How do you evaluate how someone will contribute to a product team?
How do you develop your own skills to ensure that you are contributing the most to your product team?
Whether you are looking to hire someone or you are looking to improve your own skills, I see people make the same mistakes over and over again.
On the hiring side, you look for everything. You want a product manager who can get inside the head of the customer, crunch the data, support a sales team, design a beautiful UI, and write code as needed.
And for those working of your own skills, you dabble in everything. You read about A/B tests one day and customer development the next. You take a Ruby class one week and then a pricing workshop the following weekend.
It is true that product managers need to be able to do a wide variety of things, but this is no way to hire and it is certainly no way to get good at something. If you stick to this approach all you’ll do is hire or become a mediocre product manager.
Nobody wants that.
Instead, use a three-tiered approach:
- Focus on the Fundamentals
- Identify Areas of Depth
- Cultivate the Right Mindsets
1. Focus on the Fundamentals
Every profession has fundamentals from which they draw. By fundamentals, I don’t mean tools or activities that support the job. Instead, fundamentals lay the foundation for adopting those tools or getting good at those activities. They are the prerequisites.
I’ve identified the following fundamentals for building great products.
- active listening
- intellectual honesty
- statistical competence
- root-cause analysis
- visual communication
- abductive reasoning.
These are the attributes that will help you quickly adopt new product methods.
Customer development didn’t exist 10 years ago. But for product managers who developed empathy, active listening, and curiosity, customer development was easy to adopt.
Similarly, in the past five years our tools for running A/B tests have gotten significantly better. This is becoming a regular part of product process. The product managers who focused on developing their intellectual honesty, statistical competence, and root-casue analysis had an easier time integrating A/B testing into their process.
Visual communication and abductive reasoning are abilities that are fundamental to the creation process. Product managers who invest in these will be far better equipped to create innovative products rather than me-too products.
All product managers should develop each of these attributes. – Tweet This
2. Identify Areas of Depth
Nobody can be great at all aspects of building products.
There are too many areas: customer development, A/B testing, identifying your MVP, pricing, messaging, packaging, email marketing, engineering workflow, backlog management, usability testing, survey design, idea management, copywriting, interaction design, data analysis, and so on.
Stop trying to get good at all of these things. All you will do is end up being mediocre at most.
Pick the one or two areas that you want to be great at and focus your time and attention on just those things. – Tweet This
For hiring managers, pick the one or two areas that your team desperately needs and recruit for that.
Yes, you need to do all of these things. But where are your biggest points of leverage?
As a product manager, what can you be the best at?
As a hiring manager, what would help your team the most?
The key is to develop real expertise in your areas of depth.
For an individual, this will make you stand out and a great fit for the companies that need that depth.
For companies, it will help you develop an unfair advantage in an area that is critical to your business.
3. Cultivate the Right Mindsets
At both the individual and team levels, it’s not just about abilities. You also have to cultivate the right mindsets.
The Hasso Plattner Institue of Design at Stanford (also known as the d.school) focuses on teaching students four mindsets that are particularly relevant to building products. They include:
Human-centered: This involves putting the people who use your product at the center of your universe. It’s easy to say you do this, it’s much harder to do it.
Experimental: This entails not just being willing to experiment but understanding the need to experiment. It involves starting from the assumption that you are probably wrong and doing the work required to refute that.
Collaborative: Many product teams operate as if their job is to have all the answers. The best product teams and product managers assume that everyone has something to contribute and foster a truly collaborative environment.
Metacognitive: Metacognition is a big word that means thinking about your thinking. A metacognitive mindset involves being aware of how you are working. The best product managers and teams monitor and adjust as they work.
In order to truly adopt these mindsets, they need to exist within each individual, collectively across the whole team, and within the organization.
It’s hard, for example, for an individual to be human-centered, when the team goal incentivizes behavior that is not in the best interest of the user. It’s hard for a team to have an experimental mindset if the organization does not act according to the test results. And so on.
In the coming weeks, we’ll explore each of these areas in depth. Don’t miss out. Subscribe to the Product Talk mailing list.