A Product Manager's guide to success

Insights from Jackie Bavaro - Ex Product Leader at Asana, Google, Microsoft & Co-author of books “Cracking the PM interview” and “Cracking the PM career”

A four-step strategy to put success in your pocket:

1. Define the problems, and what success looks like ー

The first step for you as a product manager should be to be able to clearly define and prioritize the problems. A great way to do so:

  1. Decide the most important problems to solve (if you are given a solution to design, you need to reverse engineer the problem)
  2. Find out why clients want you to build something; and finally
  3. Deeply explore the problem space

This will help your designers and engineers in creating innovative solutions. Staying at the detail level and devising solutions alone will drain your resources. This process will empower your team and help you scale as a product manager.

2. Understand the importance of validating your ideas ー

As important as it is to come up with great ideas, you must also master the art of quickly validating ideas (& with the least cost). Learn to discard the bad ones and spend your time on the good ones.

You can spend time in user research for big projects, but for smaller ones, here are a few ways you can validate:

  • Double-checking with others - managers, stakeholders, and colleagues
  • Drawing a sketch and showing your friends to see if they understand it
  • Improving the discoverability of a feature before investing in improvement of the feature itself

3. Study other products ー

Do you believe that creativity is something that you either have or don't?

Great product managers love products and study them. Genius ideas usually don't come out of the blue; they are generated from cross-applying an idea from elsewhere (a competitor product or a product from another industry). You can use these ideas as inspiration and combine them to design something that looks great and feels fresh and innovative in your market.

4. Manage stakeholders ー

Often product managers face the dilemma of convincing their stakeholders for their product. A great way to deal with this is to flip around the situation. A few great ways of doing this:

  1. Invest your time in understanding your stakeholders instead of convincing them.
  2. Learn about what they need, their constraints, insecurities, and their job.
  3. When you understand them well, catch early misunderstandings and propose solutions that everyone is comfortable with.

How to identify different phases of a Product Manager's career

Phase 1 ー Shipping great products

The first phase of your career is about shipping great products that meet the goals and delight customers. This will help you get promotions, but after a certain point, you will hit a plateau. This is your time to advance to the second stage.

Phase 2 ー Creating winning strategies

This phase is about setting a future, i.e., defining overall goals and deciding the opportunities you and your team should pursue.

Phase 3 ー Achieving organizational excellence

When you start moving to director-level roles, success becomes more about building great teams. Focus is laid on

  • Hiring
  • Coaching
  • Setting processes
  • Being a strategic advisor, and
  • Influencing strategic decisions

As you start seeing your career moving up these three phases, you can understand why you plateau or why your job starts to get harder. This is because you are stepping up, learning new skills, and picking up a new part of your job.

How to build a great product strategy

A roadmap or vision is not a strategy; A good product strategy should be created by putting these three key pieces together:

1. Product Vision ー This is your innovative view of what the future of the product looks like. You will use this to motivate your team and recruit great people. Sharing this vision with your customers can help you validate your ideas. You can think of this vision as an infomercial, where you first focus on your customers' pain points and then on the solution. This can help create an inspiring vision.

2. Strategic Framework ー This is where you answer these big questions -

"How will I win a market?" or

"What market should I target?"

You need to think about your target audience - are you selling to your current customer or trying to acquire new ones? Will you win them from your competitors or choose people who are new to the space? Answering each of these questions will lead you to different strategic decisions. These decisions will help and lead you to the next piece of your product strategy.

3. Product Roadmap ー

Some managers can be afraid of roadmaps because they don't want to commit. Remember, your strategic roadmap is not a commitment; it is a way to double-check if your work is ambitious enough to lead you in the right direction and in the right amount of time. Creating this roadmap will tell you if you can achieve your vision and, if not, what support do you need to accomplish it.

These three pieces will give you a full product strategy to ensure that you and your team move in the right direction.

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