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Product managers personality and career path


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In this document I am researching product managers persona from organizational , personality and career path perspectives. I think these viewpoints are essentials to understand in order to recruit new product managers effectively. I was chairing a session on this topic in ProductCamp Helsinki event 18.4.2015.

Published in: Recruiting & HR
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Product managers personality and career path

  1. 1. Product Managers Personality Tatu Lund, Productcamp Espoo 18.4.2015 What traits make good product managers, how product managers become product managers and how to hire product managers.
  2. 2. Product managers viewed from three perspectives In this document we research product managers from three different perspectives to form a rich picture what kind of people they are and how we can use that information in hiring new product managers effectively. The document follows these three perspectives in the following order.  The organizational perspective  The personality profile perspective  The career perspective
  3. 3. I: Product managers as company integrators Company and organization from product managers perspective or otherway round.
  4. 4. What is the real organization? HR’s view How we really work
  5. 5. Product manager inside the organization Board Financing Sales After sales Human resources Production / manufacturing Reseach & Development Marketing Product manager
  6. 6. Product managers as company integrators Product managers role and communication Companies and organizations becomes more dis-integrated as they grow. Why I made this conclusion? I have worked in product management positions most of my professional career. Product manager is characterized as being the one who takes care of product planning and product marketing. Therefore he sits in the middle of everything. In order to excel in performance, product manager needs to be well wired for many directions. R&D and sales & marketing departments are obvious, since depending on company culture, he typically sits in either of them. Product manager also drafts the business case, needs to know about technologies that are available, resources in house etc., which is impossible to do without good wiring with Procurement, HR and CFO office. That is why product managers are often said to be mini CEO's. Good product manager working in entreprenial way is a person in a company who really feels the pulse. He becomes the integration point of the company, where the siloes meet. Suddenly product manager will notice that he is jumping around organization in countless meetings gathering and sharing information (and functioning as generic messenger boy). This might sound fabulous, but it isn't, why? It is symptom of bad communication culture in the organizations, lack of other interaction points in the company. Product managers cannot fix dis- integrated organizations alone. In small company it may be okey, but not in larger ones. In order to stay integrated while growing, companies need to emphasize openess in communication. All data should be shared to everybody and kept organized in company intranet and other tools. Why?
  7. 7. Product managers as company integrators If you are oblidged to disclose everything you must recruit only people who you can trust. As a worker you will feel oblidged to deliver premium quality, since it is open to criticism (for example your presentation to boardmeeting). Once you trust your colleagues and see them delivering their best, it creates athmosphere of continuous improvement. And as a nice bonus product managers have more time to focus on value creating products. Product managers organizational drift For each position in the organization there is always the predefined planned role and then role what you actually do. We can plan the organization assumming certain project leadership paradigms like scrum, PMI, PRINCE2 which define different types of job roles for participants. We may have other governing paradigms for management, matrix, pyramid, etc. which define other roles and finally charts the reporting rules in the organization. We augment the missing gaps by using theoretical ideas what product manager, account manager, project leader, business controller, HR manager, etc. should do. However according to post modern organization theory there is always real state of the organization which only partially reflects the planned one. Each organization should have a tendency to use maximally the competencies contained in them. Besides our core copetence we have always some side comptencies and different personal qualities. Especially in smaller organizations (small companies or small semi independent teams in a corporation) there tends to be great flexibility and drift away from predefined work roles. For example it is quite natural for product managers to do technical sales work, support procurement etc.
  8. 8. Product managers as company integrators There are pros and cons in this. It is good for organizational efficiency to exploit all competences. But if this leads off track individual core competence development, it may be a bad thing. Thus it is important for the individual to recognize what your core comptence is, and what you should learn to master. That helps to recognize what tasks of your job are extra curriculum activities. Go ahead do them if you have energy, motivation, capacity and time, but don't drift away.
