Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Here are some of the product principles I’ve put together which might give you inspiration when setting yours:

  1. We listen to our customers daily, have empathy for them and act on key insights
  2. We understand the market and our customers needs
  3. We work with the rest of the business together to solve the highest priority problems and opportunities in a lean way
  4. We build quality products and features which customers love; recognising that delivering customer satisfaction will grow the business
  5. We have clear product ownership where we are empowered to deliver excellence aligned to the business goals
  6. We trust by giving autonomy at every level across the product delivery lifecycle
  7. We spend time celebrating successes and continuously learn
  8. We acknowledge that there is no bad question or wrong answer and have an inclusive mindset
  9. We see mistakes and failures as a learning experience
  10. We have a strong product organisation, which enables us to achieve our ambitions

In a startup, it’s common for the c-suite to function as the product manager until product-market fit has been validated.

Once validated, it’s time to build the product for real which would require a product manager to work in a product team that also includes a product designer and several engineers to continue learning and solving customer problems/demands.

As the product grows, so does the business and resources, then before you know it, the product manager is running around trying to keep the product afloat by keeping customers happy, growing the product, validating ideas, managing expectations with stakeholders and ensuring that the product is on the right strategic track. The full breadth of the product manager role is vast!

At the same time of growing resources across the business, it’s essential to consider scaling the product management team, but before this happens you need to define your product lines/areas/verticals, so then you can hire product managers to manage, own and be accountable for a particular product line/area/vertical.

The best way to split up your product into lines is across the core value streams/customer experiences, for example:

  • Cashier – Payment/withdrawal flows
  • Compliance – Login flows/security, regulatory flows, marketing preferences/data protection flows
  • Growth – Acquisition/CRM flows, account, and any MarTech integrations needed to achieve the growth OKRs
  • Engagement – Focusing on driving engagements
  • Community – Initiatives to drive social engagements
  • Gaming Integrations, content management and gaming experience
  • Sportsbook – Integrations, trading and betting experience
  • Web – Providing customers with the optimal web experience
  • Apps – Providing customers with the optimal app experience through the App/Play Store

The Product Manager is fully accountable for the success of their product line, so as well as defining the product vision, KPIs, strategies and product roadmap for their product line, they would also be part of an Agile product team (including a product designer and engineers) who would together manage the product backlog, execute the VMOST, product backlog items (PBIs) and test hypothesis.

Now, letting product teams manage a specific product line (which comes with ownership (autonomy and empowerment)) can be a terrifying thought for some businesses since they often prefer a more controlled project management approach, which is why they just hire product managers (or product owners) and stick them in a scrum team to execute projects from a pre-defined roadmap. Marty Cagan articulates this widespread problem and its impacts well in his recent article on project teams vs. product teams.

Saying this, there are also some challenges when transforming to a product line structure:

BenefitsChallenges
Clear product ownership across the businessManaging cross product line/area dependencies although tools such as Aha! certainly helps
Accountability for KPIs and live product supportMore effort needed on alignment especially on high priority cross-cutting initiatives
AutonomySwitching to a more learning, trust and empowered culture which isn’t always quick and easy
Empowered product teams
Focus on outcomes over outputs
Domain expert knowledge
Efficiency
Ability to continually improve key product areas staying ahead of the competition
Leaders at every level
Product/tech team retention

Essentially, what product lines give you if done effectively, is empowered mission-focused Agile product teams who are motivated to execute the VMOST which they defined for their product area in collaboration with key stakeholders.

The outcome of this is having a best-of-breed product, delivering more customer value quicker.

There’s a lot of confusion around product management job titles, seniority, and hierarchy. This has become more prominent since organisations started creating the Product Owner job during their Agile transformation using the Scrum framework, even though Product Owner is a role that a Product Manager plays rather than a job in itself. This makes it hard to compare jobs, plan your career, and attract the right talent to your team.

Inspired by Mind the Product, in this article I’ll walk through the product manager levels, providing overviews for each product role, and some useful content to refer to.

Associate Product Manager (APM)

This is an entry-level product position, for someone who is brand new to the role.

An APM can be a recent graduate who would enter into a rotational apprenticeship program across the business. The aim—similar to most apprenticeships—is to develop these candidates into full-time positions through a combination of training and hands-on involvement with real projects.

Alternatively and the most common route, an APM has some work experience under their belt already and can come from any background. Engineering, marketing, design, or commercial are the most common backgrounds.

The APM works with a product development team under the leadership and mentorship of a product manager, where they would focus on learning the full breadth of the Product Manager role whilst on the job.

