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Strategy, vision, and influence for product managers
Today we are talking about the journey from product manager to product officer or product VP.
Henry Latham, the founder of Prod MBA, is with us to share his experience and insights. He has been a product manager and managed a variety of product teams in multiple countries. At Product MBA, he helps product managers and owners accelerate their career by teaching them how to build great products.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:49] How do we formulate a product strategy?
The four key competencies of product management are execution, product strategy, leadership, and leveraging customer insight. Product managers tend to focus on execution, which is important, but it’s hard to know whether we’re building the right thing—that knowledge comes from product strategy. For many people, this becomes a vicious cycle—you’re not practicing strategy so you’re ill-equipped to fill the gap when an opportunity arises or when you want to apply for a more senior role. A lot of people hit the glass ceiling at this point—they have execution down but they’re not building strategic muscle.
Strategy is a messy term. Most people talk about strategy as a list of things to do, but we should think about strategy as making it clear what we’re doing and not doing. That comes with a framework of decision-making. For example, we could be really good at speed, like the fastest email application in the world. We’re not bothered about other stuff, but it’s very clear what is important for our product, customer, position in the market, and how we make money.
Strategy isn’t that complicated. You don’t need the complex strategy of Facebook or Google. Start by simply answering, What is it we do and what is it we don’t do? Understand your unique selling point, your target customer, and specifically what they want. Then work out how to build a product that will deliver that specific outcome for them in a unique and valuable way that other people in the market aren’t doing.
[11:31] How do you communicate vision to those you work with?
Storytelling is a fundamental skill of any leader. When you’re teaching, people aren’t going to remember everything; they might only remember 10%. First, keep it simple. Second, tell a story about a customer. Talk about understanding whom you’re trying to serve and the struggles they’re facing. Get people inspired and focused around that. Communicate the unique thing you’re doing. Third, know how to bring data into that story.
Communicate your vision and tie personal stories to that vision. Stories of how your product helps your customers remind people of why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s a rare company that understands vision is not about buzzwords and inspiring sentences; it’s about how our actions and words consistently focus on how we’re creating a specific outcome for our customer, and that leads to a strong culture and a great product.
[19:15] How do we influence others?
To be an effective product leader, you need three things:
- Be mindful so you can look at things objectively and zoom out.
- Be resilient to stick with things when they get difficult.
- Be able to focus on the essentials so you can say no and stand up for what’s important for your company and team.
You need to build your own product to build resilience and come up against your own ego. Take ownership of everything you do. You can read about tactics for influence, but you’re not going to stand up in the face of opposition unless you’re very strong in your convictions, your personal vision, your product vision, and your understanding of the customer.
On top of this foundation, you need experience—not perfect experience, but some experience—to understand challenges, have competence, take action, and produce results. You need to be able to define, validate, and communicate a strategy effectively.
[25:31] What mindset do product managers need?
Many product managers reach a ceiling because they understand the framework and are experienced in managing development teams, but to level up they need soft skills, which are around mindset. Again, be mindful, resilient, and focused. Shift your mindset away from details that don’t matter to instead obsess over vision, strategy, and storytelling. As you get more senior, you need to get very good, very quickly at doing these key things, communicating them, and influencing people to follow you. To cultivate a strong product mindset, you need to have experience and see the value of a specialized offer in the market. As Jeff Bezos says, “Be strict with vision. Be flexible with the details.” You’re not going to stick with your vision if you haven’t built up convictions through experiences that create strong, resilient minds.
Action Guide: Put the information Henry shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out Henry’s book Product Leadership Starts With You
- Learn about Product MBA
- Connect with Henry on LinkedIn
“It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.” – Josh Waitzkin
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.