  9. 9. Product managers and intrapreneurship Or what is the difference between the product clerk and product manager? How I should validate the product? What is the best tool to handle customer requirements, product requirements, product data etc.? These are questions commonly asked in product managerial discussions. What is actually a product manager? Is he/she a clerk to administer product related data (PDM systems and alike) and PMR (product marketing requirements) documents etc. in a big corporation. If so, is the best measure for your work performane to assess how tidy and orderly fashion your product data is being handled. My answer is no. If you feel like working as a product related data clerk, you are doing your product manager job only partially, something essential is missing. Intrapreneur is a word which refers to any person working in a company with entreprenial attitude. Sometimes it is matter of personality. Some of us are pro active, want to question things, develop things and taken no things for granted. You can find some intrapreneurs in every company. According to post modern organization theory intraprenur like people are the building blocks of well functioning organization. They internalize company vision and strategy; organize bottom up accordingly; they provide leadership examples by their actions. Many of them do not actively think they are intrapreneur or leaders. Nature of the job description of a product manager mandates that they need to be intrapreneurs. For many other jobs it is personal choice. Product clerk would be just satisfied to copy customer requirements to product requirements, maintain the details in the tidy order. Product validation would be straightforward if data is faithfully preserved in the process, right?
  10. 10. Product managers and intrapreneurship No, product managers drill deeper. They seek weak signals in customer requirments and market data, which may indicate what the real problem is. They ask the account managers to let them visit the customers and observe their operations. They look every product they see with curiousity and assess them with product managers professionalism (to learn from them or if they could do better). They think like scientist after they have gathered all the data and form a hypothesis (initial set of product requirements), makes slideware and first sell the product internally, then sell it externally, and keeps iterating, pivots, challenges, persuades, fights battles. As a process it is like running lean startup within a corporation. The difference is that it is not personal quest. Part of the product managers professionalism is to execute this in accordance of the company strategy and vision. This is a process of creative curiosity and hence value adding, it unfolds the product story.
  11. 11. Summary  Organizations planned and real structure are very different. Organizations are more dynamic we may think.  Product managers sit between many forces and hence act as integrators. Hence communication skills are very vital for product managers.  One individual may have many job roles, this is why it is difficult to find product managers who do only product management  Well functining organizations have tendency to fully exploit comptenences contained in them.  Organizational drift is very common and necessary for organization’s ability to adapt to the change.
  12. 12. Summary  Product manager needs to think like an entrepreneur in order to be flexible within organization and drive change.  When hiring product manager we are filling a lot in our organization, which is may differ from the organization lot where the product manager is coming from.
  13. 13. II: Product managers personlity type Small survey of product managers MBTI personality profiles
  14. 14. Product managers MBTI types ENTJ and INTJ were the most common personality characteristics in small survay I did in LinkedIn. 60% of the respondents had either of these. Note only 5-10% average population are I/ENTJ. 50% of the types not present at all. 5 % 0 % 0 % 0 % 21 % 0 % 0 % 11 % 5 % 0 % 0 % 0 % 37 % 11 % 5 % 5 % ISTJ ISTP ISFJ ISFP INTJ INTP INFJ INFP ESTJ ESTP ESFJ ESFP ENTJ ENTP ENFJ ENFP
  15. 15. Diging deeper in MBTI chatacters I/E is close to 50/50. N, T and J traits on the other hand very dominant. I E S N T F J P
  16. 16. Product managers personality types I have been tested for MBTI (Myers- Briggs Type Indicator), DISC and some other personality assesment tests many times as well as studied those to some extent. Hence I've been interested in the topic with some healthy scepticism. So I decided to run a little experiment. I am Product Manager and interested about what kind of people Product Managers are. I decided to gather MBTI and DISC data from Product Managers in LinkedIn forum. The work is still in progress, since I do not have much DISC data yet, but managed to get small MBTI sample. This is a report of the results of my small MBTI survey. The results were interesting and intuitive. About the theory Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, shortly known as MBTI is perhaps the most used personality profiling and psychometric method based on Carl Jung's theories. DISC (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) is an another popular Jungian psychometric technique. MBTI assess the personality type, whereas DISC emphasize more the behavioral personality. They both have become commercial standards in personel development and reqruitment. MBTI characterizes the personality by using four dimensions, each is denoted by pair of letters I/E = Intraversion/Extraversion, S/N = Sensing/iNtuition, T/F = Thinking/Feeling, J/P = Judging/Perception. The letters are thus pairs of opposites. The test result is hence usually denoted by four letter combination of these. Having said that, we must remember that actually the test gives percentage value which is somewhere between the extremes. It is actually quite typical that the result with mature person is somewhere close to middle slightly inclined to one of the opposites.
