Using 17 Golden Rules to Achieve Product Management Success

If there’s anything I care deeply about, is to help product managers be as successful as they can. Whether you’re an aspiring product manager, a newer product manager, or someone who might need a quick reminder, I’ve written these 17 rules for you to think about. Maybe they overstate the obvious. Maybe you’re doing some of them. Doesn’t matter. Take a look and consider what you can do to raise the bar.

One of the things I hear from product managers is that they have no time to do what they feel they need to do, too many emails, priorities that seem to change daily, nanosecond reactions to last minute requests, dealing with politics, and much more. Guess what? It’s not going away. No silver bullets. I want to reinforce some points you probably know, or tell you some things that you need to do to excel as a product manager – a job that is not for the faint of heart or for those who lack enthusiasm. If you are endeared with the title and don’t understand what has to get done, then don’t get started. Do something else.

Here’s your job in a nutshell…

You’re leading a small company inside a big company. The implication: you’re an entrepreneur. You should understand each and every aspect about your product’s business.  Yet, to earn your product manager badge, or to shine up the one you’ve got, here are some suggested rules that can energize you and continue to spark your passion for one of the best jobs in the world!

Here are the rules:

Rule 1 – Know what has to get done and when it has to get done.

The people who invented the product life cycle curve did it for a reason. One of your challenges is to understand where your product rests on the life cycle curve and devise the appropriate strategies which are aligned with its life cycle state.

Rule 2 – Know how the company works and who is responsible for what.

The way to achieve this is to understand the entire organizational structure and reporting responsibilities. This leads to the next rule.

Rule 3 – Make friends.

When you understand how the organization works from a functional perspective, you will understand which organizations ‘touch’ your product. Learn how orders are processed, how complaints are handled, the fulfillment process, R&D programs and technologies, the financial systems, etc. The more you know, the better you’ll equip yourself to work cross-functionally. Cross functional teaming is a critical dimension of the job. Which leads us to the next Rule.

Rule 4 – Get cake, or cookies, or any kind of tasty food –

And while you’re at it, establish a solid, consistent agenda for cross-functional team meetings – get issues on the table fast and encourage the team to help find solutions. When everyone looks at the business holistically, problem solving becomes much more efficient. You can avoid valuable time sinks and devote more time to issue resolution.

Rule 5 – Do research – all the time.

The world is your laboratory. Make time to sit in the call center and listen to how orders and complaints are handled. Watch customers use your products. Read industry news.  Visit customers. Visit customers.  Observe, interview, infer, and gain insights. Look at your competitor’s websites, get Google alerts for key words that mention your competitors, their products, and their leaders. Devote two or more 30-minute sessions a week to scan goings on in the market.  Do anything you can do to squeeze in the time to improve your market sensing skills. Garnering market insights is one of the most important skill sets you can cultivate. It frames almost every business decision you’ll have to make.

Rule 6 – Learn to share.

Share as much of the market information with your team members. Don’t just assume they read all the posts and emails blasts from aggregators or others. Take a 15-minute break to share what you know and to find out what others may have learned. Take good notes and share on Slack or other media where you can inspire conversations. When you make marketplace and customer information sharing an ongoing activity, people recognize you for who you are and how you help promote the greater good of the team by sharing.

Rule 7 – Get a thick skin.

No one ever said you’ll be the most popular, but you need to try. As an general manager type, you may make unpopular decisions. That’s your prerogative; However, some people may say things to you, either to your face or behind your back. You may also be chastised by a customer who is unhappy with an experience with your product or your company. Learn to listen, take the heat, and process it productively. And sometimes, you will find yourself dealing with the next Rule:

Rule 8 – Learn to make fun of yourself.

Others will – and it may demonstrate that they like you. Being a little self-deprecating demonstrates that you’re comfortable in your own skin, have the confidence to take a little heat, and that you’re a growing, learning machine.

Rule 9 – Show your enthusiasm all day long.

You’re on stage. No one wants to see a grouch walking through the hallways. Enthusiasm is infectious.

Rule 10 – Learn the numbers!

You don’t need a degree in corporate finance to be a product manager or a marketing manager, but you certainly need to know forecasting methods, budgeting, variance analysis, and how to establish metrics to understand how well your product is performing in the market against those plans. You’ll need to know the intricacies of the profit & loss statement and cash flow…at the very minimum. Make sure you examine your results as frequently as necessary

Rule 11 – Communicate.

And by the way, communicate. And when you think you’re done communicating – communicate some more. Keep your management informed so they don’t micro-manage you. Get issues on the table. Encourage debate. And most importantly, resolve issues and conflicts quickly.

Rule 12 – Take a hike.

Find some time to take a walk. Get out of your office. Go to the gym. Write a poem. Paint a picture. Do yoga. Whatever you do, spend a little time away from your environment, on your own. You need time to allow creative thought to flood into your mind. You can’t achieve this when you’re in meetings, on conference calls, or doing email.

Rule 13 – Keep excellent records .

Make sure that you have appropriate documentation and artifacts. Keep product strategies, roadmaps business cases, etc.  Use your online repository to store and share your stuff. You never know when you’ll leave your job or get re-assigned. Don’t make it a six-month job for each of your successors to have to reinvent the wheel. It’s very inefficient.

Rule 14 – Strengthen your bond with Marketing and R&D.

Spend time, know their pain, and offer support. Speak often; daily if necessary. Involve them in decisions. Have lunch. Eat cake together. These are your allies.

Rule 15 – Do good deeds.

Like Covey says, make deposits in emotional bank accounts. Help people whenever you can.  Coach, guide, facilitate. Help people grow. They’ll soon be following these golden rules. Don’t make withdrawals unless absolutely necessary.

Rule 16 – Don’t wait for orders.

Make your agenda and get things done. Constantly find ways to surpass your objectives. Share your victories and challenges with your manager and communicate your overarching agenda. When your manager trusts you to carry out your job, you’ll earn his or her respect, knowing that you’re helping them achieve their successes. To coin the wildly successful slogan from Nike, “just do it.”

Rule 17 – Build a community.

Product managers don’t always have a forum to share information about new or evolving practices, successes, and failures. This is tantamount to an internal professional association. Create an agenda, allow different people to get on the agenda and present their information, and encourage the communication. Oh…and bring cake (or lunch).

When you follow these rules, you’ll achieve success in ways you may not have fully understood.

To learn more, get a copy of The Product Manager’s Survival Guide (2nd edition).

To put the rules into practice, consider Sequent’s Product Management Essentials Workshop.

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