Product Group Manager Onboarding

Product Group Manager Onboarding

I’m about to complete my first month on my new jobs at Sears Israel. It’s my first time as a new product group manager in a company where I didn’t grow into the role. The internet is full of onboarding plans for product managers. I used to look at them and wonder whether there are indeed work places with the patience for a 90 days onboarding plan. But I don’t recall seeing an onboarding plan for a new product group manager. So I thought of dedicating this post to my own experience – what I did, why and how it went.

As I see it, there are several elements which are essential to succeed as a product group manager:

  1. Own the vision – understand the current product/portfolio vision and if needed, push for adjustments to make it a vision you feel comfortable owning. Remember, you are the lead for the product/portfolio. The vision has to reflect your view of how to win
  2. Lead the team – you have a team for a reason – the team is here to help you realize the vision. The team should be the one focusing on the day-to-day execution, giving you the bandwidth to think further ahead
  3. Manage stakeholders – any organization has stakeholders. Stakeholders can help your product move forward and they can block you from progress. You need to be able to map your stakeholders and build the right relationships with them

 

With that in mind, joining a new company as a product group manager becomes a complex problem for several reasons:

1.  The vision is already there for a reason. If you disagree with it, you need to persuade many people that some of the thinking that was done so far was insufficient and there is room for changes

2. Your team is already an expert of their domain. You need to build a reputation that will make them want to listen to your feedback and not just continuing to do things as they were used to. Recall the ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ book – it’s not a natural human behavior to immediately change, especially if things were working so far

3. Stakeholders sometimes look for the opportunity that a manager has changed in order to gain more power over the product

 

Luckily for me, most of it wasn’t the case in Sears, and so I managed to focus on the first month on fitting into the role as I vision it, rather than deal with unnecessary politics;

  1. Vision – I started with understanding the vision and strategy of the product. The #1 thing you need to do is to get familiarized with the product. If the product is already up and running, become a user. Start reading feedback from users about the product. Go over latest status reports – what were the most urgent things that were reported. You can’t really create a vacuum. You have to ensure as smooth continuity as possible while still driving to a change. In our case, I joined at a time of attempting a pivot to the product. This is a great timing to join since it means that the vision is currently being shaped and not already dictated. In that sense, I suggested to facilitate the discussions around the vision. It’s a win-win situation since nearly always the management group lacks a bandwidth. That’s where you as a new guy with lots of bandwidth can fit in. And it has to be done now, otherwise you won’t have this bandwidth in a few months from now
  2. Team – luckily, I got a great team and I only need to think about evolving and preserving them. As I mentioned earlier, the #1 challenge is building productive relationships with them. Your goal is to find their WIFM at this point. Leadership isn’t something that can be dictated, it’s something that you need to earn. The biggest source of power that you used to have, which is domain knowledge, is no longer there to help you in a new place. So which other sources you can use?
    1. Vision – if you managed to make a good progress with vision, go ahead and use it. If you have a more compelling vision than the current one, people will want to follow you
    2.  Professionalism – most likely, you’re a more experienced product manager. Try to use that for your advantage. For example, if you spot something that they challenge with, suggest an approach
    3. Listen – use your interpersonal skill set and be a great listener. There is always something which is not perfect. Hear them out and try to suggest concrete ideas. It will be even better if you could suggest to take care of some of these if it’s part of your role. For example, help out in building a strategy on how to expand the number of developers working on a specific product. In the process of listening, try to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions can help the other side to think a bit more about the situation. If you can cause your team, through powerful questions, to re-think their approach, they will probably continue to reach out to you for advise
    4. Show interest – make sure that they feel appreciated and that everything they do is important to you. Praise them when necessary. Remember, this is the team that should provide you with bandwidth in the future. Use the power of feedback in order to make adjustments in how they operate so you can become an effective team
  3. Identify uncharted areas and deep dive into those – there are always areas, especially in small companies, which are currently not taken care of. In my previous company, a new QA manager deep dived into the domain of applicative monitoring and set up eventually a team that raised the bar on quality and monitoring of outcomes. Similarly, you should be looking for such areas in your new company. Currently, I’m looking into the support process to see how we can improve the experience there
  4. Stakeholders – our team is split between the US and Israel. I’m currently focusing on improving the relationships with our US partners. One of the common questions I started asking is ‘how can I be of help’. The second thing I keep on doing is giving direct opinion – if I sense that something isn’t working properly, it’s a good opportunity to state it and make the other side involved. As I recently labeled it, I’m trying to make them ‘pigs’ instead of ‘chickens’.
  5. Get to know the data – I’m a data driven product manager. Data is king. I need to be familiar with it in order to make educated decisions rather than gut feeling. It’s a long process, so I didn’t put it as #1 priority to understand all dimensions of the data, but gradually I’m taking upon myself more and more tasks to get familiar with the data

