Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 16, 2009

Growing New Product Managers

make_blog_growIn late 2008, I needed to hire two product managers.  In this economy, I felt confident I would have the “pick of the litter” and find them with ease.  We posted the two jobs on all the regular job boards and waited for the flood.  And the flood came!  But it wasn’t what I expected.

Everyone wanted to become a product manager, but only a few people actually had been a product manager.  Come to find out, qualified product managers are hard to find!  Eventually, after sifting through hundreds of resumes, we finally hired one and grew another.

If you’re reading this blog, you were probably grown into a product manager.

Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting another product manager?  When I have, I always ask them “How did you become a product manager?”  Because it’s not a degree you get in college, and it’s not really something that people aspire to (“Mommy, when I grow up I want to write Personas!”)   Although every product manager I’ve met got bit by the bug and never wanted to do anything else (except start their own company).

I encourage companies having trouble finding good product managers to grow them internally.  It will provide a wonderful career to the right person, and challenge them for the rest of their lives.  Plus, you’ll likely get the perfect product manager for your company.

If you do, this is what I recommend:

  • Look for the right skill set – Yes, you’ll want someone who knows the product very well, but that’s not the most important skill!  Look for someone who has people skills, organizational skills, good business acumen and tenacity.  I could spend hours on this topic alone, but I’ll come back to it in another blog one day.  Basically, look for someone who is passionate about the right ideas (not just their ideas).
  • Be honest with them – If you know what product management is like, sit down and convey your passion for it.  But don’t dupe them by talking about unicorns and rainbows.  Being a product manager is hard, challenging and rewarding!  If you don’t know what it’s like, let them read a few blogs by product managers.
  • Get them trained – Once I was trained in Pragmatic Marketing (how’s that for free advertising!), I felt like I was equipped with the tools to do it right.  I needed that confidence to stand my ground and be an advocate of the “science” of correct product management.  I know there are other great programs out there, just do your homework first.
  • Kick them out of the office – Make them visit 10 customers and talk to 50 customers before they do anything.  This shapes their opinions correctly from the beginning, and gives them clout when selling ideas internally.
  • Get them connected – This may sound counter intuitive, but get them on Twitter and have them follow the #prodmgmt group.  There are great discussions that take place daily and plenty of kind people willing to help.
  • Have them build relationships – It’s important to have friends in Sales, Marketing and Development.  They can’t do their job effectively without understanding the needs and goals of these three groups.
  • Teach them true leadership – This may be the toughest of all, but differentiates the good product managers and the great ones.  Management is not leadership!  Product managers are in the perfect position to learn the correct principles of leadership through studying, mentoring and discipline.

If you have someone in your organization that is passionate about doing the right thing, loves a challenge that never ends, and has the ability to be a leader amongst their peers, then show them the world of product management!  Then one day you’ll thank them for growing your company.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the kudos but you forgot the link! New product managers should check out http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/seminars/practical-product-management

    I think the one thing that we often miss is that good product managers see patterns. Not what one customer or sales person needs but what all customers and sales people need. Not the individual requests but the patterns found in the collection of requests.

    We don’t want customers to DEFINE our products; we want customers to INSPIRE our products. Product managers need to listen to enough customers and prospects to find patterns in the data.

    Thanks again for the recommendation. Keep up the good work!

    • Great comment Steve. What amazes me is the paradox between what is taught (and how fervently everyone agrees), and then what is actually done! Regardless of our ability to articulate the correct principles of product management, it’s more common to see product managers take the easy path rather than the right one. For example, it’s easier to simply throw in an enhancement request for a single customer because it will get them “off your back”, when it might not be near your product’s sweet spot!

      Without over processing our lives, what procedure(s) can we put in place to help us make better decisions? That would be fun debate!

  2. Thanks for sharing these ideas and the link to the Pragmatic Marketing material. I’ve been in the Project Management space for a (very) long time and I’m interested in moving into our organization’s Product Management area, these ideas and the Cranky Product Manager site have been valuable resources.

    • Glad to hear Bryan. If there’s any more information I can provide, just reach out to me. I’m more than happy to hop on a phone call and tell you what I know. Moving to Product Management from Project Management was such a rewarding journey for me! Besides, anyone who was bagpipe player with the Clash of the Tartans pipe band has got to have some great stories! :)

  3. […] This post by Ivan Lybbert encourages companies to “grow their own Product Managers”. In order to do so, he recommends the following steps: […]


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