  17. 17. Product managers personality types So I gathered the data in Excel and started to crunch it. There are clearly two MBTI types peaking out INTJ and ENTJ as you see in the graph. These two types cover close to 60% of all sample. (Note: In average US population ENTJ + INTJ share varies between 5-10%) Another striking observation is that half of the types are not presnet at all. I anticipated a bit more diversity, since my own experience as Product Manager tells me, that it is quite a versatile job, and one could think that many types of persons could perfom well in it. Since my data set was small, I did analysis of each type preference pair individually; I/E, N/S, T/F, J/P. When I try to open each one from Product Manager's job perspective, it starts to make sense. Next I explain each of the four pairs one by one using reflections from my own product manager experience. I/E (Intraversion/Extraversion) This character is closest to 50/50 tie. Product Manager needs to have particularly strong communication skills. Extreme introverts and extroverts are not usually good at this. Both good listenning and presenting is needed. As extremes these seem to be incompatilbe. The tendency to be closer to middle in I/E axis is the propably good starting point. Some studies have shown that with age the extremes in introversion and extroversion tend to soften.
  18. 18. Product managers personality types S/N (Sensing/iNtuition) The data shows very strong preference, which means tendency to intuitive thinking and decision making. Product Managers are important decision makers. They need to be able to see big picture and make risk decision based on heterogenious data (facts, factoids and opinnions from different sources). N (Intuition = big picture over details) preference is also connected to futures thinking and will to explore possibilities. Eventually each new product is a hypothesis, which tries to test if the decisions made were correct, the customer says the final verdict. T/F (Thinking/Feeling) According to the MBTI framework T (Thinking) tendency is connected to objective thinking. I interpret this to customer centric tendency to objectivism. The product is not a personal agenda. Product Manager's function is to act for customers behalf inside the organization, therefore PM needs sense of objectivity and sort of empathy for the end user. Product Manager needs also critical thinking in order to challenge both the engineering and customer. J/P (Judging/Perceiving) From Product Manager perspective, each product is a customer promise that needs to be delivered. I think this explains why there tends to be J (Judging = well organized, planning, stick to the plan) preference amongst Product Managers. With J there lives a small Project Manager inside each PM, who wants to put customer promises and deliveries in the timeline, do good planning and internal checkoing, as well as the fights inside the organization in order to keep those promises.
  19. 19. Product managers personality types Summary & Notes According to this sample I/ENTJ type is the most common amongst Product Managers and there are some intuitive explanations why is so. It must be noted that naturally only small portion of I/ENTJ's end up be Product Managers and vica versa, some other personality types exists amongst Product Managers. In addition to personality type, generic interest and will to learn this profession means a lot. Perhaps this finding is indication that for I/ENTJ's it is slightly easier than average, and hence higher concentration. It would be also interesting topic to study I/ENTJ personality type's connection to intrapreneurship, which is benefial for Product Managers Aknowledgements: Thank you for everybody who supported this study by sending your personality profile to me.
  20. 20. Summary  Product managers seem to have strong concentration of I/ENTJ personality type, despite they are relatively small group in general population.  Since communication skills are vital for product managers being in middle of the I-E axis seem to be beneficial.  N: Product managers needs intuition to make decisions based on different types of data.  T: Product managers need to excercise objectivity to achieve customer perspective  J: Product managers are also disciplined project managers needing skills to organize and pursue goals.
  21. 21. How to read and analyze MBTI chatacters Sample of real MBTI profile. The personality trait pairs are biased slightly in one of the directions, but not in the extremes.