Typically an APM would need 3-5 years of experience before progressing to the next level as a Product Manager.

Product Manager (PM)

The most common job title of a product manager can span a wide range of experience, responsibility, and skills. Broadly this is someone who operates independently, leads the work of a product development team, and is responsible for a product line or customer journey. Because it’s the most common title, it’s important to consider what product they manage.  For example, if they’re a product manager for Facebook’s news feed and impact billions of users, they’re probably more senior and experienced than a product manager at a brand new startup.

To be clear, the Product Manager is fully accountable for the success of their product line, so as well as defining the product vision, KPIs, strategies and product roadmap for their product line, they would be part of an Agile team managing the product backlog and working with the engineers to execute the product backlog items (PBIs) and test hypothesis.

For some insights on the Product Manager role see ‘How do you Become a Product Manager?’ by Liam Smith and discover what it is that Jase Clamp believes really makes a Product person in ‘What’s in the DNA of Product People?’.

Similar to the APM role, after 3-5 years as a PM you can expect to take the next step to become a Senior Product Manager.

Senior Product Manager (SPM)

A senior Product Manager does the same thing as a product manager but has a senior title either in recognition of their contributions, the relative importance of their product, or reflects the fact that they also spend time coaching product managers. The Senior Product Manager is hands-on with a product line and also has some line-management responsibilities.

Once you’ve been a PM/SPM for at least 7 years and at least 2 of those has involved line managing/coaching other PMs, then you’re ready to take the next step up to the Lead PM or Head of Product of a specific product line eg. Head of Product – Rewards, Head of Product – Engagement or Head of Product- Gaming.

Principal Product Manager (PPM)

This is a newer role, and usually a very senior product manager who is responsible for a critical product in the company. This can be equivalent in rank to a Senior Product Manager through to a VP Product. The difference is they are not managing other product managers at all — they are simply exceptional product managers who want to stay hands-on and leave people management to others.

In many ways, this is similar to the Architect track in engineering (in contrast to the CTO track), and something we should encourage more. Just because you’re a great product manager and want to advance in your career, it doesn’t mean you should have to move away from being a hands-on product manager to a leader of other product managers. Some people are just better suited to one path than the other. Recognising who is great at leadership and who is great at building amazing products is equally important and valuable to an organisation.

Product Lead / Lead Product Manager / Head of Product – [product line]

This role is more common in larger companies with more products and management layers. Whilst this role does focus on managing other product managers, a significant amount of time would be spent supporting Product Managers with their product line vision, strategies, market analysis and execution, helping improve the product organisation structure, leading Lean initiatives to reduce waste across the business and work on cross-product line strategies.

At this level you’d have been exposed to working across multiple product lines, line management/coaching PMs and being even more dynamic, so after 3 years of being at this level, you’d be ready for the Product Director / Head of Product role.

Product Director / Group Product Manager / VP Product / Head of Product

This is where the role starts to change. It goes from an individual contributor who manages a product line and works hands-on with engineering and design teams, to someone who has stepped back from the day-to-day to focus on leading other product managers and working on alignment. This is where soft skills around people management become a critical part of the job.

After being a Product Director for at least 3 years, it’s time to take the final step up to be the Chief Product Officer.

Chief Product Officer (CPO)

A Chief Product Officer is the most senior product person in an organisation. They usually manage more than one team of product managers and represent product in the C-suite or management team. They’re responsible for overall product strategy and alignment within their teams and with other parts of the organisation.

The difference between a VP Product and CPO in smaller companies isn’t huge, and the title is used interchangeably for the most senior product person in the company. But in larger organisations that have both roles, we can again borrow from our engineering friends to clarify the difference. The VP Product is responsible for the team, the processes, and getting things done, while the CPO is responsible for the overall product vision, product architecture, and overall organisational alignment.

In ‘Where Does Product Fit? What’s Being a CPO Really Like?’, Zoopla’s CPTO Dave Wascha shares his take on the reality of the CPO role, where Product fits within the organisation, what skills product managers need to be successful, and more. You can also learn how Ashley Fidler went from a PhD in Linguistics to a CPO at Eigen Technologies in her instalment of How I got my job.

One size does not fit all

Most companies don’t need all these tiers of course, so it’s important to think about how this fits into your organisation. At a startup, you might have a single Product Manager. As you grow, a couple of Product Managers could report to a Head of Product/VP Product. Only as the company grows and the suite of products grows do you need to consider more layers. As with anything else in product, these team structures and tiers should be aligned with customer needs. This way, you can incentivise and organise teams in alignment with your company goals.

