Monday, February 4, 2013

The Good Product Manager vs. The Bad Product Manager

Today I came across the Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager courtesy lecture at the Stanford university by Ben Horowitz, I believe this post is a classic for product management.

I have summarized Ben's points as follows:


 Bad Product Manager

  • Always makes lots of excuses.
  • A bad product manager is not the product's CEO.
  • Lacks in communication skills. Bad product managers don't communicate well with the engineering team and tend to blame them when things go wrong due to bad communication.
  • Puts out fires all day and complains that is swamped by questions and interruptions.
  • When things go wrong they quickly point out that they predicted they would fail and the "powers of be" didn't do anything about it.
  • Bad product managers focus the team on the feature that the competition is building.
  • Bad product managers get confused on how to position their products on the market and how to leverage it.
  • Bad product managers don't know how to work with the press, they don't manage the press.
  • Bad product managers always want to be told what to do.
  • Bad product managers don't produce status reports on time and are not disciplined.
  • Bad product managers don't take responsibility and tend to blame others.

Good Product Manager

  • Knows the product, the market and the competition really well.
  • Is the CEO of the product.
  • Takes responsibility for all aspects off the product.
  • Manages himself based on the product's performance on the market.
  • Takes responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan.
  • Good product managers manage the product team and not every detail of every aspect of everyone's work. He/she knows how to delegate and manage the team effectively.
  • Good product managers are focused on strategic decisions, ensuring that the product is flexible and adaptable to a changing business environment.
  • Good product managers create lots of collateral to support the day-to-day operations of the team. He/she is not swamped by questions about the product and ensure that they are not the only ones that can answer questions about the product.
  • Following from the previous point, good product managers equip their team to handle the day to day activities allowing them to focus on strategic topics such as market positioning, timing, etc...
  • Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers,
  • Good product managers focus on delivering value to the market place and not on just matching the competition.
  • Good product managers think about the story they want published on the press and they manage the press, not the other way around.
  • Good product managers are disciplined and produce status reports on time.
The courtesy lecture I read today can be found here.

One skill that is vital for good product management is the ability to build good professional relationships. In this article I explain the importance of building professional relationships in the context of IT Management. The same principles apply to product management, in fact, these principles apply to any profession these days.

Whilst the following articles are not written in the context of product management, the principles apply. As a matter of fact, I believe that many product managers lack good planning and management skills which hinder their ability to really excel in their product management career.
 In essence a good product manager is the CEO of the product, knows how to manage the team, the press and ensures to deliver value to the market place.

What are your experiences in product management, what makes a good product manager in your view?


Brett Steingo said...

Interesting but very debatable. I think it might be interesting to have a look at an alternative perspective put forward by Gabriel Steinhardt in "The Product Manager's Toolkit". I accept that their might be some conflict between the training offered by Blackblot and AIPMM but I think the key point here is important: A product manager (or anyone) cannot (at least should not) be held responsible for that which he/she does not have full authority over.
HENCE the Product Manager IS NOT and SHOULD NOT BE the Product CEO.
Product Managers should be responsible for what they do have control over - the product competitiveness based on identifying and incorporating the correct features and benefits. The Product Marker / Marketing Manager needs to be measured on creating awareness, differentiated positioning and demand.
Only the LoB Exec can take overall responsibility for the profitability of the product. If anyone is a 'Product CEO'it is some type of Program Manager who controls resources and budget and, even then, they are the CEO for the delivery process only, not the entire PLM. Product Managers are not responsible for the correct fulfillment (incl installation), billing and assurance (support etc) of the product i.e. they are not in charge of operations!

Michael Compeau said...

Some good points in contrast, Brett. But I think the thrust of Alex's article and the points made from the original article was not as a disciplined "training of Product Managers" (or some sort of summary of the Product Management Body of Knowledge - PMBOK, if you will), but to make the point that attitude, approach, and emphasis of energy for the PM makes a big difference in operational success for a Product Manager as an incumbant--if not also for his/her product in the marketplace, which can of course fall down due to innumerable other factors outside the PM's control.
The points are well taken-- a Product Manager who "hides" behind infrastructure weaknesses and "the system" and seeks to "duck and dodge" is not acting in the best interests of the product, and is ultimately doomed to have a poor performing product as those weaknesses impact the marketplace. A PM who is in a full "ownership" state of mind regarding the product/s, who is proactive, energetic, and engaging with others in a cooperative manner, will always do better--and the Product will do better--even with a product that may have weaknesses outside of the PM's control.

Kenny said...

Understanding the bad but focusing on the Good side, love the references to flexible, adaptable and focusing on revenue and customers. Passionate, innovative, true belief in the project, intuitive and open to a divergent thinking process might good considerations; as opposed to structured to the point of restrictive. In recently reading Steve Jobs Biography, I was struck by a reference made to one of the reasons for Apples decline after Jobs left (or was booted out) was Apples focus on making money not making great product. Although his somewhat difficult personality comes through, there are so many golden nuggets of information within the book; it would be appreciated by many who focus on product development and product management. Thanks for sharing the information Alex..

Phil Harriau said...

In my experience a great product manager IS THE CEO of their product and knows how to make their organization work to their advantage. This means cultivating relationships, and dare I say it, being a politician to win others to your own cause. It can also mean circumventing people who obstruct you, when necessary. You can have all the skills in the world, but it is often the people skills that make the most difference between good and bad PM's.

Mohamad Ferdi Syafriandy said...

I agree when it comes to Product performance, means that you are the CEO of the Products, means that you will take responsible on high and low performance of the products, and yes, like it or not, i think its PMs responsibility.

Having a good internal system and infrastructure is a BONUS to PMs and overall product performance. But, having know the market competition and know how to drive Products and resources to win the competition is a MUST.

Kylie Wilson said...

Organizations need to be assured the individuals that manage their projects can integrate methods to achieve sustainability goals and still achieve project specific objectives. Project Managers need credentials that validate their proficiency with these specialized qualities. PMP Certified and scrum certified project managers can learn, apply, and validate mastery of sustainability based project methods to meet these demands.

Sean Adams said...

I think one thing that has helped our organization and me personally is a dual role approach to Product Management as outlined in Dean Leffingwell's "Agile Software Requirements" book. That is one Product Manager is Market facing, handles the positioning, branding, ROI, customer engagement, etc. While the other Product Manager (Product Owner) is focused on delivery and works day in and day out in a more technical capacity to provide business guidance to the everyday decision and the deluge of input from the delivery teams. Splitting the roles let's everyone focus on what they are good at and what they love.

Kevin Sheldrake said...
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