  22. 22. Are personality tests uselful at all? Recently I have been introduced to the world of personality tests. It started about two years ago when I left Nokia. I got extensive personality profile (OPQ32) as a farewell gift. As I have been seeking new career I have studied business and administration. Personality profiling has become more and more familiar with me. Within a year I have undergone MBTI and DISC testing. Since those were part of my studies, I have got some briefing on the theoretical background of those. I have read both praising and critical articles about the topic. Personality has been a scientific mystery long time, yet we all have some intuitive understanding about it. Early scholars from Hippocrate to Carl Jung have been studying it. Their efforts cannot be claimed scientific in modern days terms. Still even today many common place methodologies are based on Jung's theories (DISC and MBTI for example). By the way creators of MBTI test didn't have formal background in psychology. Are these tests reliable and useful in any means It seems that there are still many open questions to be scientifically studied. Is there permanent personality character in us that remains thru our lifes and is persistent both in our job and personal life? Intuitive answer is that it seems so. We all tend to say that some of our relatives or colleagues are like this and that. However it is very difficult to create scientfic method to prove that. Also some opposites seem to be true also. We all do have some distinct roles in our lifes, which affect our personality. Our behavior within the family, job, etc. tend to vary. We have also wide set of vocabulary to describe how we mature thru our lifespan. So it seems that it is intuitively clear that we have permanent, termporal and contextual personality character that are either in our biology (genetic) or learned.
  23. 23. Are personality tests uselful at all? What is particulary clear with tests like DISC and MBTI is that they are based on small set of questions and test subjects are forced to make yes/no type answers (or select between two words, which both may describe them a little bit). This has two consequences. The other is that their scientific power is decreasing by this kind of simplification. Also the tests are being executed in different ways, especially what comes to briefing of the test subjects. Do you answer the questions as an employee or in more general context. Are you thinking about your wife or boss when answer, are you being briefed to focus to questions in certain manner. The second conseuence is that being simple makes them good for making business. Complicated test would be too expensive to execute and would require testers to be well educated psychologists. Also the results would be complicated to understand. Beauty of DISC and MBTI seems to be in their simplicity. They are easy and affordable to execute, and produce results that are intuitive to understand. So are they useful? There seem to be some mathematical correlation between the results. The results of the three tests I have taken seem not to be awfully contradictory. DISC and MBTI are also known to give slightly different results when repeated. On the other hand we know, that if you indeed grow and mature your results at 20 years of age and 40 years of age should be different. Indeed there are some evidence that test results tend to converge towards the center when we grow old. However the tests are over simplified and correlations are too weak to be scientifically useful. That doesn't make them complete crap though. For those who are interested to entertain with idea of selfimprovement these tests are somewhat useful used as mirror of self awareness.
  24. 24. Are personality tests uselful at all? Let us assume that we indeed have both permanent and learned personality character. Said that, we should have plasticity to reshape us in some ways. These tests can help us to think about ourselves slightly more objective manner. Also we should read the results more carefully. I have noticed lot of of criticism stating that these tests are putting you in four letter corner, or over characterize, creating a stereotypic picture of you. I think this is again due the way these tests are being used. Apparently the trait which makes these tests useful for business goes sometimes too extreme. The tests are done without much supervision and the results are not being properly explained to subjects. Luckily my experience as subject has been as part of my studies, under well guided experts and included discussion about pros and cons. When properly excericed there is some limited value in personlity testing mainly in self development. It seems that they are a bit overhyped and there is place for cricism in order to make people more aware of their weaknesses how they are practically used and their limited scientific background. Back to the science. What is the future of personality testing? If there is any permanent personality character in us, that should be found in genes. And indeed there is already some first findings of genes that are linked for example to conservative thinking. I am quite confident that more findings will follow and in the future DISC and MBTI will be replaced by genetic profiling. But before that we who are interested in self- improvement, lifehacking etc. are resort to less perfect methods like DISC and MBTI.
  25. 25. Summary  Commercial psychometric testing is not absolute science.  Tools like MBTI and DISC are helpful at best in recruitment and hiring cannot be based solely on them.  We have both static and plastic personality traits.  Extremes tend to soften while we age.