Structure = Clarity

Having clear and common structures for product management job titles in our teams will help us all better understand our careers, roles, and teams. This structure should provide the right foundation for you and your teams to ask: Do your team’s titles accurately reflect their jobs? Are they clear enough that applicants looking at your open vacancies know what you’re hiring for and if the job is for them? Or do you need to rethink your structure to maximise clarity?

This book was a fascinating read where Grove talks about how he pulled off the greatest transformation in the history of Intel: moving from the memory business to microprocessors more than a decade after its founding.

During his tenure at Intel Corporation, he described the different reorganisations that the company went through, with the only one which was effective – which just about every large company or enterprise that he knew was organised was in a hybrid form, which consisted of mission-oriented departments. This reminding me of product lines.

Although it was published over 25 years ago, the management practices are timeless, where Grove touches on the negative impact of ‘managerial meddling’ (disempowerment) and he talks about productivity, work simplification and leverage with the goal to work smarter, not harder!

As Grove says “..the single most important sentence of this book: The output of a manager is the output of the organisation units under his or her supervision or influence”.

The key to survival is to learn to add more value, which is ultimately what this book is about.

A classic book on management, which I’d recommend.

Seeing content by Gary Vaynerchuk for a while now driven by passion and authenticity, I thought his book would be a good read and I wasn’t disappointed.

Like a lot of his content, he gives an authentic and passionate insight into what it takes to achieve your full potential and goals in life.

The book is loaded with questions he’s been asked over the years where he responds with concised authentic answers, with enough context to make you feel inspired and motivated.

“Pumping everyone full of confidence makes for a more creative, risk-taking environment.”

“Passion is an unmatched fuel”

“Maybe we all look for excuses to explain why we don’t achieve what we want to, and we should be more self-aware and recognize how much control we actually have over our own fate…it’s amazing how as soon as you make the shift from “I can’t” to “Why can’t I?” you go from defense to offense, and as everyone knows, the best place to score is always on offense.”

“The only effective way to truly lead is to practice and model the behaviour you want to see in others…the top has to ensure that its values, beliefs, and attitudes trickle down to shape the culture and encourage a productive, innovative, creative, and even happy environment.”

Martin Luther King inspired millions to stand up against inequality and injustice, because he started with WHY.

Apple is worth $2 trillion and managed to build a cultish loyal following, because Steve Jobs always started with WHY.

Simon Sinek is able to repeat his success again and again and inspire others to do the same, because he focuses on WHY.

The Wright Brothers managed to invent, build and fly the first motor operated airplane, because they started with WHY.

Becoming a billion-dollar business or change the course of industries requires a rare special partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.

Employees give 110% to the mission, when they know WHY.

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Another inspiring book by Simon which I’d recommend to anyone in a leadership role.

Very inspiring book by Simon Sinek, where he explains a concept called Circle of Safety, where only when people feel safe will they pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.

“When we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”

The book explains well that a title doesn’t make you a leader, but instead leading with purpose having empathy, trust, integrity and creating a safe autonomous environment is key to being an effective leader.

Simon includes stories of the damage which unhealthy cultures can have, includes detailed explanations of the science behind why some teams pull together and some don’t and has fascinating insights into how leadership has changed over the generations which includes an extra chapter on how to lead Millennials.

It’s a must read for anyone responsible for defining and delivering a vision.

Today’s business world is one that needs more leaders, from a more diverse range of backgrounds and in this book Sarah Wood provides a practical framework to give aspirational leaders the courage and confidence to step up and fulfil their ambitions.

“We are in a relationships age; empathy delivers better business results”

The biggest reason why leaders are failing to step up is because of a confidence gap – not an ability, skills or capability gap!

What makes a good leader has changed over time, from being a dominant personality and didactic style to having leadership qualities of courage, kindness, trust, authenticity and empathy.

Sarah explains that “a love of learning, and the compulsion to continously explore new ideas and put them to the test, is one of the hallmarks of a great leader.”

“As a leader, one of the most important jobs you have is to motivate, encourage and support your team”.

Want to step up? Sarah says “the most important thing is that you get started, as quickly as possible. Done is better than perfect!”

This book is filled with advice and tips from other exceptional leaders which has made an immediate impact on my mindset, so I hope it helps you too.

It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, but in this book 📚 Michael Bungay Stanier gives seven questions and the tools to make them an everday way to work less hard and have more impact.

On communication and habits, Michael says that the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place already and that 45% of our waking behaviour is habitual.

Michael touches on learning and explains that “people don’t really learn when you tell them something.

