PMs have diverse backgrounds, murky responsibilities, and wildly varied expectations across companies. It’s nearly impossible to define what makes a PM great. With those caveats, here is an attempt at ten commonalities.
They immerse themselves in research, feedback, data, discussions, and the market. They craft thoughtful, inspiring narratives for where the product should go — and the best path to get there.
They listen well. They infuse urgency. They foster collective creativity. They build consensus by default, but can drive hard decisions when they have to. They take blame and pass on praise.
They constantly fine-tune product strategy…
Why is it so hard to incubate entirely new capabilities within mature products? A few strategy lessons distilled from the product histories of Instagram, Twitter, and Foursquare:
In the early days of a startup, you build as fast as possible to try to find product market fit before you run out of time and capital. By the time you get to scale with millions of users and hundreds of millions in revenue, the product development tradeoffs seem to invert.
At scale, even small product tweaks seem at risk of aggravating paying customers; big new features feel almost…
After more than a decade working in product across Google, Foursquare, and Slack, I still often struggle to define the role of “product manager” (PM) succinctly. Explaining what makes a PM great is even harder.
Product Management isn’t an academic subject that one can study; most people learn by apprenticeship. They have diverse backgrounds, murky responsibilities, and wildly varied role definitions across companies. They typically sit at the intersection of development — design and engineering — and go-to-market — sales and marketing — where they research opportunities, guide strategy, and help take features from idea to launch.
It can be…
The best questions foster rigor, encourage focus, and teach instincts. Below are some favorites to try using when reviewing proposals for product plans or business strategy.
Adapted from this Tweet storm:
The biggest determinant to long-term product velocity is the pace of learning.
Learning is broader than just A/B experiments. How quickly are you developing new insights about customer needs and pain points?
Of course you need some mix of “earning” launches, ones you have high confidence will be a quick win for customers. But the “learning” launches are the ones that unlock future trajectory bending.
Judge PMs in…
Want to work at Slack — in NYC? We are hiring talented engineers, product managers, and designers. Visit slack.com/jobs to find out more, or email me directly at nweiss @ slack-corp . com.
“In 2016, what’s an area you want Slack to make a big, new investment in?”
That’s the question Stewart Butterfield and I talked a lot about. We went through a slew of ideas: mining message histories to help alert people of relevant and timely messages, using the work graph to help people connect with internal experts, making the existing search significantly better for companies with rich message…
When Alphabet emerged in August, 2015, Larry made Sundar Pichai the CEO of the core business. Most people outside Google, Forbes included, all had the same question: “Who is Google’s New Chief?” Google’s notoriously focused on intellect, from the brainteaser interview questions to its sci-fi style moonshots. Yet the answer had very little to do with Sundar’s superior intelligence (despite his Stanford masters and Wharton MBA).
Everyone wants to be the smartest person in the room. That is an understandable goal early in your career. But to grow into an actual leader, intelligence is necessary but not sufficient. Constantly and…
There are many great definitions of product management. There’s universal agreement that the best PMs are utility players who have a range of skills that lets them jump into almost any role so they can do whatever it takes to ship products faster. Between diving into details and reacting to incoming requests — from engineering, design, sales, marketing, support, PR, legal, and more—it’s easy to get sucked into spending 100% of your time with a time-horizon of the release date two-weeks out.
It’s a trap.
Take a lesson from Google. Back in 2005, just post IPO and with their core…
Ben Horowitz’s definition of war and peace in business is perfect:
Peacetime in business means those times when a company has a large advantage vs. the competition in its core market, and its market is growing.
In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macro economic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.
This piece is about what great product managers do when they’re at peace versus at war. …
By Noah Weiss, VP Product at Foursquare
A year ago, with Thanksgiving fast approaching, we started thinking about what were the big areas Foursquare could invest in for 2014. It seemed obvious: make checking in faster, improve search quality, make the venue page more authoritative, and so on. It was a reasonable plan. It was an uninspired plan.
So we started over. We listed out all our assumptions about the constraints we had:
By Noah Weiss, SVP Product at Foursquare
Whiteboards, sticky notes, and brainstorms within a team are the fun part. Then comes the hard part: how to capture all those ideas, stack ranked, vetted, and communicate them across your company.
When your company has fewer than 20 people, written roadmaps are overkill. There are a handful of projects, everyone talks at lunch, and you don’t have the runway to plan more than a few months ahead.
When your company is 1,000+ people, you probably need complicated processes and committees for any company-wide initiatives. Aggregating OKRs from teams across Google required numerous…
VP of Product at Slack. Former SVP Product at Foursquare and Google Search PM. Stanford alum, Brooklyn born.