Leading product managers

Just as not every good developer can become a good developer manager, so do product managers. The same way as the skills a person has to manage software developers are different from the skills a developer needs to have to be a good software developer, the skills a manager of product managers needs to have to manage product managers are different from the skills that a product manager needs to have to manage his product.

So what does a manager of product managers do?

A manager of product managers has basically two concerns, one tactical and one strategic:

  • Helping product managers perform better. This is the tactical concern of the manager of product managers. He should be able to help the product manager develop the key characteristics of a good product manager: empathy, communication, time management, knowledge of new technologies, business skills, keen curiosity, and knowledge of the product theme. All these characteristics are fundamental to the success of the product manager, and the manager is not always able to understand what needs to be improved and how to improve. Then comes the manager of product managers, who should help the product manager see which features have room for improvement and how to improve each one. Often there is more than one feature that needs to be improved, and here the manager of product managers can once again help to realize priorities, which feature should be worked on first.
  • Helping product managers create product vision and strategy. This is a topic that will be covered later in the chapter What is it and how to create product vision and strategy?, and is the strategic concern of the manager of product managers. She must be able to help product managers create the vision and strategy of the company’s products. Here it is important to distinguish between the two product portfolio strategy options that a company can choose, focus or diversification, which we will see in the chapter Focus or Diversification?. In a company that has opted for focus, it is up to the manager of product managers to coordinate the process of creating the company’s product vision and strategy. She must, in conjunction with her product managers, UX designers, engineers, and product marketing managers, create the company’s product vision and design the strategy to achieve that vision. In a company that has opted for the product portfolio diversification strategy, the manager of product managers responsibility is to help each manager coordinate the process of creating the vision and strategy design for their specific product. In addition, in a company that has opted for diversification, it is up to the manager of product managers to manage the product portfolio. That is, she needs to ensure that the product portfolio is aligned with the company’s strategic objectives and that each product has the appropriate product development and marketing investment.

To be a good manager of product managers, it is important that the person has already been a product manager, that is, she has already put his hands on it and took care of the tactical and strategic issues of a product. This will help her when managing the work of other product managers.

However, care must be taken not to do the work in place of the product manager rather than to help him develop and do his work. Note that in both of the concerns I described earlier, I used “help product managers”. Having already been a product manager, it is tempting for the manager of product managers, at a time when a product manager under his leadership is struggling to do his job, to jump in on the job herself. The job of the manager of product managers is not to do the product manager’s job, but to teach and help him do his job.

If you have no experience as a product manager but find yourself coordinating the work of product managers (as may be the case with a CTO or an engineering team manager), the previous recommendations are worthwhile. That is, helping product managers perform better and help them create the vision and strategy for their products.

You may have some difficulty with not being a product manager yourself, but because you have been working with software product development, you have probably worked with product managers and have a good idea of what to expect of this role.

Digital Product Leadership

If you are interested in this topic, check out my newest book, Digital Product Leadership: The science and art of managing product teams, where I talk about concepts, principles, and tools that can be useful for someone acting as head of product, for anyone who wants to be, for whoever is led by a head of product or who has a person in that role in the company. You may also be interested in my other two books:

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