A great product manager knows that a car could meet a need that a customer expressed as a 'faster horse'.
The product manager role has existed in the software industry for decades. But with the surge of digital, every company must deliver competitive, customer obsessed, digital experiences for their customers.
By hiring a product manager, digital business leaders are tasking someone to continually obsess about meeting the needs of their customers, converting customer and market insight into market-leading products.
We often get asked to help develop job descriptions for product managers. But there are equally important questions that we don’t get asked:
How do product managers fit into our greater digital organisation?
What determines success for a product manager?
How do we onboard product managers correctly?
To answer these questions, we came up with eight healthy habits of successful product managers, which follow a two-phase process for onboarding and empowering successful product managers:
Product managers are rarely line managers. They must be influencers.
Four healthy habits for the first 100 days: Nail the internal stuff
The first 100 days of any job look different than one or two years in the role. To set new product managers up for success and retain top talent, we've identified four healthy habits that digital business leaders should identify and coach for:
Healthy habit No. 1: They're a natural influencer. When we asked what to look for in a product manager, one soft skill kept coming up: "a natural influencer". Product managers are rarely line managers. They must be influencers. They need to know what skills and resources they need to deliver a great product and then align those skills and resources around the common goal of delivering a product that will delight customers.
Healthy habit No. 2: They speak and translate business, development, and customer. Success hinges on gaining respect and knowing the art of the possible. If a product manager is only nontechnical, they'll have a hard time gaining respect from developers because they lack insight into what it takes to get the job done.
Healthy habit No. 3: They have a "buck stops here" mentality. A product manager does not run the company, but they are responsible for the success or failure of their product. They'll direct the future of the product through strategizing and executing on a road map, and oftentimes, own the P&L.
Healthy habit No. 4: They could write you out a 101 on the company. A new product manager must come to grips with the firm's culture, processes, and business model. A good rule of thumb is that it takes three to six months to understand the cultural realities of an organisation.
Great product managers are outside-in thinkers who are not only aware of market dynamics and technology trends but also able to anticipate customer needs and areas of disruption
Product manager pro tips: Raise your game with an outside-in vision
After the first 100 days on the job, a great product manager makes the transition from executing on a road map to innovating through new product features and values. They balance strategy and execution, leading customers rather than just delivering to customers. Here are the healthy habits that digital business leaders should encourage as a product manager becomes more tenured in their job.
Healthy habit No. 5: They anticipate the needs of the customer. Product managers who become the voice of their customer's desired outcome elevate their company's customer experience. They go beyond requirements and get to what customers need. A great product manager knows that a car could meet a need that a customer expressed as a "faster horse".
Healthy habit No. 6: They understand economics. A great product manager understands the cost to achieve business value. They treat internal sponsors as venture capitalists, and they hold themselves accountable for delivering a return on investment, understanding how to pitch the product vision internally and externally.
Healthy habit No. 7: They balance "gut feel" with real data. Successful product managers are credible because they ground their decisions in both quantitative and qualitative data. They need good instincts to drive the visionary side, but they temper them with grounded research and data.
Healthy habit No. 8: They're a market scanner. A company suffers when everyone is consistently looking inward. Great product managers are outside-in thinkers who are not only aware of market dynamics and technology trends but also able to anticipate customer needs and areas of disruption. Many product managers note that this — finding the time to get away from their everyday duties — is the hardest part of their job to balance.
Hiring and embedding product managers is just the start of becoming a customer-led organisation. The machine must be continually fed, and it takes a collaborative environment between key roles in the product management ecosystem.
Danielle Jessee is a researcher and Jacob Morgan is a senior analyst at Forrester.
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