One notable thing which I’m intentionally minimizing is understanding the domains in-depth. At this point, I’m assuming my team can take care of it and I can gradually deep dive.

There is a lot to learn and it’s important to know where to put your focus on. I don’t believe in holding for 90 days before showing results. Results of course will be better later on, but this is your opportunity to reflect your personality into the new role.

The good news – so far I’m loving every minute of it 🙂

 

 

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Building Your PM Brand

Building Your PM Brand

“If you wan’t it, you can have it

But you’ve got to learn to reach out there and grab it”(Weezer, Photographs)

Think about a product you like. What makes this product so special to you? Most likely, it’s the value that the product brings to you, right? We are product managers, this is what we’ve been trained to do – think of how to deliver more value to the customers.

Now think about yourself as a product – do you properly communicate the value that you have to bring?

It’s highly important as a product manager to think about your branding.  After few friends heard that I found a new job, it immediately turned to the question of how it can be done, and more specifically, how to improve your LinkedIn profile.

Think about it – if a head hunter is looking for a good candidate, he has a very wide selection of product managers that can be found on LinkedIn. What is the reason for him to turn to you? Your KPI at this point is purely acquisition – you want the head hunter to see your profile and think it’s interesting enough to reach out. From that point on, it’s a different story on how to make progress in the interview process.

So let’s manage it like we would manage any metric – set a baseline, think of ways to improve, experiment and pivot if necessary. If head hunters reach out to you, then you probably done something good.

Where should I start?

Start with the overview section in your profile. Afrer looking at a few LinkedIn profiles, I noticed several common mistakes:

  1. Overview holds only a description of the company or the product or the team that worked on the product – this is about your brand, not on the company, the product or the team. You can describe them as context, but it’s more about you. You are the product. Head hunters are looking to hear about you. They’re not looking at your profile to recruit the product team or to buy your product. They are interested in you! Are you describing what it is that you did?
  2. Too generic description of a product manager – don’t hold a generic description. Otherwise, you will be considered a commodity. People buy commodity products when they aren’t interested in quality but they look for a low cost product.  Do you really want to position yourself as a common PM aiming for a minimum wage position? Even if  you did, companies aren’t willing to give up on the quality of product managers. For example, don’t describe your self as the one responsible for defining the requirements for the development team. You need to focus on the things that made your work unique. For example, what was special in the way you gathered requirements – were you running surveys with users? Were you conducing analysis to find the most impactful features? What was your contribution to key metrics of the product? Be creative! Think of different dimensions that will make you stand out
    yogi
  3. Reflect your passion – companies are looking for people which match the company DNA. What does your profile say about you? What are your passions? What are you strengths? Make it stand out. Think of the products you bought which looked like they matched your aspirations – whether it’s something from the supermarket that had someone smiling at you from the package. Or it had a relevant color. Or the name raised some association. This is what you’re trying to do – have your profile reflect you and why a reader should approach you for further details

 

Checked! What’s next?

  1. Look at your work history. Does it reflect the right things you want people to know about you. Is it relevant information? For example, if you were a bus driver at some point, it’s most likely irrelevant unless you are now a product manager working on a product aimed for bus drivers. If it’s irrelevant and took place long time ago, drop it or just mention the title with no details. If it’s relevant, highlight it. And by highlighting, again, don’t focus on the company/product/team. You can mention them as a context, but eventually focus about you. What did you do that made the product better? Which type of experience did you get from it? Did you build a roadmap? If so, mention it. Did you present to C-Level executives? If so, mention it. Did you get to present in conferences? If so, mention it. And so on
  2. Don’t be shy about presenting additonal aspects of yourself – I admit that as a recruiter, if there was something special mentioned in the CV or profile, it usually gave extra points. For examlpe, vonlunteering experience, rewards, re-location periods, etc.
  3. Don’t be ashamed about failures – failures are a great way to evolve. If you had a startup that haven’t materialized, mention it. The fact you tried already differs you from many other product managers.

