So You Want To Be A Product Manager

Do you have what it takes to be the best PM?

Core Competencies
There are core competencies that every PM must have — many of which can start in the classroom — but most are developed with experience and good role models/mentoring. Some examples of these competencies include:

  • Conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • Running design sprints
  • Feature prioritization and roadmap planning
  • The art of resource allocation (it is not a science!)
  • Performing market assessments
  • Translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
  • Pricing and revenue modeling
  • Defining and tracking success metrics
  • Pro: Engineering can focus on coding without a lot of distraction; tends to work well for Waterfall development shops with long lifecycles.
  • Con: Engineers lose sight of the big picture and do not develop empathy for customers which can lead to a poor user experience; often there are unhealthy tensions when tech-debt and “plumbing” work needs to be prioritized against customer requirements.
  • Pro: Breakthrough technology can offer customers things they didn’t even know they needed (VMotion at VMware was a great example of this. An engineer thought it would be cool to do, a PM figured out how to monetize it and it became THE billion dollar game changer for the company).
  • Cons: Engineers chase the shiny new thing, over-architect the solution or iterate forever (seeking perfection) before getting customer feedback; PM input on priorities are ignored, which is sometimes the most basic needs of customers to encourage adoption and increase stickiness of the product.
  • Pros: Streamlined prioritization process that values tech-debt/plumbing projects; better design processes leading to a more positive user experience; higher performing teams with improved product velocity, quality and typically, happier customers.
  • Con: Breakthrough innovation may not get light/investment; time-to-market may seem to lag (but I’d argue what’s released is far better aligned with customer needs with a far more scalable product).
  • Pros: Likely to be more involved with company strategy, exposure to senior leadership/board, able to take more risks/make a bigger impact; more influence/authority over company resources.
  • Cons: Little-to-no mentorship or role models or best practice within the company (may have to seek externally); may not have requisite experience for some of the “things” (comfortable winging it); tight budgets.
  • Pros: More likely to have mentoring/role models and development standards/best practice; close association with an engineering team can develop strong relationships over time (great for long term impact/career growth); if product has market fit, there is an established customer base and performance baseline to work from vs. guessing until you get it right.
  • Cons: Less exposure to company strategy; just one of many voices of the customer; can get “lost” in the system; more politics; tight budgets.

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Julia Austin

Julia Austin

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Senior Lecturer @HBS, Executive Coach, Founder GoodForHer.co, Advisor & Angel Investor. Former CTO @digitalocean, VPE @vmware & @akamai. Mom, Artist & Yogi.