The Product Management X-Factor: How to be a Rock Star Product Manager


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Product Management is a tough job: we need to be business oriented, tactical, strategic, and technical all at the same time. But some people have cracked the code about how to be more effective product managers than others. What is it about these rock star product managers that separates them from the rest of us?

Over the past 10 years in product management, Paul Young has observed what makes some people successful where others fail, and boiled it down to seven product management "x-factors," that turn good people into great.

Winner of "Best Session" at Rocky Mountain ProductCamp 2010.

NOTE: Because of the limitations of SlideShare, the formatting of this presentation does not match the original. Come to ProductCamp Austin in Jan 2011 to see this presentation live.

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  • Welcome, thanks for voting for me, my name is Paul Young and I am an Instructor for Pragmatic Marketing.Today we’re going to discuss what I call the product management X factor. What is it about certain people that make them rise to rock star status and not others, and how can we duplicate their success.
  • We all have the desire and ability.Chris and Will. 2 PMs I know. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Chris was a PM, in his late-thirties, with about 10-12 years of experience. He had been at a couple of companies and was really frustrated. He felt like he had hit a wall in his career: he was getting passed over for promotions, and he was worried about his job because, in his words, he kept getting on “loser” projects – products that were in the midst of rearchitecture, or whose best days were behind them. In short, he was stuck in a rut. <click>Sound familiar?Now, compare that to Will. Early in my career, Will hired me as an entry level PM. He was a Sr. PM at the time, and his products consistently outperformed expectations and the market. He was promoted several times, and now he is a high level executive at a huge technology corporation. He is about the same age and experience level as Chris.Will isn’t at Google, but Google’s VP of PM just pulled down a 1.6M bonus last year. That’s rock star money. What’s the difference between being stuck in a rut and 1.6M? Over my career and as an Instructor, I’ve met thousands of PM’s and have formed some hypothesis about this. I believe that we can change our destinies with the right knowledge. Sound good?Disclaimers: based on personal experiences, not all-inclusive, won’t turn all of you into rock stars (sorry)TRANS: I believe there is a rock star PM in all of us, trying to get out. But why is Chris stuck while Will succeeds? Let’s examine that.
  • There area lot of PM’s out there now. But only a small % I would call stars. Stars are really talented but can also be super frustrating.TRANS: Because stars have cracked the code to getting different set of outcomes.
  • Read list…any of this sound familiar? Can anyone think of other things that are different?It’s frustrating.
  • If we look at the field of PM’s the way that HR looks at it…I’m here to tell you that this is WRONG.Experience and Effectiveness do CORRELEATE, but are not necessarily CAUSAL. It is possible for someone with less than 25 years experience to become highly effective as a PM. The problem is, there is a “wall of effectiveness” somewhere between “really good” and “rock star.” Most of us on the left side of that wall try really hard, but aren’t able to leap over it, and that’s frustrating.So do we give up? Shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to being just another PM? Since you’re in this session, I am guess the answer is HELL NO. So let’s look at how we can get over that wall into rock star territory.
  • PM is hard. You have to be strategic and tactical at the same time, and you have to be technical and business-oriented too. If you’ve come to one of our classes you’ve heard us talk about this. These traits are “tickets to entry” to call yourself a PM.
  • In addition to those traits, the rock stars of the world have learned, consciously or unconsciously, how to apply the skills that they have. Some of those skills are inherited, and some are learned. And if you apply another dimension to it, some apply at a more personal level and some apply more to the company.
  • 7 of these skills are what I call the X-factors. Applied right will change your career trajectory.
  • Personality traits are the “base” traits that a PM needs. Some have more than others, but we all have these in some form or fashion. Most of the star PM’s I know have all of these in spades. There isn’t an X-factor at this base level because these are more innate traits about who we are. If you choose PM as a career, chances are you have these.How to recognizeThey come recommended“Young but have a lot of potential”She is always asking for more responsibilityTRANS: PM is an entrepreneurial career choice. At a deep level, PMs are wired differently.
  • There was a study done a few years ago about how entrepreneurs are wired. Both parents psychologists, married a psychologist. “Big 5 Personality Traits”If you take “managers” as a baseline, entrepreneurs show some big differences. On the “big five” personality traits:Lower on neuroticism (confident, don’t get depressed)Higher on extraversion (seek out others, energy), a LOT higher on openness (accepting of new ideas), about the same on agreeableness, and much higher on conscientiousness (self-motivation). This is who we are.How to emulateAsk lots of questions, show initiative – the rest takes care of itself.Embrace that as a PM, you’re different than most of people you work with, and that’s OK.TRANS: If we move up a level…Neuroticism – (sensitive / nervous vs. secure / confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.Extraversion – (outgoing / energetic vs. shy / reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.Openness – (inventive / curious vs. consistent / cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.Agreeableness – (friendly / compassionate vs. cold / unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.Conscientiousness – (efficient / organized vs. easy-going / careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
  • We get to Learned Skills. These are things that you can pick up and learn along the way. (read list)How to recognizeAsk them who is mad at themWhat have they said “no” to in the last week?The X-factor here is the ability to influence others. As a PM, getting people who don’t report to you motivated to do what you need is critical. Star PM’s are really good at getting others to act.