They don’t even really learn when they do something.

They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.”

“When we take time and effort to generate knowledge and find an answer rather than just reading it, our memory retention is increased.”

The book is structured around seven key questions…

🔸️ The Kickstart Question
🔸️ The Awe Question
🔸️ The Focus Question
🔸️ The Foundation Question
🔸️ The Lazy Question
🔸️ The Strategic Question
🔸️ The Learning Question

…but you’ll need to buy this great book to find out what the questions are!

In this book L. David Marquet tells a remarkable true story of how he transformed a low performing team of 134 passive followers, into high performing empowered active leaders who received a plethora of awards as a result of their successes.

Marquet explains “You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenancious creativity are volunteered only.”

Having independent, energetic, emotionally committed and engaged individuals thinking about what they needed to do and ways to do it right achieved excellence.

“Simply providing data to the teams on their relative performance results in natural desire to improve.”

Guiding principles the team used to achieve excellence:

🔸️ Initiative
🔸️ Innovation
🔸️ Intimate Technical Knowledge
🔸️ Courage
🔸️ Commitment
🔸️ Continuous Improvement
🔸️ Integrity
🔸️ Empowerment
🔸️ Teamwork
🔸️ Openness
🔸️ Timeliness

Leadership at Every Level!

“Ultimately, the most important person to have control over is yourself – for it is that self-control that will allow you to “give control, create leaders”.”

Really glad I bought this book by Noel Tichy – the inspiring stories and explanations gave me plenty of opportunity to self-reflect about my leadership capabilities, which has explained a lot and given me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.

Tichy explains how organisations that have a Leadership Engine win because they have leaders at every level who teach others to be leaders. Teaching and learning are at the heart of these organisations.

“A crucial element in this process is that winning leaders and winning companies use mistakes as coaching opportunities rather than causes for punishment. Treating mistakes as learning experiences, in fact, is one of the ways in which winning leaders encourage others to develop edge and take the risk of making tough decisions.”

I’d definitely recommend this book.

Enjoyable short read, where Roman Pichler describes the key product leadership challenges, along with ways to use your heart and mind to work effectively with the dev team and stakeholders to create value together.

Roman talks about mindfulness and the leadership-related gains for product people it can have such as greater serenity, increased empathy and better decision-making.

To focus on the important, but less urgent work you need to “be willing to set boundaries, say no, and let go: You can’t do everything without either neglecting your core responsibilities or sacrificing your health, neither of which is desirable.”

But also success doesn’t happen by magic, as Roman explains that “in addition to embracing a can-do attitude, achievement requires effort and discipline. The better we want to become at something, the more effort we have to invest.”

Leaders need to “be a role model and exhibit the behaviour you want to see in others. Listen empathically, speak truthfully and kindly, and make an effort to be open-minded.”

A must read for both new and experienced product people.

A very timely book by Marc Abraham with Covid adding more tension to everyone’s lives.

Whilst it does take experience and confidence before you can lean into tension effectively, Marc explains that embracing tension is also not easy, but it is absolutely worth it!

Marc explains the benefits of ‘accepting radically’ with tips on how to allow your mind to accept things for what they are (and aren’t), so that you can focus your mind and energy on things you can change which result in more productive outcomes.

“Tensions are inherent to products and that we as product people should find ways to embrace that”

“Pressure is an integral part of life, work, being. We might as well accept this tension, starting with a full awareness of how we perceive tension and how others around us view our perceptions and behaviours”

“When curiosity is combined with passion in the exploration of a subject, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable to that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent”

“Keeping on top of your product means continuous learning and improvement, with a relentless focus bettering your ways of working”

You can’t get a more comprehensive book on product leadership than this by Richard BanfieldMartin Eriksson & Nate Walkingshaw, where they explain in detail what it means to be a product leader, how they launch great products and build successful teams.

“For many product leaders, work life is a constant tension between delivering value to one group and telling another they can’t have what they want. Shipping product, and its associated value, is the reason these product leaders get up and go to work”

“It is not about individual success, it’s about getting the best out of others”

“What is common in high-performing teams is that they are cross-functional, collocated and autonomous”

How to identify product leaders:

🔸️ Plays well with others
🔸️ Seeks challenge
🔸️ Gets their hands dirty
🔸️ Always acts and thinks “team first”
🔸️ Is comfortable wearing lots of hats
🔸️ Displays curiosity
🔸️ Communicates well
🔸️ Possesses selling skills
🔸️ Has exceptional time management skills
🔸️ Is a visionary
🔸️ Shows equanimity/grace under fire