The path to turning a product vision into reality is no smooth ride. Obstacles along the way are inevitable. Without focus and determination, unavoidable challenges such as market shifts, competitors, and customer changing needs will stager even the most powerful companies. Consequently, ambitious roadmaps are deemed impossible, and the ever-stagnant comfort zone becomes home once again.
This is where the importance of an accomplished product manager is most evident.
Much like any successful head coach in professional sports, the product manager is the leader of a team. They determine their vision and establish a roadmap that will lead their team on a path to achieving goals. Whether it be a monumental feat like winning an Olympic gold medal, or hitting the next financial milestone, or perhaps something as mundane as releasing trivial bug fixes, it remains the responsibility of those in charge to lead a team that will turn visions from strategy to execution.
This is much easier said than done. Success is not a destination; it is a constantly changing process. How does a product manager rise to be able to make decisions on a strategic level?
Drop the ego to achieve success
The most important characteristic of any thriving product manager is open-mindedness. For the ultimate success of any team, the leader must ignore their ego. No one person is any more valuable when it comes to the exchange of ideas. When each person is given the opportunity to be heard, trust is instilled. When trust is earned, a culture of respect and success follows.
Renowned college basketball and three-time Olympic gold medal-winning head coach Mike Krzyzewski is certain of this philosophy.
"If you hold you hand out with all five fingers spread out and try to punch someone, you will cause yourself an extraordinary amount of pain and possibly break some fingers. However, if you make a fist with all five fingers together, you can really make a powerful punch."
For any product manager to establish a goal in which each employee is willing to buy into, shared ambition is key.
One of the best ways to keep any team determined is to be a good listener. Encourage fellow colleagues to talk about their product ideas and establish a workplace where those around you feel comfortable bringing new opinions to the table. Speak in terms of their interests and use their ideas to firm up your roadmap. Expect to change opinions and impressions over time. Fill in communication and understanding gaps to ensure each person makes the best decisions for them and the team.
Soft skills like attentive listening and empathy improve relations with others and separate ordinary product managers from great ones.
"Trust is developed through open and honest communication and, once established, creates a shared vision for a common goal. Established trust among a group of individuals bolsters a feeling of confidence that only comes in knowing that you are not alone. If you are wondering whether or not you can "get it done" and someone you trust tells you that they believe in you — that is a powerful thing"
Getting one percent better every day
Once it has been established that every single person’s opinion matters and trust has been earned, the next step for a product manager is to ensure constant improvement is being made. Once again, it remains a process, not a destination. That’s what few successful product managers realize and explains to some degree why repeating is so difficult. Focus on building a strong culture, and steadily improving team performance. Build an envelope of trust.
In just his first season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League, Frank Reich set in place a mindset that continues to pour-over into the success of his team for years to come. The message was clear. Despite a losing record, get one percent better every day.
A vision remains a vision until the proper foundation is laid in place. Once the foundation is set, a vision can be built into a reality. The discipline of roadmapping through collaborative prioritization must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of shipping features.
Focus on the process and outcomes over output. Product managers should direct the company’s focus less on the output (feature factory) than to the process of measuring outcomes — obsessing about the quality of the execution and the content of the thinking; that is, employee and executive actions and attitudes. Is any of this really working? Do we have the winning standard of performance before the product becomes a winner?
The foundation of any successful team is its leader. Whether it be the product manager of a start-up software company or Mike Krzyzewski, they must establish trust amongst their team, and create a culture of open-mindedness where all opinions are valued. Once a thriving culture is in place, a relentless pursuit to constantly improve is what drives the vision forward. Nothing worth achieving is done without hard work, and those who continue to get better over time, find themselves on top in the end.
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Bain Public is a Product consultancy who helps you make smart product decisions that engage users and help deliver business results. We help ambitious companies create new value with design and technology-based products and strategies. Our group of experienced Product Managers works closely with CSuite leadership teams removing friction from all touch-points of the digital consumer experience to deliver product-market fit allowing companies to operate at scale.