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As you know from my Product Mastery Roadmap, product masters are the product leaders who have influence throughout an organization to launch awesome products customers love and to build successful product teams. And, this is exactly the topic I discuss with my guest.
Richard Banfield has co-authored an exciting new book for product managers along with Martin Eriksson, the founder of ProductTank, and Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Experience Officer at Pluralsight. The title of the book is Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and at http://productleadershipbook.com/.
The pre-publication version I was able to read was excellent and I’m looking forward to getting the final version when it is released in May. This discussion with Richard will give you a preview and valuable insights for becoming a product leader.
Richard is the CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, where he leads strategic vision. He’s also a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.
Whether you are a new product manager or one with 10+ years of experience, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this interview.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
- How do you contrast product managers from product leaders? Many product managers don’t think of themselves as leaders. As product managers become more influential in delivering value to customers their role becomes more oriented towards leadership. Further, to guide, drive, and help the product team deliver value, you need to exhibit leadership qualities. We address the questions of what does it mean to be a good manager and what does it mean to be a good leader. Beyond a leader’s style, a key question is what are you connecting – are you connecting the product vision to the roles of team members, influencing the progress of the organization, etc.
- How did the book come about? The motivation for the book was curiosity. All three of the authors have a lot of experience creating products. My company alone has developed over 700 products, which has resulted in a massive knowledge. However, I began wondering if my experience was similar to others and what I was missing. I started asking others about their product development and management experiences – what they saw working and what didn’t work. Those conversations were the start of the book. The book is a reflection of what questions the profession is asking. It addresses the questions you’ll hear at a product conference or meetup.
- What does it take to be a great product leader? The process for becoming a successful product leader will vary from person to person but there are some patterns of good product leaders. First, they are team players. They are good with human beings and bringing the best out of them. Next, you have to be a life-long learner. You also have to “embrace the suck.” There will be challenging times getting a product to market. Sometimes the work just sucks and you have to persevere. Leaders embrace these moments and working with the team to solve the challenges. They act and think team-first. Further, depending on the stage of the organization, they will have multiple hats (roles) to wear – they help where help is needed. The softer skills are also vital – writing, communicating, managing your time, negotiating, selling, persuading others with your ideas. Another key quality is “grace under fire” and being able to manage yourself well while leading others.
- My preview of the book included a checklist for becoming a great product leader. Let’s discuss a few of these items. Creating vision is vitally important. It is easy to talk about but more difficult to achieve. A vision needs to be very clear and easy to deliver to others. This isn’t just a responsibility of an organization’s CEO; product leaders are getting involved in contributing to the organization’s vision and setting the product vision. Another area is process. Process is important and valuable but it can become dogma in an organization. Process can drive out creativity and problem solving. Instead, I want to see product leaders talk in terms of frameworks than processes that become blindly followed without considering better options. Tools are in a similar vein. Tools should be amplifiers of our success. We should not be using tools to fix shortcomings. If you have a problem, a tool is not going to solve it. Tools should be used in areas where we are already doing well and a tool can make it even better. Tools should 10X what is good – our strengths – and make them great.
Useful links for product managers:
- New book – Product Leadership
- Richard’s company, Fresh Tilled Soil
“Validate your idea before building the big cake.” – Richard Banfield. Listen to the interview, around minute 35, for the full description.
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.