Leading with No Reporting Lines

What is the most important skill for an effective Product Manager?

We are indeed talking about world class professionals with outstanding technical skills, solid business understanding, competences in project management, organisational skills, marketing. So the list of minimum requirements is long and it goes on much further: capacity to communicate effectively across the company organisation, from the most junior technician to senior management, ability to clearly define value propositions and convey them through powerful marketing communication. A good grasp of finance is necessary most of the time and an absolute requirement is the capacity to think strategically.

Does any such individual even exist? And we haven’t started discussing the most important skill: being able to persuade people to do what you need them to. I am using the verb “to persuade” purposefully. Because the CEO of the Product usually have no direct report. A CEO with no employees!

Leading without formally managing anyone requires a strong personality. It also requires capacity to “read” people, influencing and negotiation skills together with a good dose of charisma. All must be part of the Product Manager’s toolbox.

 

Product Managers live in the core of the matrix management  concept, “commonly used to describe managing cross functional, cross business group and other forms of working that cross the traditional vertical business units – often silos – of function and geography” (from Wikipedia).

 

I recommend reading the good post 3 Key Concepts for Product Management in a Matrix Organization by Michael Swan on LinkedIn.

Michael speaks about a clear communication of the Why, the What and the How. A clear plan and an effective communication across business functions is indeed the key to success.

So what is the most important skill for a Product Manager? There isn’t such a thing as a single dominant skill but surely the capacity to bond with and inspire people is more important than technical knowledge.

The Product CEO

Product Managers live in a complex world at the interface of several different disciplines. They must be able to understand business and markets, but also be technology savvy, have strong project management skills and be able to communicate effectively to the multiple diverse roles they interact with on a daily basis.
The role of Product Management in the IT industry is well established and recognised. It is often divided into Product Marketing Management and Product Development Management. The areas of influence of the two roles are well defined:

  • Product Development Manager: the leader of the product design (implementation of features, project management of coding, product roadmap and lifecycle management)
  • Product Marketing Manager: the leader of the product marketing in the broadest sense of the term (definition of value proposition, product placement, pricing, marketing communication and execution, sales support and direction, “voice of the customer”)

Very often the Development and Marketing Domains converge in a single bigger role and that is the reason why the Product Manager is commonly defined as the “Product CEO”.

Product management in manufacturing industries (every business that produces physical goods) assumes a more complex connotation with the addition of two further Domains: Manufacturing and Supply Chain.
Converging four different Domains in a single role makes it extremely challenging. While Product Managers should have above all, in my opinion, a business focused remit, the role they play with internal operations, external suppliers and R&D is key.

The four domains of Product Management
The Four domains of Product Management

The best product idea means nothing if the product cannot be manufactured (at the right cost) because of the intrinsic complexity of the process or the lack of key parts/materials.
Product Managers in manufacturing businesses need to juggle with Development concepts and execution, the definition of how the product will be made, where the raw materials will come from, how scalable the whole process will be, all in relations the targeted market and value proposition.