  • So what is the key to inspiring others to action? Simon Simek says it is this:We all know what we do…all of usSome know how we do it…our priority code, or our unique competitive differentiationFew know WHY we do what we do…our purpose, or cause, or belief for existingMost leaders describe our world from the outer layer inward, because they move from the most clear to the least defined.Inspiring leaders describe their world starting with the why first.Apple example – (WHAT) We make great laptops, (HOW) they’re easy to use and look cool. Want to buy one? Meh…Vs. (WHY) everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo – we believe in thinking different. (HOW) They way we do this is making beautiful, easy to use products (WHAT) we just happen to make great computers. Want to change your life?Can’t tell you how much it changed the relationship with Development to sit down for 60 minutes with the team and chart out our vision and strategy to win. Totally different. But how many times do most PM’s actually do that? I usually hear “I WANT to do that, but we’ve got bugs to prioritize.”
  • The third level are skills specific to the art and science of product management. (read list)How to recognizeAsk how they measure themselvesHave they ever killed a product?Did they ever ship a sub-standard feature on purpose?X-factor is the ability to speak the Truth to people in Power. Most every company talks about their “open door policy” and how they reward open communications – but most companies actions are opposite of their words. Our cultures and politics reinforce people to keep their head down, complain to their peers over beers, and accept that it will be as it is today, forever and ever amen. Until they bail and go to another company with “promise” and are let down when they find it is the same.“Do ____, and you’ll get a bonus.”“Don’t do ____, or you’ll get fired.”Rock Stars have an ability to overcome this. **Think about a time when you told the Truth to Someone in Power and it worked or didn’t work.**TRANS: Ford is a great case study for this X-factor…
  • It’s not a good time to be an automaker. They’re getting bailed out by the gov’t, losing money, and laying off staff. But not Ford. Ford brought in a new CEO, Alan Mulally, a few years ago who has been serious about developing a culture where employees and managers speak the truth. And it’s showing up in their products and in their bottom line.“…Mulally has created a culture in which telling the truth, however painful it may be, gets rewarded. Every Thursday morning, he presides over what he calls a "Business Plan Review." The heads of Ford's four profit centers around the world and its 12 functional heads gather to report on how well they're meeting their targets and on any problems they're having. They're all in it together. To broaden transparency, he invites outside guests to sit in on the meeting each week. The day I was there, one Ford executive described a significant shortfall on a key projection. No one cringed, including Mulally, and the executive calmly outlined his suggested solutions. Then he invited others to share their ideas.”Sounds good! INTRO TUNEDIN - Anyone have an example of how they spoke the truth to someone in power and the result?
  • The 4th level is about how we communicate. (read list)How to recognizeCan they speak for >30 minutes about their market and competitors (inbound)Can they turn those 30 minutes into a 30 second elevator pitch that makes you want to invest? (outbound)There are two X-factors here: Synthesis and Pitch Artist.As PM’s, we’re exposed to TONS of data. Good PM’s can collate that data, and roll it into a 100 slide business case. Rock star PM’s can synthesize that data into 10 slides. Synthesis is about pattern matching, and turning lots of interesting data into actionable information.Pitch Artist means that the best PM’s are the ones who have no problem getting up in front of the crowd and supporting their POV. In fact, they relish their chance to be onstage and strut their stuff. Really good pitch artists are like really good musical performers: they have them in the palm of their hand and their ideas seem like foregone conclusions when they’re done.
  • **Thinkof when you gave a kick-ass presentation and what changed, I’m going to ask for an example in sec.How to emulateThink as if you were investing your own money, what would you want to see in the analysis?Learn to love to present and pitch…PRACTICEHere are some interesting stats…everyone says that communicating is important, but people aren’t putting much time into it. Interesting…Who has an example of where they made a really effective presentation? Why was it effective?More reading: Resonate (Nancy Duarte)
  • The last level is called Executive Acuity. It is the ability to act as an effective leader, and drive change in an organization and its products.**think of the best executive you worked for and why they were great.**I love this guy’s passion…do you ever feel like your executives are screaming at you like this?How to recognizePromotedThey leave and recruit YOUWillingness to get firedThere are 3 x-factors at this level: being a consensus builder, being empathetic, and being a good executive debater.How to emulateEmpathy - Spend some time in Sales and ENG’s world Consensus - Use all the skills lower on the framework to build consensusExec. Debater - Partner up and practice running through defending your product and investment as if your partner was an executive. Anticipate.Are you willing to get fired?Who can tell a story about the best executive they’ve ever worked for? What made them so great?TRANS: The great Peter Drucker had this to say about becoming an effective executive…
  • Read quoteSometimes it feels like Executives get to where they are by being mean, or by the Peter Principle (no relation to Drucker). But they won’t last. To revisit Will, I sat down with him as I was building this presentation and asked him how he got to where he was. He leaned back and thought for a moment and said “you know I hadn’t really thought about it…I’ve always been focused on moving forward more than looking back. I guess it was because I was never really TRYING to become a VP…I was trying to do the right thing for my product.”
  • I hope that this session has given you some things to think about. 7 x-factors: inspire others, speak truth to those in power, be great at synthesis, become a pitch artist, be empathetic, build consensus, and be a great executive debater.This has been fun, but won’t mean anything if you go back to your day job on Monday and don’t put it in to practice. I want all of you to become rock star PM’s, and to transform your products and your careers – and let me know how it goes!
  • The Product Management X-Factor: How to be a Rock Star Product Manager