 

How to track it?

Have a look at your # of weekly views report on LinkedIn. Do you see an uprising trend? If so, you did something good. If not, think about what else could stand out.

You can also engage more with LinkedIn to increase the likelihood that you will surface. For example, post or share. I also noticed that when I give recommendations, I stand out.

 

Bottom Line

Experiment! Do it like you would do to your proudct. Build-Measure-Learn. Think of the ways that will make you stand out. Look at other products and look for inspiration. And don’t forget to make it unique. You want to look like the perfect match for a position. Just like you would like your product to stand out for your potential market

 

The Leaving Speech

The Leaving Speech

Yesterday was my last day at ebay. It’s been great 6 years in which I learned, evolved, enjoyed, made friends.

As I started thinking about my farewell speech, I recalled a concept I recently heard of called ‘the leaving speech‘. The concept is interesting –  given that we no longer in an era where people start a work and 40-50 years later retire from the same place, we might as well acknowledge it and do the best to ensure our employees make the best out of the time they will be in the company for the success of the company as well as for their own development. By the time the employee will decide it’s time to move forward, she should look proudly at the achievements she made and wish for another work place at that caliber. The concept then suggests to have such a speech with new employees on their first few days on the job.

I’m thinking it should be slightly different and instead of the first few days before, as a manager, you actually get to know your employee, it should be about 3-4 month after she has started. This way, you get to know what motivates her and then you can make it a win-win situation – given that (a) you know what the company wants to achieve (b) you know what the employee wants (c) you know what the employee is capable of, it’s a good time to have such a speech that will take all 3 elements and visualize the ideal future.

So as I was thinking about my speech, I wanted to retroactively have a leaving speech with the past me from 6 years ago.  I used this list of motivators to come up with the top 4 for me and then I figured what I would visualize to myself in such a meeting:

  1. Goal (My purpose in life is reflected in the work that I do) – I want to make a positive impact on the world. I want to have happier people in the world as a result of the work that I do. When I joined ebay, our goal was to understand what we have on our shelves. I was part of the team who led us from understanding 3.5% of the inventory to 54% of the inventory. But inventory isn’t a human being. And so I did my best to occasionally having conversations with users. When you realize the impact on users, you can directly correlate the work that you do to other users as well. And that’s when you realize you made an impact
  2. Power (There’s enough room for me to influence what happens around me) – that’s the beauty of leading a product group; by definition, you have a team which you should lead. It’s an art. And when you occasionally zoom out and realize how the features that you drew on a whiteboard are now in production and users are actually using them for their benefit are the times when you realize the power that you have. Great career choice 🙂
  3. Relatedness (I have good social contacts with the people in and around my work) – when you go to work, you want to make good connections. There will be people who you will usually sit down for lunch with, those that you will play sport with, those that you’ll sit next to in a company event, etc. That’s important. But more importantly are true friends. And when you find a work place in which you can make good friends, all the rest doesn’t matter. There is a nice phrase saying – ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’. Find those friends. It will make your company a synonym for home
  4. Honor (I feel proud that my personal values are reflected in how I work) – there are a lot of things that I believe in. I have my own set of values. I believe in people, I want to be there and help them to unlock their potential. It’s a ‘Pay it Forward’ concept – help a few, they will help a few and so on. It’s a scalable approach to make the world a better and happier place. I had the chance throughout the year to mentor quite a few people, and I got to see them unlock their potential. You have a proud moment when someone tells you that they were thinking how you would react in a complex case and actually do it, or that they say that they picked up something from you

 

I’ll never forget ebay. It’s was a great journey, and now it’s time for a new one. By the end of the year I’ll try to do myself a leaving speech. It will be a fun exercise to write in a place such as futureMe and remind myself on my own premise

 

Product Manager as CEO of a Product

Product Manager as CEO of a Product

Really a lot has been written in the past on whether a product manager is the CEO of the product or not.

