In short, the 3 skills are 1) Setting a vision, 2) Getting stuff done and 3) Generating insights. There are interesting insights throughout the post, but I realized the first one left me feeling empty. I want to say, “anyone can set a vision, but it takes someone special to communicate it and lead people through it.”
Depending on where I am in the product life cycle, I can be consumed with trying to tell a story – my product story. I can be found generally working on or improving the vision statement, product positioning and some visuals that make it real for people. The role of product management was never about setting a vision, it’s about communicating the vision and making people believe the vision.
This is what separates the product managers from the visionaries.
I am always armed with the keep it simple approach and this fits the bill perfectly. It is rooted in real customer feedback (positive) and drives you to think about the problem, the benefit (or value statement) and maps that nicely to collateral. Simple. One-minute.
A great refresher on the difference between strategy and tactics. Jeremiah uses the following attributes to illustrate the difference – Purpose, Roles, Accountability, Scope, Duration, Methods, and Outputs. This is very effective and helps keep you focused on strategy (hard) versus tactics (easier).
Bob Corrigan is the director of product management for the Encyclopedia of Life and has been a regular in the product management community for years. So today I offer you a Youtube-based TEDX link today… Bob’s presentation for TEDxMidAtlantic this past year (2011) Building the Encyclopedia of Life
I am so happy he did this and I highly recommend you watch it.
First conclusion, it is not based on experience. Experience might lead to it, but you are not a senior product manager because you have been a product manager for X years.
Second conclusion, it requires a broader vision. Someone who is capable of thinking about “the many” versus “the one”.
The third variable (note, not conclusion) is that a senior product manager is “more strategic”. I really struggle with that. If you are strategic, can you be more strategic? Does having more responsibility make one more strategic? Not sure. Seems like I am applying the same concepts to a broader set and not sure that makes me more strategic. However, it ties back to the second conclusion and that would make one senior.
For the past few months (nearly 8 since I made the western move) I have been making the rounds and meeting lots of new people. With that comes the inevitable question “What do you do?” Depending on who they are and what I think their background is, I will vary my answer. Sometimes it is “I am Senior Product Manager for software company based downtown” or “I work for a software company” or “I am in product management” and the list could go on using various descriptions to articulate the same thing. Generally, this spawns a series of “and what does that mean?” questions for which I have another series of canned answers.
One particular occurrence, when asked by the resident 12-year old “What do you do?”, I responded with “a professional thinker” and it got a curious look and a bit of chuckle. The reality is, this is pretty accurate. What we do, as product managers, is think. In my post “10 Secrets to GREAT Product Management“, the fourth item is “think”. We are paid to think. We take input and think about it. We create output and collect more input and think about it some more. (Ideally you write down your thoughts using various best-practice techniques.) Some times there is short-term thinking (today, this week, this sprint) and some times there is long-term thinking (next sprint, next year, 3 years from now). Business thinking. Technical thinking. Financial thinking. Creative thinking. The challenges are blocking out time for thinking in your schedule and not over-thinking things.
I like to tell people that product management is a knowledge worker role, a linchpin role if you will. For those of you who have not yet read Linchpin by Seth Godin, a linchpin is defined as: “… people who invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.” Sound familiar?
Thinking is only one of the many things that you do through the day/week/year, but it is one of the more important things.
So for the time being, I am running with this “Professional Thinker” title. Combining that with “I am thinking of my equivalent to the iPhone 5″, it seems to resonate with people. They may not know how I do it, but they know what I do.
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Lots of good bits in this survey. It is quite long though. Here are some of my favourite thoughts.
Standout CEOs expressed little fear of re-examining their own creations or proven strategic approaches. In fact, 74 percent of them took an iterative approach to strategy, compared to 64 percent of other CEOs. Standouts rely more on continuously re-conceiving their strategy versus an approach based on formal, annual planning.
Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.
….. and many more ….
** Standouts are defined as: Long-term performance included four-year operating margin compound annual growth rate from 2003 to 2008. Short-term performance included one-year operating margin growth rate from 2008 to 2009. This allowed us to identify “Standout” organizations that were able to improve operating margins both long term and short term.