Startup founders, who are often very happy to stay hands-on with their team’s software development, will eventually have to step out of those weeds to focus on bigger and better things. When managing the day-to-day development turns into a full time job, it’s time to add a new role: product manager.
Small teams, however, actually need a blended project-product manager, who will handle all of the Agile processes that determine the when as well as the what of what is being built.
When hiring a product manager for this role, it’s important to look for the skills and qualities of someone who will be able to keep a project on track and on time, in addition to running the product definition phase of new feature development. Here are some things to look for in someone who will be handling both of these jobs.
Tip: Candidates with agency experience will likely excel here. Client services often require more clearly defined project expectations and stricter budget adherence than early startups do.
Be clear that project management will be expected in this role, and look for someone who has has some experience either in project management or client services. They should have some understanding of or willingness to learn timeline and budget management so that they understand the seriousness of projects that don’t stay on schedule.
Ask how they handled a past project that wasn’t going to be finished on time. Good answers will include a renegotiation for a leaner MVP that includes input from various stakeholders. You’ll want a PM who isn’t afraid to get your input when they need it.
At a bare minimum, you need someone who is going to speak up when something might be going wrong, and ask questions when they’re not sure. Even better, a great PM will challenge your ideas, question your assumptions and make sure your software solutions match your business goals, rather than simply build what you ask for.
Ask them about a time they asked for help.
Experience with the Agile methodology, even just for a year or so, will be very helpful here. This framework empowers product managers to implement the highest priority items first, resulting in a testable MVP sooner than the waterfall method would.
Ask how they would prioritize a backlog of features and bugs. Look for answers that focus on user and revenue impact or ROI. Bonus points if they suggest how success will be measured.
A manager who has set up project-based communication channels in the past will be more likely to earn their new team’s trust and be up and running more quickly. They should also be open to team input and feedback on their process.
Ask them what their favorite project management tools are. Find out what processes they’ve implemented in the past that helped their teams and/or stakeholders stay abreast of project process.
This manager is going to need to work closely with you, designers, developers, QA, client services, sales and marketing, and possibly your boss and your clients, too. They need to be able to build strong, trustworthy relationships across your organization in order to successfully handle both the product and project management of your roadmap.
Ask about the relationships they’ve built at other organizations. You can even ask about how they handled a challenging colleague to see if they are able to work with different personalities and stay focused on positive outcomes.
Get in touch here, and I’ll help you with your job description, interviews, and even help set up your Agile development process.