It stemmed from the original thought that as a product manager you are the decision maker around the product and hence you should serve as the CEO, which makes a lot of sense. I recently read a great book called ‘The Magnetic Leader‘ by Roberta Chinsky Matuson, which made me think also on the role of the product manager as the mangetic leader for the entire group of people working on the product. In a nutshell, I believe it’s your role as a product manager to be the leader that will drive everyone working on the product to want to continue to work on the product. You can’t hope that someone else will do it for you. If you believe in the product and will make the right moves, people will follow you. That’s the art in being a product manager.

I decided to summarize my main takeaways from this book, both for myself and for readers of this blog, in hope to become better leaders.

Traits of a Magnetic Leader

These are the traits you should aim for in your daily behavior. These traits will make others follow you:

  1. Authenticity – believe in the product and in what you do. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. Don’t give up to office politics.
  2. Selflessness – think about the team working on your product and how you can serve them first rather than your first. For example, a few month ago we had a relatively massive layoff in our organization and I took special care of folks who used to work on my product by providing them with Linkedin recommendations, checking up on them and serving as a reference
  3. Strong communication – that’s one of the most basic traits a product manager should have. But it’s not just about being able to communicate when needed. It’s also about being able to communicate all the time and share updates. For example, think about the last time you gathered your group and spoke about the current state in an open way
  4. Charisma – have the right charm that will generate devotion. Be approachable so people can get to know you
  5. Transparency – don’t hide anything. It’s the way to build trust with your group. They will appreciate direct messages rather than attempts to hide around it
  6. Vision – remember to keep pumping your vision statement and how we are closer to materializing it. The vision statement is the one thing that should make others want to follow you. It’s your statement on how the world will be better with your product
  7. Resilience – you are the one that everyone should be looking at when things don’t go as planned. It’s up to you to represent the business and explain what are the next steps

Five Questions to Keep you on Track

It’s usually difficult to have a consistent change to become a magnetic leader with everything you have to do as a product manager. Here are five question you should ask yourself regularly in order to ensure you’re on the right track:

  1. Am I fully present or merely going through the motions? – it’s highly important to be present or to appologize in case you’re not and set up the proper time to re-engage. Make sure that you’re not distracted in case of important meetings and you’re fully aware. Avoid openning your laptop to glance at e-mails. I like in many meetings to simply stand up to show my presence. It allows me to keep on being focused and gives the proper sense to the people in the room
  2. Am I shining the light more on my people than on myself? – people on the product group don’t work for you. They work on the product. Make sure to give the proper light. Recognition is important. Make sure to give it.
  3. Would I want my son or daughter working for someone like me? – there should be no hesitatios here. You want them to be proud saying you’re their boss
  4. Am I worthy of those who have entrusted me with their careers? – you have top professionals working on your product. Make sure they are working on the right things and that they can evolve over time. I had many conversations with many peoples regarding their careers, their aspirations and how they can evolve over time. Yes, it’s beyond the scope of the hard skills of product managers. And yes, it’s part of being a leader
  5. What can I do today to improve by 1 percent tomorrow? – think about concrete actions that can make you better. Experiment with it and see if you got the right results. If you know how to drive your product, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be doing the same with yourself

Becoming a Persuasive Leader

People will follow you if they know you can influence. I had my cases in the past when tlaking to others and realizing that they simply quote someone else instead of saying what they think is the right thing to do. I went ahead and spoke directly to the person they were quoting and had my arguments laid there. You don’t want to be in this position. You want to be perceived as someone that can make a change in the organization.

Here are some common traits for persuasive leaders:

  1. Belief in oneself – if you don’t believe in yourself, others won’t believe in you as well
  2. Relentlesseness – don’t give up on the things you believe in. Keep on saying and pushing for it even if it’s not aligned with the current approach
  3. Emphaty – there are times when emphaty can drive others to your side
  4. Boldness – you are much more persuasive if you’re willing to take the bold moves. Poeple will expect it from you if they perceive you as a leader

 

What’s Next?

This has really been only some highlights from this book. I really encourage you to read it fully. There are a lot of perspectives described there that can impact your daily behavior.

Most importantly, in order to keep on it, you have to turn it into a habit. And in order to make it into a habit, it’s better to have someone keeping you accountable. If you know that by a specific date you will have to report progress, you will make sure there is progress.

