Product Management Career Sins – You Asked, We Answered

This month, we presented a co-hosted webinar with AIPMM – How to Accelerate Your PM Career Part 2: Five Deadly Product Management Career Sins. You can view the 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!

Q&A

Does 280 Group have any resources for small companies (e.g. being the first PM, growing your PM organization, etc.)? It’s difficult to be strategic in small companies where you’re the only PM. [Management] has finally recognized [the value of the PM role] and has agreed to expand. Now I’m wondering what my first hire should be. I was thinking Product Manager but sounds like I shouldn’t if what I need is someone to be tactical?

Yes, in small companies it is particularly hard for a Product Manager to find time to be strategic. I would still hire another Product Manager though, and consider a few different ways to split the work load. You could go for a strategic vs. tactical split, but at this scale you might consider dividing the work across product lines, so that each of you is handling a mix of both, but with a narrower product scope. You may have to keep the overall portfolio perspective as well, but when I’ve run PM at smaller companies, I’ve tried to give each PM “their area” to own holistically. As you scale further, you can add in Product Owners to handle the development-side responsibilities, if you’re using Agile methodology.

How do you say “no” to a CXO level executive when there are high stakes involved from business/revenue standpoint and a refusal may become a career limiting move?

Very carefully 😊. But seriously, this is an issue that comes up all of the time. If you’re saying No because you think the request is strategically unsound, then I would use a series of questions to not say no, but to get the executive to think about the implications of the request. For example:

  • If we do this, what will happen to our existing priorities? What should we not do if we make this choice?
  • What’s the implications of this choice to our overall strategy? Is it helping us achieve the strategy, or not?

You want to try and lead the executive to come to the same conclusion you would, but have them do the thinking themselves, so they will be more comfortable with the solution.

If the request is not a bad idea strategically, you should probably say “Yes”, but calmly explain that it will mean that your other priorities will be impacted. Ask the executive to back you up as you explain to the other people that will be affected by this decision that they won’t be getting the help from you or the deliverable when they originally expected it.

Can you please share an example or anecdote on what exactly PM is missing if the data about customer is obtained through sales proxy without direct contact with prospective customers?

Getting information from your Sales (or Support) team is always helpful. The problem is, it’s a one-way conversation. You’re unable to interact with the customer, probe for deeper understanding, or ask different questions to get a broader understanding of your customer’s needs. For example, if Sales comes to you and says, “My customer says they need more reports than our current product offers”, how will you turn this into an actionable request? What kind of reports do they need? Should they be standard reports, or customizable? Which reports are lacking? How many more do they need? 1? Or 30?

So, whenever you receive Sales feedback, work with them to show how you could benefit by having a direct conversation with the customer to gain a real understanding of what the customer really needs.

Question re: Strategic vs Tactical. What about hiring Product Owners – who do you think they should report to?

There’s not one “right way” to organize Product Managers and Product Owners. The most typical structure is that Product Owners are part of the Development/Engineering team. This makes sense, since Product Owners are a part of the Agile scrum team, and should sit and work with the development team altogether. That said, this structure often leads to a disconnect between the Product Manager and the Product Owner, so make sure they work collaboratively, and communicate frequently. I’ve also seen Product Owners report into Product Management, which does allow for stronger collaboration with their Product Managers, but can lead to less contact with the Development team. In this circumstance, I’ve recommended that the Product Owner sit with the Development team, even though they report to the Product Management team, to help achieve balance in these crucial relationships.

How does this work when the organization combines the roles of Product Owners (tactical) and Product Manager (strategic)?

In the webinar, we discussed asking a Product Owner to help the Product Manager with some of the more tactical, development-focused tasks so that the Product Manager can spend more time on strategic and market research work. If the Product Manager is also the Product Owner, this obviously won’t work 😊. In that circumstance, see if there are other teams that can help you with Marketing tasks, or Sales enablement tasks to help ease the burden.

For a more detailed discussion of whether to combine or split the Product Manager and Product Owner roles, check out my recently updated blog on this very topic: Product Owner vs. Product Manager Exploration.

In which context do you see ‘training’? More academical (university courses) or more professional (in-company, mentored by senior person)?

Both academic-based training or professional training can help a Product Manager improve her/his skills but picking the right one depends on what you are looking for. If you want to take a deeper dive into the topics, learn the origins of the techniques, but take more time doing it, then the academic approach may be the right way to go. If you want to accelerate your learning time with a more practical, hands-on approach that will get you using the tools faster, but with less depth of learning, then the professional training approach may be the right way to go.

For professional training, you can check out 280 Group’s training offerings here.

As I’m building my career plan, I’m [looking to learn] how to set reasonable goals and an action plan, otherwise the goals may be too aggressive… or not aggressive enough. Do you have any advice here?

We recommend that you use our Career Planning template to get started. It will help you identify what areas you want to work on. If you’re finding that there are particular skill areas that you want to work on, take our Product Management Skills Assessment to measure your current skills, and then compare the results to our Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report. Both are free to use. By comparing your skills to the benchmark, you’ll have a sense of how much effort it’s going to take to improve your skills against an industry standard. Next, discuss what you’re trying to accomplish with a more experienced Product Manager or your mentor, and they can give you guidance on what’s reasonable to accomplish in the time frame you’re looking for.

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™.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *