Doers not talkers — What to look for in great PMs

A friend recently pinged me on FB messenger. She was preparing for a PM job interview and was switching roles from being a Project Manager and asked for some tips on how to prepare for her interview. It got me thinking of my hiring philosophies and what I look for when I get hired or when I hire.

Hiring good product managers is a tough job. Hiring great ones, in a market where there is so much competition and so many distractions is even tougher. But not impossible. Over the years, I’ve built a framework for the kind of people I want to work for and the kind I want to work with.

Entrepreneurial — As the cliche goes, the PM is the CEO of the product. What that means is that you live, breathe and speak your product and you will do everything in your power to see it live and loved. You know how to design your products, you know how to get feedback, and you are resourceful.

Empathetic — A product manager who does not have user empathy has no business being a product manager. You think like your user, you want to understand their habits, their behaviors and ultimately be the user. This is especially important for a smaller company, to figure out how a user could behave in the quickest possible fashion. The more trials and errors, the more you have to expend in effort and $$$.

Doer — Are you a doer? Can you roll up your sleeves and get into the down and dirty if you have to. A PM has the ability to get into the muck and tinker around. I am not saying, all PMs have to know how to code. They dont. But I have noticed, that the best PMs are the ones who dont wince from the technology, but embrace it.

‘The iPad syndrome’ — I specifically think great product managers really know how to push beyond the boundaries. You did not need an iPad until someone put it into your hands. It was not a replacement to a PC or a smart phone. It was its own device, and suddenly, we cant imagine our lives without it. In building innovative products, its not just enough to listen to your customers. Its important to have that creative ounce which lets you think for yourself and push the boundaries beyond what’s already been done. An easier way, a more efficient way of doing things need not always come from history. It can come from the future. This ‘X’ Factor quality is something I have learnt that people either have or do not. Its impossible to teach somebody to think beyond the confines of their thinking. Creativity comes from all aspects and a great product manager imbibes this quality well and is not afraid to push the thinking beyond boundaries.

Communicator — Do you ask enough questions? Do you communicate with your engineers correctly? Do you document, IM, talk, Skype, with your customers regularly? A common complaint I hear from the engineering teams is if the documentation is not too detailed. Take the time to really understand your product and spell the details out.

Well-read — A good PM keeps abreast of the latest in his field but also tries to borrow from other fields. For e.g., what do Instacart (a grocery-delivery service) and Uber (On-demand car service) have in common? Cashless payments. It is important to understand and know the developments in your own field and keep a pulse on what is hot because creativity can be inspired from many areas.

Two articles I’ve read in the recent past that I found incredibly useful -

http://www.khoslaventures.com/wp-content/uploads/Good_Product_Manager_Bad_Product_Manager_KV.pdf

http://a16z.com/2012/06/15/good-product-managerbad-product-manager/