And finally, I will start thinking about the things that will make me 1 percent better by tomorrow

Applying Gamification on PM Careers

Applying Gamification on PM Careers

gamification

Over the last year, I contemplated a lot around how to better drive my career. Dictionary.com defines career as ‘a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking’. So it’s all about progress, and how one can make such progress in relevant characteristics over time, and in the case of product manager or product group manager, it’s about making progress in these elements.

Looking at people around me, roughly speaking, they can be categorized as one of two:  1. looking to get better over time

2. Suffice with what they do and willing to do the same for the rest of their lives (and of course we can switch from one to the other, depending on the current circumstances of our lives)

I’m mostly amongst the first type cast of people, and so I’ve been looking for opportunities to evolve. The most natural way is to look for new opportunities within your daily work. For example, if we’re in the process of long-term planning, I can either decide to align with the current process or try to make suggestions to how the process should look like and get feedback accordingly or influence the process. In the second option, I actually get more experience compared to the first option. Of course if it’s my first planning session, I might still benefit with aligning with the process so the next time I could develop my own perspective of how it should look like.

That’s nice, but I wanted to take it to the next level. I recently started reading in-depth about gamification and how it can be applied to either customer success or within organizations to improve employee engagement. This led me think about career management for product managers and how gamification can be of help in order to make it more exciting.

For example, if we look at product manager required skill set, we can look at hard skills (e.g. ability to set a compelling product vision) and soft skills (e.g. ability to informally manage other teams and drive them to execution).

There is no perfect in any of these skills. Even if you became great and you’re current work place, it could be that by switching a work place, all of a sudden you will face new challenges which might require that you will act slightly differently.

In gamification terms, that will be the difference between being a good PM and an expert PM. In every work place, you want to reach the point of an expert and truly be good at what you do. At that point, your intuition will be enough to make a great call on what should be done.

So how it can be done practically? Start by generating a broad list of characteristics, e.g. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/list-of-product-manager-skills-2062460. Per each of these characteristics, rate your self. Choose either the weakest ones or the ones you want to improve in the upcoming time period. Per each of these, set up a concrete task that will allow you to measure progress. Reflect on a monthly basis on which type of achievements you made. Make sure that you set up a follow-up task each time. When you have 3-5 goals in mind all the time, it’s much easier to focus and make sure that you are on the right track. And most importantly, define the prize for making progress in each of these.

For example, let’s say I decide to focus on ‘Motivating Others’. I could take a random task that we have to do and think of ways to make it even better. Consider the following options:

  1. Setting a wide-screen which shows progress over time and a concrete goal which I want the team to achieve
  2. A weekly progress report that will drive others to outperform
  3. Motivational talks with the relevant teams
  4. Creating better bridges between teams
  5. etc

If it works, great. Maybe the prize will be a day off to celebrate or ordering for lunch a special meal.

If you have skills to work on but no opportunities, think of ways to generate them. That’s the great think about working in an organization. There are more things which need to take place then just your individual work.

And most importantly – have fun 🙂

Forming a High Performing PM Team

Forming a High Performing PM Team

The concept of high performing team has a lot of literature on it. In a nutshell, the goal of any organization should be to turn any team into a high performing team. I got to be the product owner for a high performing team as well as for not high performing teams and there is a huge difference between them.

When recently I read another post on high performing teams, I started thinking about the unique nature of a team of product managers and to define better what does a high performing PM team will be and how it can be reached.

So why is it different?

Product managers are independent  – ideally, each product manager should manage either a product or a specific area of the product. In most cases, the product manager can do her daily job without any dependency on other product managers

Sounds right… so why bother about having a highly performing PM team?

Eventually, the team is serving a common purpose. It could be that each PM is focusing on a specific portion of the same product and hence the team as a whole cover the full product or even in the case where each PM leads a different product from a product line suite. In both cases, there is a broader goal that the team is trying to achieve. It could be to generate more revenue to the organization or some other higher level goal as set by the organization.

In such a case, why not join forces and make sure the team is operating in a seamless way towards reaching the goals?

