What Separates Successful Product Managers From the Rest?

Hiring and managing product managers requires an understanding of the complexity of the role, a great pool of candidates, and a little bit of good luck. To be successful in this role, a product manager needs ridiculous influence, knowledge, and experience. They know how to innovate through minimalism, possesses strong communications skills, can influence without authority, and are ferocious at prioritizing what tasks are essential to making it to the release.

Successful Product Managers are the gateways to the rest of the organization. They are fearless visionaries that take ownership over defining product requirements and creating product strategy, deep in the trenches while still maintaining influence across many silos within the company. They are the backbone to a successful product. Ian McAllister, Director of Product Management at Airbnb, knows a thing or two about the Product Management role, and says that the top 1% in the upper echelon excel at these following traits.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a 1% PM, certainly not one that I identified as such prior to hiring. Instead of trying to hire one, you’re better off trying to hire a 10% PM who strives to develop and improve along these dimensions. – Ian McAllister

Successful product managers channel a 360-degree view

Great Product Managers know how to channel different points-of-view. They play devil’s advocate a lot. They tend to be unsatisfied with simple answers. – Ken Norton

By leveraging this inclusive vantage point, which incorporates user experience, customer feedback, and the needs of a cross functional team, they can gain a purely objective perspective and use it to their advantage by understanding where every team is coming from and how to align the overall vision into a single product roadmap.

They have the ability to forecast

The top 1% has the ability to draw from past experiences and measure future project progression against these benchmarks. They also have a clear understanding of how their technology can be applied to meet the needs of customers for the long term

They’re big thinkers

Elite Product Managers are tactical thinkers that can always see the larger picture, and incorporate it into the product development process. Their keen business acumen propels them to channel many different viewpoints from key stakeholders, internal teams and market demands. These are hybrid individuals with strong technical backgrounds that can decipher great design and know when to make a technical compromise on a project.

They’re powerful communicators

1% PM can make a case that is impossible to refute or ignore.

Successful product managers communicate with presence, meaning that every word is carefully chosen and they know how to manipulate their inflection to persuade their audience. They understand the importance of writing effective and compelling copy and know how to deliver on it. Drawing from their endless internal encyclopedia, they know how to pull from data, various team biases, pain points and triggers ‘that can convince the powers that be to part with headcount, money, or other resources and then get out of the way.’

They can innovate through minimalism

Vik Singh, the CEO and co-founder of Infer, is a major proponent on how Product Managers effectively manage time. He also describes the elite few that understand how to design an effective product that cuts to the core of what a customer wants without including a lot of features that just add noise. He notes:

Make note of how they stage out the product timeline. Are they able to identify shortcuts? How do they make use of scarce resources? Do they recognize the importance of failing fast in a startup? Are they focusing more on the market definition and less on the product vision?

Successful product managers deliver

1% Product Managers understand what has to get done and can be ‘ruthless at prioritizing what tasks should make it into the next sprint or release.’ They have excellent organization skills and the ability to make difficult trade-offs quickly. The top 1% understands that the scope of their role doesn’t have limitations and will extend until everything is copacetic.

Approaching the hiring process with the “they might not be the perfect candidate, but they’ll be suited for this specific role” type mindset can be absolutely deadly at a startup. This is an absolutely dynamic role where you’re essentially bringing on a mini-CEO. 

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