  26. 26. III: Product managers growth paths How product managers career paths develop inside companies. How to understand their CV’s and understand the future potential.
  27. 27. Product managers growth paths Engineering path Marketing path Senior SW Designer SW Project Leader Product Manager Learns project leadership Learns marketing Senior Product Manager Goest to new industry Codelinespermonth Product Marketing Manager Product Manager Senior Product Manager Learns domain knowledge Goes to new industry Focusonmarcoms
  28. 28. Product managers paths I've worked in various kinds of organizations and observed how people become product managers. If I simplify a lot, I can say that there is two equally good tracks or paths which grow product managers. Engineering path First track I call engineering path. This is fairly common in SME and startups, since it follows their organic growth as organizations. It is very typical that a Company is founded on basis of technological innovation. The team needs to get organized and start to learn marketing and product management. Some of us are "naturally" more marketing savy and get interested in learning those skills. This interest provides natural learning path towards product manager role. The difficulty in small company is that everybody has multiple roles and the team dynamics matter a lot. There needs to be a very good understanding within the team what is the key focus of the each stake holder and which role each one should develop first. The emerging organization needs to develop various functions into excellence, including product management. In the beginning a startup is a group of generalists and once the startup phase is over, it is group of specialists. Hence some day, the product manager stops coding, perhaps he or she has even lost the drive for it. And that is ok. The engineering path can be also learning curve in a corporation. In corporation there are constantly personel changes, which provides possibilities for internal job role transfers. Many positions are tried to be filled by internal talent acquisition first. This is also what happened to me.
  29. 29. Product managers paths Product manager works both in the solution and problem space. The background in engineering, like computer science serves well the solution space. However operating in problem space requires marketing and business management skills. Marketing path That is why I call the second track marketing path. It is slightly more common in corporations than startups, but again can happen in both. Typically MBA and business school graduates have good skillset to start in junior marketing positions. These are more focused on marketing communications and advertisement etc. Some of the people with marketing background have natural interest towards technology than advertisement for example. This drives them to obtain necessary domain knowledge used in the products or services provided by the company. Since product managers are good communicators, they are good learners. That is why regradless of their background (engineering or marketing) they can learn other subjects fairly easily when motivated. As we see with both backgrounds substantial amount of in job learning, opportunism and curiosity is required. This related to product managers optimal personality.
  30. 30. Product managers paths Achieving seniority In both cases the seniority is achived by working on different types of products. The true test of seniority is to take the leap to other industry, perhaps adjancent one, and test how the learned product management methologies apply there. This leap also provides the opportunity to learn domain knowledge of other industries, widen the product management toolbox etc. Intangibles (services and software) are different from tangibles (consumer electronics and FMCG), consumer businesses have different aspects to business to business world. I've been lucky to have opportunity to work in all these worlds. Implications to hiring product managers So what are the learnings when you decide to recruit a product manager. Which track to prefer? My advice is that you should have both. If your first product manager was from eningeering path, take the second from marketing path. They learn a lot from each other. Assess that person is passionate to learn, curious, open minded and excellent in communication. Ask how the candidate has demonstrated these and entreprenial attitude during their career path. Make also sure that he or she has discipline to run small projects in orderly fashion. I strongly recommend to mix industries. This will provide influx of fresh ideas and increase seniority of the product managers. When interviewing a candidate value high challening attitude, courage to ask "why" questions? Product managers task is to push your organization into limit in providing quality in promised schedule. He or she cannot always be nice. Do not just assess superficial knowledge and problem solving skills, but also try to find out the candidates problem formulation skills.
  31. 31. Summary  Product managers can have technical or marketing background. They are graduates from different types of schools.  Product managers have often interdiscplinary career. This is often seen negative amongst technical specialists, but for product managers it is a virtue.  Good candidate could be good in teaching or selling too.  Career path of the product manager candidate gives us hints their potential and ambitions.  Look for challenger attitude and tendency ask ”why?” questions.  Look for problem formulation skills.
  32. 32. Thank you Productcamp 18.4.2015, Espoo