Think of the following examples:

  1. Having shared best practices – each PM has his own thinking of the best way to do certain things. In a high performing team, best practices are commonly shared across the team members to ensure all team members can improve
  2. Ability to trust each other – since there is a shared goal, it’s important to know that all team members are aligned with this goal and think in a similar way. For example, look for signs when PM’s are willing to reduce the number of engineers on the team in order to support another project. Also, look for signs on how interfaces are conducted – is the team looking for the ideal solve or a short-term solve to unhook individual goals

I’m convinced. How can I turn my team into a high performing team?

I’m going to propose several ideas from different areas which I believe together will form the right approach.

As a first step, the team should form as a team rather than a set of individuals. For this to work, the team should know each other better. In one of the retrospectives held in an engineering team I’m working with, the following exercise was used. Here is the idea, each team member gets a set of 10 cards that can be found here. Each of these cards represent something different that may or may not motivate them. You then ask each team member to arrange the cards from the most important one for them to the least important one. After the exercise is done, have each team member talk about the top 3 for them. This will generate awareness on the team on what motivates each other.

The second step is to have the team set their own set of values. These values represent how the team wants to operate and highlight what is important and what is not and also to highlight what shouldn’t be done in the team. For this step, I recommend the team will generate its own version of Good product manager / Bad product manager manifesto. It shouldn’t be about how you as a team leader think the team should operate. It should be about how the team sees it. Once you have such a document, make sure to call out behaviors which are not aligned with this manifesto and also to credit cases where things were done accordingly. Since the manifesto will be defined by the team, it will make them accountable for the content.

The third step is to set the proper cadence for having the team members share updates. Remember, you have a shared goal. It’s in the best interest for the team to see how they progress together towards this goal. If possible, make sure to project it. It’s important for the entire team to be aware of the status and to actively participate even if others are currently presenting. If you did a good job in the 2nd step, there is probably some reference there to the expected behavior in such meetings.

Fourth, generate a feedback mechanism. If it will happen naturally within the team, great! no need to create any dedicated one. if not, try to create the right method that will allow team members to share their perspective. For example: have dedicated retrospectives on a quarterly basis or have team members join other team members rituals to be able to share their perspective and later on have them share their insights in a team meeting.

Frankly, I haven’t yet set up my own high performing team, but at least now I have a clear path to reaching there. Wish me luck 🙂

 

 

 

Personal Development vs Career Management

Personal Development vs Career Management

[According to Google, there are 421M results answering the above question, but that shouldn’t stop me from sharing my own insights this time, so here goes answer #421M+1 :)]

As I mentioned in the past, I raelly like looking at each of us as a product – we have our features, our track record, some of us has their own vision and a roadmap to reach it.

I recently heard this great lecture by Dave Wascha from Mind the Product who shared his tips from 20 years of experience as product manager. One of the great tips Dave had to share was to focus on the users (which is a natual PM skill), but also he clarified that we should focus on the user experience and not give too much emphasis to ROI. For example, you could have an idea for a great feature which doesn’t yield an immediate ROI, such as a new look & feel to the system. However, if users will enjoy the new feature, they might recommend your product even more and hence in the long run there will be a return on investment.

You probably ask yourself at this point, ok, this is a nice tip, but how is it related to the title of this post?

This is the distinction between career management and personal development. When you have career management in mind, you focus on the set of skills that will take you to the next level. When you think about personal development, these could be the skills that won’t necessarily take you to the next level, but could make you a more delightful product.

Let me share a few personal examples:

  1. I recently started to self learn Spanish. I don’t have any plans currently to relocate to South America or to Spain, so there is no immediate correlation to my career management. However, think of the experience for an ebay seller who will file a complaint in Spanish and I’ll be able to answer him in Spanish? What a delight will it be for him rather than having the seller hold until someone will actually attempt to answer or someone wlil run his question through Google Translate and answer in English
  2. I also started running a process of developing a training program for product managers in our group. That will be great to create better clarity on the different type of skills we’re looking to have for each product manager in the group. Will it be meaningful for my career development? Don’t know. Will my surrounding benefit from having someone do that? Sure

To sum it up, try looking for the opportuntiites that will allow you to develop those extra skills. It doesn’t have to be a personal development plan, it could be a backlog of ideas that may or may not materialize eventually, but it will be worth it.

Just think about your users!