Creating a Highly Skilled PM Team – You Asked, We Answered

This month, we presented a webinar from our Product Management Leadership series – Building Great Products With Superior Product Management Skills. You can view the accompanying blog post here. We received so many great questions on the topic and have included answers to the top questions down below. Thank you all for engaging in our webinar!

These questions were answered by Roger Snyder and Rina Vernovskaya.

Q&A

If you are young and curious, have been involved in more product operations, and want to get into product management—what are some of the positions/roles or steps to take to level up in the field/career?

The product operations role gives you a great chance to learn about customer behavior, how to conduct market research, and how to manage the product management tool set. The next step is to get strategic. I’d recommend asking a product manager how you could help them on a particular project that will allow you to learn how to conduct analysis, develop insights, and set a piece of product strategy. Perhaps you can help update the competitive analysis on an existing competitor. This will expose you to the research methods, the questions you need to answer, and most importantly how to formulate recommendations that will affect both product and marketing strategy.

Product Managers always have more on their plate than they can handle, so they will welcome the assistance! This practice will force you to think strategically instead of just analytically about your product. And it can help you demonstrate your capability to learn and do the product manager role well at an interview.

Do you have recommendations for a member of a product management team on how to suggest or influence PM leadership to start implementing some of these ideas?

The core of influencing your leaders is to first understand their motivations. And their principal motivation is usually to further the company strategy, and, honestly, advance their own career. So, use the slides from the webinar to promote the particular recommendations you think your organization needs and explain to your manager how these will help the whole team develop better products and advance his/her career.

What are the best free or inexpensive resources to use for PM training?

Before focusing on how to get training, you first have to start by understanding what elements of the product management profession you should focus on. We recommend using our free individual skills assessment to do just that! After running through this assessment, and remember—answer honestly—you can utilize the findings to create an action plan for how to improve your skills.

Once you identify what skills you would like to focus on, there is plenty of free content available on the internet, and on our website. If you find out you are weak on competitive analysis, follow blogs, newsletters, and webinars that cover that topic. Unless you are willing to invest in a comprehensive training session like Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing Training, where an experienced instructor is guiding your learning, it’s better to take control of your learning in smaller chunks and go through online content one topic at a time. As you learn about a new topic, you must then put it into practice to really cement the learning. So, try to pick topics that you can then utilize on your product right away.

In your opinion, does it make sense in a smaller PM team to have each member focus on specific areas of the 15 PM skills? (e.g. analytics, pricing, etc.)

Product management is a unique career where competence across a broad set of skills is crucial to overall success. However, we do think there is a place and an advantage for product managers to hone in on specific skill sets. There is a concept of a “T-Shaped” product manager—one with a foundational understanding across a broad set of skills that supports deep expertise and specialization in one of a few skills. It can serve you well, but only if the rest of the team also has a baseline competence in the rest of the skills. The key is to then support each other as the need arises on each product to be able to tap the specialist for help.

When it comes to hiring curious people, do you have any recommended interview questions? (Some HR teams discourage hypothetical problem questions.)

Curious people never stop learning. During an interview, we recommend testing for an interest in continuous learning. You can ask questions such as “What newsletters do you follow?” or “Tell me about a recent interesting article that you read?” Naturally curious people also like to ask questions. You can ask them how they would go about resolving a conflict in the workplace and listen for cues such as, “I’d first try to get more information.” Another way to find out if someone is curious and invested in themselves is to ask what their professional development plan was at their last job—or what kind of learning support they would require from you. A big plus, if the candidate asks you what the mentorship culture is at your organization. That is a big indicator of a curious and continuous learning professional.

I am a 15 year professional with more than 5 years experience in PM—mainly here to know how to grow. I don’t really have a team at present. Is the certification okay and required at higher experience levels too?

Absolutely. In fact, certification at your stage in your career can be a key to help you advance to a management position. By pursuing and achieving certification, you demonstrate to your leadership that you are serious about deepening your knowledge in your profession. Achieving certification proves you have a thorough knowledge of the product management discipline and are ready to start helping others grow in their skills.

I’m trying to get into a PM role/job, but only have startup experience. I’m sure I’d be a great fit with a couple companies—I got very close with interviews but fell short. How can I better display these skills? They gave me feedback saying two areas of skills were question marks for them with me. But the positive feedback is that they can see I’m always learning, and very passionate and enthusiastic.

There is an adage in hiring that goes—hire for attitude and train for skill. It sounds like you already have a great attitude so that is a wonderful start. If you’re looking to practice and demonstrate specific skills, the good news is that most product management skill sets can be learned and are transferable from other experiences. As mentioned in an earlier question, work with a Product Manager and see how you can help him or her on their product. If you are falling short on market research, create a research project for yourself and build up your market knowledge. If you are having trouble with interviewing skills, find a product, create an interview guide, and head to the streets.

One more piece of advice: it is always easier to enter the Product Management profession at a company where you are already respected for the work you’re doing. Talk with your manager, with other product managers as mentioned above, and build a plan for how you can make that transition, perhaps even to an associate PM role to start. Once you have a year or two of experience as a product manager, it becomes much easier to move to another company and land the Product Manager job there.

Can you repeat the name of the organization that provides the best Agile PM/PO certification?

280 Group is the only company that provides Agile PM/PO certification through AIPMM. There are other certifications you can achieve such as the Certified Scrum Product Owner through the Scrum Alliance.

Is the Radical Candor (Kim Scott) method effective for feedback and learning?

Radical Candor refers to an approach for feedback of Challenging Directly while Caring Personally. There are a lot of different frameworks for feedback and learning and Radical Candor definitely works for some people. On the surface, Radical Candor sounds great! Transparent Honesty coupled with Emotional Intelligence—who wouldn’t want that? Done well, this may be a great tool and approach. But like all things, Radical Candor may not be executed well and can be seen as unhelpful and too aggressive to some. And even if it is useful, not everyone on your team may commit to it. My recommendation is to find what works for your team specifically. At 280 Group, we utilize a team alliance and have all new team members commit to or offer up additions to their team alliance. That way, you get buy-in from everyone on your team on how you work together. This enables everyone on the team to agree and to point out when someone is behaving out of bounds of your alliance.

How do you address issues on PMs complaining about lack of time to do things, like preparing for Lunch and Learns or writing internal white papers?

Time management is an absolutely critical skill for any professional. But the truth is—there are only so many hours in the day and so much you can pile on your plate. There are definitely some strategies we can recommend to help prevent you from wasting time, such as defensive calendaring and being more intentional about e-mail. However, when it gets down to it, the most effective product managers find time to do these critical professional development activities by scaling their efforts and becoming more efficient. They enable others to help themselves, they use templates instead of reengineering tools, and they create great habits. Unfortunately, no one will help you find time to prepare for a Lunch and Learn. You have to vote with your time and prioritize this if you want to get ahead in your career.

What is the most important product management skill(s) for a product manager at an early stage tech startup?

Learn how to learn quickly about your customers—and fail fast. As a Product Manager, this means building a hypothesis of what you think matters most to your customers and finding ways to test and evolve this hypothesis as you learn more. Don’t be afraid to call out the things that don’t really matter, so that you can focus on the one or two things that matter most. You’re likely developing an MVP, and can really only deliver one or two key values to your customers. Learn what those key values are through customer, competitive, and market research—put everything else aside, and really deliver great value there.

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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