Radhika is a product leader and entrepreneur who has participated in 4 exits, 2 of which were companies she founded. She is currently working on a book about product thinking. Radhika is a global citizen, having lived or worked on 4 continents and a polyglot, speaking 9 languages. Radhika will be speaking at Product Management Festival APAC in Singapore on the 17-18 June.
Our readers like to see how senior product leaders get to where they are. What advice would you give product managers on their journey to more senior roles? And what advice would you give leaders on hiring PMs?
Radhika: One of the challenges of a career in product management is that often companies have good intentions in hiring a PM but the role of the PM devolves into that of a backlog admin. This issue is exacerbated if you have the title of Technical Product Manager. The role becomes tactical rather than strategic.
But regardless of the role or title you have, you can take on a more strategic role in the organization. Here are 3 things every product manager can do:
- Take ownership of your product vision – Even when your company has a vision, as a PM, you should craft your own vision for your product or component (that’s aligned with your company’s). You’ll find that your clarity of vision helps anchor your team. When you build your vision, make sure it’s not a slogan or a soundbite. It should be detailed and actionable. Here’s a link to a simple format for a vision that helps you align your team on a vision.
- Own your product strategy – Very often the primary task of the PM becomes writing user stories. Under pressure to output stories and sprints, our tactical activities (and those of our team) can become disconnected from our vision. You can take a more strategic role by developing a clear product strategy that drives every user story. A comprehensive product strategy should answer the following key questions: What’s the Real pain point? What’s our Design that addresses the pain? What Capabilities do we have that allow us to deliver on the promise of the design? What Logistics help us deliver the solution to the customer?
- Build a strategic roadmap: Most roadmaps are engineering and design roadmaps. But if you’re releasing a product, there are most likely other functions that need to be involved. For example, perhaps your professional services team needs to develop an installation plan. You can take on a more cross-functional role by driving a strategic roadmap rather than an engineering and design roadmap.
These are concrete steps that help you level up as a product manager. But they’ll also make day to day work more satisfying.
In terms of advice for product leaders on hiring PMs, my one recommendation is to think about hiring PMs who will bring a different perspective. I recommend that leaders skip popular questions such as “What’s your favorite product, and why?” or “How would you improve this product?” I wrote a post about why these interview questions don’t help you find the best Product Managers (and what you can ask instead).
As leaders, if we want to create a high performing team, we need to hire people who will challenge our thinking and bring a different perspective.
What is Radical Product?
Radhika: Radical Product is a movement of leaders creating vision-driven change.
I co-founded it with Geordie Kaytes and Nidhi Aggarwal with the mission of making it easier for leaders to create vision-driven change instead of moving fast and breaking things. It’s very deliberately not driven by monetization. True to our mission, the Radical Product Toolkit is available for free from Radical Product.
We had built products in many different industries and found a pattern of “product diseases” that made good products go bad. Examples of product diseases are Hero Syndrome, Strategic Swelling, Obsessive Sales Disorder, and Pivotitis. We caught many of these diseases ourselves.
We found that even when companies were doing all the “right” things, applying Lean and Agile and being customer-focused, they were still running into these product diseases. Lean Startup and Agile methodologies help you iterate faster – they give you speed. But to avoid product diseases you need to add direction to your speed so you have velocity. Radical Product is a way of thinking that complements your execution methodology of choice. It’s a repeatable and systematic approach to translating vision into execution so you can avoid these product diseases.
What do you think will be important for product leaders in the next 5-10 years? What are some trends you see?
Radhika: I see the field of product management looking a little different in a few years.
Today, moving fast and breaking things is accepted as a normal byproduct of building our companies.
Facebook was built on non-revolutionary, existing technology and yet the product was able to affect democracies and incite violence. While Facebook is not the only example of unintended consequences of a product, it’s the most prominent one. As we have increasingly powerful technologies at our disposal, we will start uncovering more such unintended consequences.
The role of the product manager will be increasingly important.
It’s not just the tactical role of optimizing for revenues and product usage. As a product leader, when we build products, the question of whether we want to put our name on the product will become more important. As a result, I am optimistic that we’ll flip the current model of moving fast and breaking things.
In the future, successful product leaders will be the ones who are more strategic and think about their product as a mechanism to create the change they are inspired to bring to the world.