Advancing Your Product Management Career Rapidly – You Asked, We Answered

In September 2019, we presented a co-hosted webinar with AIPMMHow to Accelerate Your PM Career Part 1: Top Strategies to Advance Rapidly. You can view the slides and accompanying blog post here. We received so many great questions on the topic and have included answers to each down below. Thank you all for engaging in our webinar!

Note: Some answers correspond to multiple questions.

Q&A

Most of my role as a product manager is about managing conflict, bringing change, solving customer escalations and driving it through the organization. This means lots of resistance. What’s your advice to master this?

How do you motivate non-believers to support your product direction?

Whole books have been written on this topic, but here are three techniques I’ve used over the years that have significantly helped reduce resistance, and more importantly, gained engagement and support for you and your product:

  1. Bring the data. Always have the necessary 2-3 facts that are the key reasons behind your request for support or assistance.
  2. Align your request to company or division objectives. When you can connect the dots between what you are trying to accomplish with your product, and how it will help your company or division, most folks, even folks outside your organization, will want to help. They can see how helping you will help the company move forward.
  3. Demonstrate how your request also satisfies the other person’s “What’s In It for Me.” If you can show how your request will also advance the other person’s personal or professional goals, they again will be much more likely to assist you and lend support. This does require you to sometimes think creatively, but it’s important to think this through before you make your request.

These approaches provide a good mix of data-driven and emotionally appealing arguments to help you reduce resistance and ultimately move your product forward.

I’m working at a small/medium organization (50 to 200 employees). What can I leverage by having worked for a smaller organization when moving to a larger organization?

One of the biggest skills you’ll gain by working at a small organization is your ability to figure out how to get things done. This means you know how to lean in when necessary and do work that may not be your responsibility, know how to coordinate efforts across people and teams, and have developed a persistence to keep things moving. This ability to self-organize, work independently, and simply just get things done will set you apart in a larger organization. Be careful though: sometimes you may get frustrated with how slowly things move at a larger organization, so you’ll need to balance your skills with a healthy dose of patience as well. 

With so much information around, what is the best and most reliable source you recommend I learn to keep-up with market trends?

Can you recommend websites which can help understand the industry market?

Yes, we live in an amazing time where there’s probably too much information available! Here are a few tips and resources that should help you focus:

  • Google Alerts: Go to https://www.google.com/alerts and setup alerts for key industry phrases, concepts, and even competitor names that you want to track. Google will then email you with updates as often or infrequently as you like.
  • Subscribe to blogs, news feeds, etc. from industry publications that are well-respected in your industry. Don’t forget to include any industry associations which typically will also be advocating for key issues in your industry.
  • Subscribe to the free newsletter from a market research firm that tracks your particular industry. You’ll find a good list of the larger global research firms here.
  • Subscribe to one or two more general publications that will cast a wider net and help you see things from different perspectives. This article at Forbes lists many of my favorite publications that still hew to high levels of journalistic integrity, and also provide perspectives across the political spectrum as well.
  • Track topics of interest on Medium and Quora as well.

You’ll have to build your own small set of trusted resources, but hopefully this list gives you a good start.

Is there a specific skill set or training area that you see many people lacking?

Yes! Earlier this year, 280 Group uncovered the three weakest skill areas across over 1650 product managers in the Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report. These skill sets are Competitive Analysis, Pricing, and End of Life. Product managers must think strategically about their skill sets and address their weakest areas to give their products the best chance of success. Check out the report to read about these skill sets in more detail.

BONUS: The report also gives you access to a free Skills Assessment tool to generate your own Personal Report and compare your skills against the benchmark.

Do you have any suggestions for people who work remotely?

Managing your career as a remote employee is particularly difficult, but here are a few tips:

  • Shift your working hours to overlap with key sites as much as possible, and use messaging and video conferencing tools to be available “in real time” to the rest of your team. If possible, integrate this tool with your calendar, so folks know when you’re away from your desk and in a meeting. It may feel like you’re giving up some privacy but being extra transparent to your co-workers will increase their respect that you’re working hard to be a team player.
  • For every meeting you setup, include the video conferencing information, and make yourself presentable to have your webcam on during the call (no PJs please!). Video conferencing allows you to read visual and body language cues better, and also makes you more visible to the rest of the team, again making you more a “member of the team.”
  • This is crucial: if your regular flow of business doesn’t bring you to a division office or headquarters on a regular basis, schedule a trip there at least quarterly so that you are able to establish in-person relationships with co-workers, managers, and executives. Ideally, you’ll align this visit with an event or big meeting that’s happening that week, such as strategic planning cycles, quarterly business reviews, or even your own annual review. But if that’s not happening in a particular quarter, you should still travel “just because,” becoming available for 3-4 days to just work alongside your colleagues. Use the evening and morning times for meals with teams or key individuals to further build up personal relationships. Always let your manager know you’re coming, and always schedule 1:1 time with them!
  • Practice excellent email etiquette: always reply to emails promptly to avoid the “where is she/he now?” question, and avoid getting into email loops that are not productive. If a response doesn’t make sense, you can reply once for clarification, but after that use a messaging tool or schedule a call to close the loop more quickly.

Do you have any suggestions for a direct and indirect management relationship where your direct manager is not really a good listener but your indirect manager does not have much influence in your career growth within the company?

Tough situation, for sure. You should focus on building up your relationship with your direct manager, since she/he is the one that will ultimately have the most influence on your career. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Learn to speak effectively using their language. If they play golf, learn some useful golf analogies. Don’t pretend to enjoy a sport or hobby that you don’t – remain authentic – but it’s fine to use language that will resonate with your manager.
  • Practice active listening skills in every conversation with your manager, and in particular close every conversation with a key recap of agreements, decisions, and next steps. Being clear about this will help you be more effective with your manager, and should lead to a more positive working relationship. You can read more about active listening in this blog post, and in our book, Product Management for Dummies.
  • If you notice that one of your peers seems to be having more success in their relationship with your mutual manager, watch how they are interacting, and even grab lunch with them to learn how they are making the relationship work well.
  • If these techniques aren’t working, find another leader in the company who is influential, and ask them if they could be a mentor for you. You’ll need to ask for specific help from them, and to avoid misunderstandings with your manager, be sure your manager knows that you “want to spend time with Alex to learn how she is so good at competitive analysis.” DO learn about that skill, but also learn from them how you may be able to pursue your career goals at this company, despite the challenges with your manager.

Hey team, can you share the resources that will help build the soft skills? Thanks.

You can start by reading this blog post that summarizes key soft skills that are important for both Product Managers and Product Owners. Part 4 of Product Management for Dummies has three chapters related to leadership and soft skills that goes into more depth on these important topics.

Your Questions Answered By:

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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