Product management expert Steven Haines explains how to advance in your product management career and create innovative products that customers love.
Whether you’re a new product manager or one with a few years of experience, you’re probably on a quest to improve your effectiveness and produce better outcomes. As you may know, if you don’t find ways to accomplish all that’s expected of you, you’ll be driven by the urgent demands of others. If you don’t possess enough knowledge of the proper context, others will create that context for you as you put out fires and react to the urgent demands of the day.
Good business leaders excel at steering others by articulating a clear vision and a common set of goals – and so it goes with product managers. They are able to anticipate problems, finesse what’s needed to keep everyone focused, and set the right priorities for the organization.
As a product manager, you’re expected to have:
- A deep understanding of customers or users and the challenges they face
- An uncanny knack for being proactive in recognizing market trends and identifying competitive forces
- The ability to envision a solution to a customer’s problem (a product or service) in the hands of a customer or user
- A way to share that vision and ensure that people across the organization can imagine the same end point: a great product in the hands of a happy customer
- An appreciation for the timing and cadence of work produced by people in various functions in the creation, deployment, and management of products
- The creativity to inspire a collaborative environment with others in recognizing and solving problems
- The utilization of softer skills to communicate, create political capital, influence others, and get things done
I cannot reinforce this point enough: If you aspire to be a great product manager, you will need to develop a sixth sense for markets, customers, people, and the intricacies of workflows in any organization. While you may not be there yet, if you want to be a great product manager, it’s vital to know that much of your success is determined by how you think and behave—and, of course, by the results you obtain.
No matter where you start out (or started out) as a product manager, you’ve got to be able to determine where you are so you can figure out what to work on as part of your professional development strategy.
Product management acumen is associated with your ability to grasp every aspect of a product’s business completely. This includes markets, people, systems, finances, performance measures, and processes. The term also is used to describe the attributes of strategic-thinking problem solvers who get things done in a complex organization. Further, product management acumen is made up of a number of attributes, organized in six logical groups or clusters. These attributes have been fine-tuned as a result of my benchmarking research. These clusters include:
- Market and product
- Product management activities
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Individuality and efficiency
- Performance and results
The Product Management Acumen Assessment is a way to help you evaluate your skills and experience that reflect some of what’s included in the six attribute clusters, as well as other items related to topics that I discuss in the 2nd Edition of The Product Manager’s Survival Guide. It covers key areas associated with the role of the product manager and also helps you to identify the degree of domain expertise you have. You can use this online tool to identify areas on which you might focus; you can also use it as a benchmark to compare your own performance against a global database of other product managers.
After you take the Product Management Acumen Assessment, you may wish to harness what you learn, dive right in, and start your work on any number of action items. This is only natural, as it’s a personal process, and most of us want to improve. Such a self-assessment is also important because it provides you with the ability to link the different dimensions of your own professional and career puzzle.
However, contemplation allows you to think more carefully about your own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, I suggest adopting a technique that strategic planners use to capture and synthesize characteristics of their business. This technique is known as SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym that represents four main areas on which a business can be evaluated: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can use your self-assessment to capture and synthesize important aspects of your own situation so that you can create strategies for your professional development.
It’s a good idea to appraise your strengths and weaknesses and to consider emerging threats before coming up with opportunities to improve a given area of your product management acumen. As you evolve, you can consider a number of opportunities that will help you form a more purposeful professional development strategy that can be discussed with your boss or others, helping you to clearly delineate your goals.
Also, after you do this assessment, you’ll note that most likely you did not get a top score in every cluster. Having the knowledge of where you are now gives you a chance to target the development of your own experience. It is better to undertake your performance improvement after you determine what your next strategic step should be. The decision to focus on a particular area for improvement should depend largely on the impact you want to have and the goals you want to achieve.
To take the Product Management Acumen Assessment, go to this link: https://survey.sequentlearning.com/s3/PMAcumen. When you complete the assessment, you’ll get a report of your scores, and you’ll have information to compare your scores to the global population of those who have also taken the survey.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of 2nd edition of The Product Manager’s Survival Guide and leverage it as a reliable resource to help you on your product management career journey.
Steven Haines is the Founder and CEO of Sequent Learning Networks and The Business Acumen Institute. He is also the author of several bestselling business books, and an energetic public speaker. His ideas and books continue to shape how leading companies organize to produce category defining products and highly performing business people.
Steven’s books include: