How to Be An Amazing Product Manager — Part II

Last month we created a list of 50 Product Managers worth following to provide you with an inexhaustible fount of knowledge they share on their personal feeds.

We’ve published the part 1 to Medium — now’s the time to publish the second one.

Our writer, Piotr Koczorowski, reached out selected great product managers asking them to share their insights on how to be a better manager.

We asked three questions:

1. What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?
2. What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?
3. How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

Hear what they have to say.

Jason Shen

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

The ability to think across disciplines and both understand and communicate needs + priorities between business, technology, design, research, users and other stakeholders.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The ultimate challenge of building products is that it is hard to know what will work. You can have an incredibly well engineered, beautiful, and user centered product and it can still fail. Running a good process is how you steady a team’s morale — keeping it up when things don’t work, and not getting cocky when it succeeds wildly.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

The most important measure of productivity is time my team spends working in alignment, with a clear understanding of expectation and goals, on efforts they believe will have major positive impact.

Website: http://www.jasonshen.com


Magdalena Czech

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

If it has to one thing, I’d say it’s good leadership. In the end it boils down to creating the right conditions and vision for your team (developers, designers, testers, support, salespeople) to be inspired and motivated to build the best possible product together.

Practically speaking, I mean — properly communicating goals, motivating teamwork and giving a good example of work ethic yourself.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

In agile software development projects, managing changes is always the biggest challenge. Especially in a start-up environment; at RightHello we’ve already changed the basic functionalities of our software and the following business model 3 times over 2 years.

The hardest thing to get used to is that the biggest success often lies in letting go of “beloved” functionalities, instead of continuing their development and implementation. So you have to plan, but not get too attached to your initial plans. In this context, the winning managers are those who think on their feet, are able to adjust their vision, listen to the market and tailor products to what the market needs.

Remember to actually analyse and implement what you learn, don’t just look for confirmation of your own ideas.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

We have two groups of metrics:

The first important group tells us about business viability, here we measure the actual value delivered to users. These metrics tell us whether our changes have a visible (and positive) impact on users. In this context, we mainly measure if users are satisfied with the quality and quantity of delivered data, plus our product’s UX. We use quantitative methods and do quality assurance interviews.

The second group of metrics tells us about how efficient our team is. Here we depend mostly on estimating tasks in “story points” (a term from the Scrum methodology), and the feature-to-bug ratio. We use timeboxing in case of experiments that can’t be estimated using story points .

Having good metrics we can easily set goals and measure how far we are from reaching them — “we’re at a point X, our goal is to reach point Y in a Z number of weeks”. We’ve been through a few stages at RightHello — from not measuring anything at the start, to measuring everything we can. However, there is such a thing as “too much data” — when information becomes noise and you lose sight of your priorities. That’s why we pushed hard to reach the point we’re in now — following over a dozen of crucial metrics, with a few strategic ones added into the mix.

The key is to measure performance consistently and repeatedly. On the other hand, at some point you accept the fact that nothing is set in stone in start-ups. That’s why in this environment, you need to always ask yourself whether your metrics are still valid and informative, or if there are things you should be tracking but aren’t at the moment.

Website: http://righthello.com/


Paul Yokota

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

Dedication to continually learning about your customers. Customer needs are constantly evolving with new technology, trends in your market and even their level of familiarity with your product. The worst thing a PM can do is to decide they know everything about their customers.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

The key way to measure effectiveness, regardless of what kind of product you are building, is in terms of validated learning. A feature that fails isn’t waste if you learn how to deliver more value to your users. Optimizing this kind of “ROI” requires validating your work as early as possible (putting early prototypes in front real users, for example) and being disciplined about closing the loop and measuring the impact of what you ship.

Website: http://paulyokota.com/


Katz Boaz

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

The ability to know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”.

Usually, everyone is saying that the PM needs to know when to say “No”. I personally love to have a positive attitude, so the first answer I try to give is “Yes, but I need to check it deeper.” After this you can come back with a great “No” answer.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The biggest challenge is prioritization. You can read my take here:

Prioritization is Hell.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

We have a process where we score our performance from 1–5 by the different stages of the Product Manager work for every feature delivered (Brainstorm, defining KPIs, UX quality, Speed of work etc).

This enables us to understand where are the weak points we need to work on.

Website: https://www.bizzabo.com/


Beata Zielinska

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

Listening to the each part of the team involved in the product development and the ability to add priority to each voice, depending on current goals.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

Lack of technical background is the biggest challenge for me. I have learned that specifying new features and talking to developers about them is sometimes very difficult. From the developers perspective, there must be a will to listen to what the non-technical person wants from them. Only when two sides understand very well what the new feature is for and how it should work, there is a chance that the project will go quickly and smoothly.

In other words, team cooperation happens only when each side is able to listen — be curious and ask questions to understand the other person’s perspective no matter what is his or her background experience.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

In Sotrender, we use agile methodology in product development. The features, which are the most important to develop from product perspective, are our Sprint goals. We spend time on specifying these features trying to describe how the feature should work, while at the same time looking at it from technical perspective.

If our estimations are fine, then we release the new feature in the predicted timeline, which means the whole team worked effectively on planning and execution of that plan.

Website: http://www.sotrender.com/, http://www.sombreroapp.com/


Michal Stefaniak

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

One of the main qualities that a product manager should have, especially in a small company, is the ability to effectively handle multiple tasks at the same time. When your business is growing quickly, you have to not only keep track of a lot of data, metrics and issues, but also be able to think in broader terms and maintain a vision. So, to answer your question — a good PM needs to be great at multitasking.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The biggest issue for our company, which is a B2B SaaS, is lowering the barrier to entry — namely making the onboarding experience as easy as possible. Our main objective is to make the initial experience as smooth and inviting as possible, so that users actually use the app and input some data into it.

