsightedness that leads them to passing over able candidates who could potentially be a great asset to their companies. This, in my humble opinion, is a very erroneous approach and not the most inequitable one. So, I wanted to share my thoughts around what they probably need to scan for instead of just settling for previous experience as a Product Manager

Before getting into talking about what kind of experience and competencies to look for in the applicants, let us first touch a bit on who a product manager is what does a product manager do typically?

A Product Manager is a person responsible for defining the “why”, “what” and “when” of the product that the engineering team will build. Simply put - The CEO of the product they manage

What does a Product manager do really?

Responsible for the strategy, roadmap and feature definition of a product

• Manages releases with phases and milestones

• Owns the ideation – process of generating & curating new ideas

• Lays out a product vision that is differentiated & delivers unique value for users

• Market Research and Competitive Analysis

• Provides cross-functional leadership – bridging gaps between different functions

• Constantly reviews BI & Analytics

Wow, that sounds like a lot! So, what are the key skills they should possess to operate successfully in a role like this?

Domain knowledge & Business Acumen

• Minimal Technical chops

• Ability to Impact & Influence

• Solid Communication skills

• Analytical skills

Though the above list might seem a bit daunting and almost unrealistic to expect from a single individual, in reality sometimes most of these might be well demonstrated – or potentially picked up on the job – by good candidates who are not even from a Product Management background. So, not giving them a chance to prove themselves by simply filtering them out based on past roles or titles held is absolutely unfair! Apart from these core skills mentioned above, another important skill that keeps getting over-emphasized sometimes is the ability to prioritize things. Practically speaking, everyone does some amount of prioritization in life – at home, during their travel, day to day activities etc., All that is needed is how they can migrate that ability into their professional eco-system. Not a rocket science and can be picked up on the job, with appropriate mentorship.

In my viewpoint, If someone has done a commendable job at product development (no matter in what role in the past), they would be able to excel in a product management role quickly –with or without a little mentorship from the right guide. Now, when I say a ‘commendable job’ in this context I am referring to candidates who have demonstrated the following traits:

Strong Passion for building a great product

• Understanding the customer and their needs well enough

• Ability to see the big picture

In general, if you are a smart software engineer you will excel across roles in this domain. For example:

• You don’t need to have prior testing experience to become a dedicated tester – if you have developed your product with testing in mind and tested your code well in the past you could transition into a testing role with ease

• Similarly, if you had been highly efficient software tester – you would have automated your testing tasks and developed enough tools as much as possible to make your life easier. So taking on a dedicated developer role should be seamless

Finally, take the case of most Startups and their founders. When a startup founder launches a company to bring his/her ideas (or copying other people’s ideas that are working well already) to life, he/she is the first product manager of the company - before donning the founder or CEO suit on. So if that works so well – and no investor bothers to ask a question like “What kind of Product experience did you have in the past?” – Why do recruiters and hiring managers fret so much?

After all, no one probably questioned the guy who quit his job at D.E Shaw -to start an online company that would sell books via a new phenomenon called ‘world wide web’ - a couple of decades ago, if he had any prior product management experience! If they did and had discouraged this genius then we wouldn’t have been treated to arguably one of the best things that has happened in the online industry!