Five Strategies to Gain Massive Success in Product Management

Doug, the Product Manager with a plan

To start with, I’m going to tell you about a man named Doug. He was a Product Manager responsible for a fairly important product. He created a very specific and aggressive plan to move up in his company. Doug’s goal was to ultimately become a CEO—which he later did. He applied the five strategies below. Within four years, he was VP of Marketing at that company.

That left the rest of the Product Managers he had worked with scratching their heads, wondering how he had moved up so rapidly while the rest of them were still individual Product Managers. Maybe some of them moved up one level. But it turns out, he rose so quickly because he had a plan and they didn’t.

Now let’s learn about the key strategies that made Doug successful.

Strategy #1 Evangelize Your Role

We’ve spoken about gaining role clarity in previous blog posts and webinars. Role clarity is an important first step in your career acceleration because it explains to your team what you are responsible and not responsible for. But once you achieve clarity on your role, the next step is to evangelize it. Create a habit around sharing good news. Send a few bullet points out to your team on Friday afternoons highlighting this week’s progress. Regularly schedule meetings with your manager to update her on completed tasks and any roadblocks. The important takeaway here is—be proactive and celebrate yourself and your team. The more top of mind you are to your manager or higher up, the more likely your name will come up when there is space for a promotion. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else will.

Strategy #2: Be More Efficient

The habits that got you your current career success will not get you to your next success. If you track a leader across their career, you should notice how many of their habits will change. They will create or leverage templates and processes that make their work more efficient and repeatable. And they’ll create tools to help standardize meetings and create processes that help them take control of their calendar. They share their knowledge broadly rather than hoarding it, so that others can be more successful and independent. They are particularly defensive of their time and deflect or delegate lower value tasks.

Being more efficient not only helps you get more done, it also gets you noticed. The old adage, “if you want something done, ask a busy person” rings true because these busy people are efficient in their work. Being the “go to person” will get you more attention, recognition, and eventually career advancement.

Strategy # 3: Invest in Your EQ

Most product managers learn their hard skills through training programs or on the job. But unlike other careers, the product manager is an individual contributor role that is responsible for the success of a team effort. Focusing only on hard skills such as conducting and analyzing customer interviews is necessary, but not sufficient. At 280 Group, we developed an entire course on People Skills for Product Managers and Product Marketers which we conduct for private clients. This is how important these soft skills are. And at the core of executing these skills is EQ: emotional intelligence.

EQ is about more than just showing and empathizing with emotions. Product Leaders with a high EQ seek to deeply understand people on their team: their views and perspectives, motivations, and what is “at stake.” This talent helps product managers navigate difficult situations and influence outcomes. In my experience, the best negotiations do not feel like two people sitting across from each other at a table, trying to give and take. Instead, they are collaborative—two people sitting on the same side of the table working on solutions for the problems in front of them.

Expressing a high EQ can also take the form of empowering others. Few product managers have direct reports—which means they don’t have the traditional tools of rewarding others with compensation, bonuses, or reviews. But there are other ways to leverage leadership skills to empower others. The first is: give out all the credit! If you evangelize your role correctly, there can be no doubt of how important you are to the team. But make sure the team knows they are important to you, by giving ample credit or praise where it is deserved. In an odd way, you actually gain authority this way because it implies that you are a leader.

Strategy # 4: Become an Industry Expert

An expert is someone who knows something about everything and everything about something. This is the concept of being “T-Shaped”: having deep expertise in one area and a broad knowledge of general supporting skills. You may already know your “T” shape—especially if there is one area or skill for which other people at your company typically come to you with their questions: need help on competitive research? Go talk to Nate.

Although having a baseline knowledge of everything is important to a product manager, having deep expertise is what sets you apart: it is your key differentiator. For many product managers, the key to their career success is whether they are industry experts. Achieving product success requires that product managers be well-versed on the nuances of their industry. By showing a deep expertise here, your team will turn to you for questions and trust your answers. You will also have an easier time influencing key decisions in the direction of what’s best for your customer.

Strategy # 5: Link Product Strategy to Corporate Strategy

What is a product manager without a product? After investing so much time and energy into becoming an expert on your product, your customers, your market, your industry… it is easy to forget that there is a big difference between a product manager and a product. Many product managers forget their ultimate role is to serve the overall business, and that their product is just one element of that business. Therefore, the biggest challenge to any product manager is not to fall in love. As the product manager, your job is to be the truth teller. Acknowledge when a product supports a corporate goal and when it does not. Stepping up to be a product leader requires putting the company, and not your product, first.

By establishing a clear and objective link between your product and company strategy and goals, you are able to achieve more, faster. After all—with this growth mentality, you are working on behalf of everyone in the organization—not just your product. Understanding how the product furthers company strategy will help your team to prioritize accordingly. You will be in a better position to gain approval and support from above and below. And you will more effectively create team alignment.

Take The Next Step

I encourage you to use the 280 Group Product Management Career Planning Template (given to each webinar attendee) and the knowledge you have gained from this article sooner than later. You owe it to yourself to have a fantastic career and achieve the goals you aspire to. Learn how to put these strategies into practice in our upcoming webinar – How to Accelerate Your PM Career, Part 3: Five Critical Strategies to Succeed in Your PM Career.

NOTE: This webinar has passed. You can view the slide deck below.

This blog post was written by Rina Vernovskaya and Roger Snyder.

About the Author

Rina Vernovskaya
CEO of 280 Group

Rina is the CEO of 280 Group. She began her career at McKinsey & Company as an analyst on the credit portfolio team, offering trading recommendations to hedge against credit and interest rate exposure. She then joined MetLife’s Global Leadership Development Program, focusing on employee recognition programs and removing roadblocks to support intrapreneurship in the Latin America Office of Innovation. Rina joined 280 Group with a focus on bringing transformative change to organizations by arming product people with the right tools and skills to do great product management. Her job running the company at 280 Group is made easy with an amazing team aligned on continuous learning and development and determined to go above and beyond to always delight their clients.

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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