On the other hand, users expect our software to be modular and feature-rich. Reconciling our app’s broad scope and ease of use is hard, but the overall lesson is clear to me — usability, especially as experienced during the first few minutes after signup, is king.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

Both at InvoiceOcean and Sugester, we consider our work effective when our customers are satisfied. Satisfied customers are happy to pay for our services, and also likely to recommend them to their friends. Our notion of effectiveness is centered on customer satisfaction.

Sugester, which is our newest project, allows us to easily track and measure customer happiness after every interaction. This is our main metric — our experience shows that customer happiness is always soon followed by increases in revenue.

Website: http://invoiceocean.com , http://sugester.com/


Lauren Nham

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

The ability to identify and capture value. This translates to discovering value for customers and stakeholders, making tradeoffs and determining the best path to bringing these to life.

Product Managers are often tempted to focus on delivering value to internal stakeholders, the squeakiest wheel or the de facto “HiPPO” (highest paid person’s opinion). Moreover, companies with nascent Product practices often treat Product Managers as glorified project managers who focus solely on delivery.

A mature Product-focused company dedicates equal if not additional time and resources to Product Discovery who we’re building for and why) to optimize their ROI.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

One of the most understated challenges Product Mangers face is politics.

Most discussions and writings on the world of Product is focused on product discovery and delivery. In my early days as a Product Manager, my evangelism was solely focused externally towards potential partners and customers.

I painfully learned that a successful product launch requires the alignment of sales, marketing and operations — all much more than simply the daily interaction with design and engineering.

To become a successful Product Manager, one must readily embrace the role of the diplomat and navigate the complex web of politics that often arise as interests and incentives may not be aligned.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

Simply put, the Product team builds products and features to support a company’s business objectives. As such, the hallmark of a great Product team is one that effectively (accurately) and efficiently (timely) achieves adoption of the developed feature or product and the resulting conversion (business objective).

In short, common key metrics are development velocity (speed), defect rate (quality), engagement (adoption) and conversion (goal).

Website: http://www.laurennham.com/


Przemek Pipiora

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

Interdisciplinary abilities. A great product manager has to be good at many different aspects. Like an entrepreneur, who takes care of a business he owns: he has to know the market and know the users of his product.

A good product manager is also an evangelist who educates and spreads word about the product all over the world, while thinking about the financial outcome of product development strategies. Only a person who can thrive in this specific kind of environment can be a good product manager.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The biggest challenge for me as product manager, and a part of a team, is to share the vision behind the product with developers. They take care of the technical aspects and naturally they think mostly about the completed task.

So, the challenge is to make an entire team understand the vision, and why their work is important to achieve business goals our users have. Clean code won’t make users happy.

Product that help users achieve their business goals will. The key to success here is to be open-minded, communicate clearly, and work together so everyone understands it’s not about completing tasks but about building a great product.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

User satisfaction is the biggest indicator if the work is effective or not, and the biggest prize for team efforts. Many people use factors like number of task completed within a sprint or quantity of finalized story points.

There are products with a bigger number of tasks completed, that have no additional value for the user, and that user doesn’t see it as an effective tool. That’s why it’s user satisfaction that is the highest and truest factor. A simple and quite effective way to track it is via the NPS Survey.

Website: http://www.getresponse.com


Ewa Wojciechowska

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

The most important quality of a good project manager is an ability to prioritize. A product manager must look at a big picture, set realistic goals and know what to focus on at the moment.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The biggest challenge each product manager faces is the confrontation between Expectations and Reality.

It’s easy to see a great product in your mind’s eyes, but making it work with resources available is an entirely different thing. It’s not only about creating a realistic roadmap and the execution of your project, but also about flexibility and openness to feedback. One of 13 Toyota principles describes that situation perfectly: “Utilize rigorous standardization to reduce variation, and create flexibility and predictable outcomes.”

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

We use a couple of metrics to involve all aspects of product management. They include:

  • operations (speed-to-market, product adoption),
  • customer engagement (monthly unique visitors, monthly active users, user/customer conversion rate, number of sessions per user, session duration),
  • revenue (product revenue, product margin, profitability, Customer Lifetime Value).

Such approach allows to spot the problems or things to improve as soon as they appear.

Website: https://www.salesmanago.com


Sachin Rekhi

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

As a product manager you neither build the product nor manage the people that do.

You have all the responsibility for the product’s success but none of the actual authority to get it done. Given this, the most important skill of a product manager is influence without authority: being able to effectively influence key stakeholders on your team (such as engineers, designers, peer product managers, executives) to achieve your desired outcome.

To do this successfully you’ll need to inspire the team, build your own conviction and credibility, and invest in relationships with all stakeholders.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

Looking back on my career I’ve realized that the most frustrating moments I’ve experienced have often been due to ineffective decision-making on the team resulting in heartache over getting decisions and what I believed to be the right decision made.

I’ve realized that to prevent this frustration, you need to invest in the decision-making process itself. How do decisions get made on your team? The best product managers drive this process and focus on establishing themselves as the curator (not the creator) of the best ideas, make sure everyone feels as if their opinion is heard, and effectively communicate the decision-making process itself.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

Product managers are ultimately responsible for the success of the shipped product. Therefore, the effectiveness of the team should be measured based on the success metrics for the product itself. Depending on the product manager’s role, I look for the right acquisition, engagement, monetization, or customer delight metrics that are most appropriate to measure the output of their extended team.

Website: http://www.sachinrekhi.com


That’s it for now — expect part III next week!

By the way, we’ve created a session replay tool for product managers that tracks how users interact with a website or a web application. This helps you turn user behavior insights into action in a way that charts and graphs could never support.

You should give it a try.