    1. 1. The Product Management X-FactorHow to be a Rock Star Product Manager
    2. 2. Stuck in a rut$1.64M Bonus
    3. 3. •  Always seems to getwhat they need•  Manages winners•  Gets poached byrecruiters andpromoted•  “HiPo”•  Has the CEO’s ear•  Struggle forinvestment, mindshare•  Gets product leftovers•  Apply & fight•  Justify training•  Has to beg to beincluded
    4. 4. SizeofPopulationYears of ExperienceEffectiveness
    5. 5. BusinessTechnicalTacticalStrategic
    6. 6. CompanyPersonalInheritedLearned
    7. 7. Personality TraitsLearned SkillsCommunicationsExecutive AcuityConfidentHigh IntegrityCompetitiveOptimistCuriousCharismaticServant-LeaderAlways LearningWhole PersonMulti-vertDelegatorBusiness-SavvyNetworkerInspires OthersQuestions AuthorityStrategic ThinkerTime SelfishPM SkillsMeasurerSees products as abusinessTruth to PowerPragmatistRight Thing vs. theThing RightVery Broad;Selectively DeepTechnical ChopsStreet CredSynthesisMaster ListenerPitch ArtistMasterCommunicatorStory TellerEmpatheticMulti-LevelEffectivenessExecutive DebaterConsensus BuilderInheritedLearned
    8. 8. Personality TraitsLearned SkillsCommunications PM SkillsExecutive AcuityConfidentHigh IntegrityCompetitiveOptimistCuriousCharismaticServant-LeaderAlways LearningWhole PersonMulti-vertDelegatorBusiness-SavvyNetworkerInspires OthersQuestions AuthorityStrategic ThinkerTime SelfishMeasurerSees products as abusinessTruth to PowerPragmatistRight Thing vs. theThing RightVery Broad;Selectively DeepTechnical ChopsStreet CredSynthesisMaster ListenerPitch ArtistMasterCommunicatorStory TellerEmpatheticMulti-LevelEffectivenessExecutive DebaterConsensus BuilderInheritedLearned
    9. 9. ConfidentHigh IntegrityCompetitiveOptimistCuriousCharismaticServant-LeaderAlwaysLearningWhole PersonPersonality Traitsv
    10. 10. vs.LLLLLHHHHHZhao, H. & Siebert, S. E. (2006). The big five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 259-271.EntrepreneurManager  NeuroticismExtraversionOpennessAgreeablenessConscientiousness
    11. 11. Mutli-vertDelegatorBusiness-SavvyNetworkerInspires OthersQuestions AuthorityStrategic ThinkerTime SelfishLearned Skills
    12. 12. WhatHowWhyInspiration happens here.Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: HowGreat Leaders Inspire Everyone to TakeAction. New York: Portfolio
    13. 13. MeasurerViews products as a businessTruth to PowerPragmatistRight thing vs. the Thing RightVery Broad; Selectively DeepTechnical ChopsProduct Management Skills
    14. 14. $2.6BFord’s Q1 2011 profit, best since 1998and a 24% year-over-year increase.
    15. 15. “Street Cred”SynthesisMaster ListenerPitch ArtistMaster CommunicatorStory TellerCommunications
    16. 16. 86%Distinction 2009 Presentation Survey25%Executives who put more than two hours into preparing fora very high-stakes presentation.Executives who believe that communicating clearly impactstheir careers.
    17. 17. EmpatheticMulti-levelEffectivenessExecutive DebaterConsensus BuilderExecutive Acuity
    18. 18. Effective executives differwidely in their personalities,strengths, weaknesses, valuesand beliefs. Some are borneffective. But the demand ismuch too great to be satisfiedby extraordinary talent.Effectiveness is a discipline.And, like every discipline,effectiveness can be learnedand must be earned.- Peter DruckerDrucker, P. (1967). The Effective Executive. New York: HarperCollins
    19. 19. Thank You!pyoung@pragmaticmarketing.com