Product Management 101 tells you it is all about managing the market oriented product life cycle. (A typical Product Management 101 slide deck can be found here )
Combine this framework with the Product Life Cycle and you can see why it is so hard to hire for a Product Management position, and why so many individuals fail in their aspirations to become a successful Product Manager.
The expectations for a Product Manager’s job functions must be clearly understood in hiring from both sides. I have seen very capable people fail to succeed simply because those who were hiring had no clear expectations for the position, and expected the Product Manager to work miracles. I have also come across Product Managers who were overwhelmed by having to write FDD (Functional Design Document) for a number of products in the portfolio and had no room for thinking about a product in a holistic manner.
Introductory & Growth phases
In a startup, initially the Product Manager role is usually played by the founding team. A founding team with a member who is well versed in Product Management would do much better than one without.
In an established company which is trying to add more products to the portfolio, Product Managers come into challenges that are quite different. Product Management: Startup founder vs. Product Manager , a Medium article by Benjamin Wirtz has some good points to say on this topic.
In most cases, the growth phase follows the introductory phase quite quickly unless the product introduction tanks. The Product Manager you hire better be capable of introducing the product as well as mapping the growth and following through with the growth.
If you are hiring a Product Manager for these phases, what qualities would you look for in a candidate? Take a look at Ken Norton’s How to Hire a Product Manager and the 10 year anniversary update Happy 10th Birthday to HTHAPM.
In hiring a Product Manager for these phases, you would look for someone with the following capabilities in priority order (not an exhaustive list)
- Empathetic (be the voice of the user), Smart, creative, passionate, entrepreneurial with technical savvy
- Able to understand the market, and create demand
- Know the cost and revenue trade-offs and be able to create a pricing strategy
- Previous experience taking a product from start to maturity
- Able to lead and influence without having managerial authority
Maturity and Stabilization phase
When a product has matured and has a sizable customer base, the challenges for a Product Manager become those of maintaining the stability, keeping the customers happy, warding off competitors and preparing for obsolescence. Staying close to the customer base to keep them happy is extremely important if you want to avoid churn.
A Product Manager hired into this phase must have excellent communication skills and leverage the sales team to stay close to the installed base.
Some interesting views on this can be seen in How do you stay close to your customers as a Product Manager when your company and your team scales?
A Product Manager hire for this phase must have
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to contain features (just because one customer wants something cool, it can’t make it to the product map) and get the buy-in from customers
- Ability to manage the product development process
Managing obsolescence is not easy. When companies have declining revenues, there is not much resource to do anything that is satisfying. If there is sufficient revenue stream you can create or repurpose the legacy product, upgrade the technology, pay the technical debt, relaunch the product, migrate the customers and prolong the revenue generation.
While the legacy product could be sustained with a good customer support team, a Product Manager for this stage would be someone who
- Understands the product in and out in order to create the cut-over product, know what features to leave behind and what to carry forward with the new product
- Is technically savvy to be able to understand all the cost and revenue parameters
- Can help the management team make the decision on whether to invest in migrations or kill the product , with consequences for each decision
- Ability to sell any price changes to the customer base
There is no “one size” Product Manager. Knowing where you are in the product cycle can help you make some trade-offs. It is also important to set expectations with the candidates you are talking to. The last thing you want is to hire someone who might think they will be launching a brand new product when in reality your product is quite mature and requires a different treatment. So tell them where you are in the life cycle of the product.