62: How to measure product manager performance

Survey: good product manager skills and traits #

This survey gathers the product team’s collective view on what a good product manager looks like. We then use this in the talent mapping exercise for individuals to identify their learning and development opportunities.

1A. What are the most important ‘soft’ skills for a good product manager?

Pick ALL the options that you think are the most important

  • Empathy – the ability put yourself in the shoes of the user to understand their needs from their perspective
  • Communication – ability to speak your audience’s ‘language’ and tailor what you say to their needs
  • Vision – to see what the ultimate product could and should be, and to enthuse others with that vision
  • Focus – attention to detail
  • Motivation – to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in; not to wait for people to hand you things on a plate
  • Patience – when things don’t move as quickly as you need them to; to be able to calm the frustrations of others
  • Curiosity – there is always something you don’t know; always be learning
  • Time management – to be effective in your use of time, and make sure you’re working on the most urgent and important thing at any given time
  • Tenacity – you will make mistakes and suffer setbacks; not giving up in the face of adversity
  • Perspective – to divide your attention between the big picture and the fine detail, between the here-and-now and the long term
  • Diplomacy – sometimes you will disagree with people; politeness and diplomacy will mean they keep talking to you afterwards
  • Team leadership – you cannot do your job without the help and support of many other people, and your job is to get the best from people; and to lead by good example

 

1B. What ‘soft’ skills are missing from the list above?

List any traits of a good product manager you feel are missing

 

1C. Are there any ‘soft’ skills that should NOT be on the list at all?

Pick ALL the options that should not be on the list

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Vision
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Patience
  • Curiosity
  • Time management
  • Tenacity
  • Perspective
  • Diplomacy
  • Team leadership

 

2A. What ‘hard’ skills1 are required for a good product manager?

Pick ALL the options that you think are required

  • Conducting user research
  • Creating user personas
  • Writing epics / user stories
  • Prioritising epics / user stories
  • Paper prototyping
  • Using a user story / bug tracking tool
  • Defining product vision
  • Forming a multidisciplinary team
  • Line management
  • Data protection / information security
  • Technology evaluation
  • Participating in Scrum
  • Participating in Kanban
  • Setting SMART objectives / KPIs / success criteria
  • Analysing and interpreting data / metrics
  • Usability testing
  • Transition / migration planning
  • Service design
  • Managing product roadmaps
  • Writing business cases
  • Navigating procurement
  • Public speaking
  • Writing product copy

 

2B. What ‘hard’ skills are missing from the list above?

List any skills a good product manager should have that are missing

 

2C. Are there any ‘hard’ skills that should NOT be on the list at all?

Pick ALL the options that should not be on the list

  • Conducting user research
  • Creating user personas
  • Writing epics / user stories
  • Prioritising epics / user stories
  • Paper prototyping
  • Using a user story / bug tracking tool
  • Defining product vision
  • Forming a multidisciplinary team
  • Line management
  • Data protection / information security
  • Technology evaluation
  • Participating in Scrum
  • Participating in Kanban
  • Setting SMART objectives / KPIs / success criteria
  • Analysing and interpreting data / metrics
  • Usability testing
  • Transition / migration planning
  • Service design
  • Managing product roadmaps
  • Writing business cases
  • Navigating procurement
  • Public speaking
  • Writing product copy

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  1. Note that this included both product management techniques and skills from other disciplines.

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8 thoughts on “62: How to measure product manager performance

  1. I would first start with what problems product managers are hired to solve for a company. Different companies hire product managers for different reasons, but typically there is a problem with making and executing product decisions. Example problems that product managers solve:

    1. Products don’t provide value to prospective buyers and users.
    2. Developers don’t know what to build, and why.
    3. Sales and marcom can’t consistently articulate the value of products.
    4. The process of learning the market is slow and unreliable.

    As you can see, the problems primarily relate to stakeholders on the team who are not empowered to build, market, and sell a product that delivers true value to customers.

    The question, then, is the extent to which a product manager is empowering the team to make sound product decisions.

    Accordingly, we turn to the stakeholders on the team as part of a “360 review” on whether the product manager is empowering them to be as effective as they can be. We ask questions such as:

    1. Do all the stakeholders understand the product’s unique value proposition?
    2. Do the stakeholders have confidence that product decisions reflect an understanding of the ever-changing market?
    3. Do the stakeholders believe the pace of learning is sufficiently fast?
    4. Do developers know why they are building what they are building?
    5. Does the product actually deliver its unique value proposition?

    I might add another leadership question:

    6. To what extent is the product manager helping each member of the apply her unique talents?

    To be sure, product managers need certain talents and skills to perform well. But the performance of a product manager – the extent to which those talents and skills are addressing the challenges that product teams face – lies in the answers to these sorts of questions.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment. The points you raise certainly reflect what happens in real life, but I think they also highlight the problems I’ve seen with the way product manager performance is typically done.

    My main issue is that product managers are often assessed on:

    1. the performance of their products; or

    2. the performance of factors outside their direct control, such as the performance of other teams.

    A product may be performing well or badly for a number of different reasons, but it is perfectly possible for a well-performing product to be managed badly by a product manager, and vice versa. So product performance by itself isn’t a reliable indicator for how well the product manager is doing.

    Similarly, teams such as Marketing and Sales should be expected to do their own jobs well, but again whether they do or not is often independent of whether the product manager is doing her job well.

    I expand on this in the original performance article I wrote.

    Lastly, you put a lot of emphasis on alignment across internal stakeholders and the delivery team. I do agree that these are important parts of a product manager’s role – it would be very difficult to create a successful product without good buy-in and alignment. Again by itself it is not the only aspect of a product manager’s performance to take into account.

    There’s also the reality that not every internal stakeholder is necessarily in favour of the product (or the product manager), perhaps because the product threatens their fiefdom or competes with their own plans. In these situations the product manager’s stakeholder strategy might be to minimise the negative influence of ‘anti’ stakeholders and concentrate on the ‘pro’ and undecided stakeholders. But this is a complex and lengthy discussion for another article, I think :-)

  3. Jock, note that, contrary to your assertion, I actually did not propose any evaluation criteria that assess product performance. Rather, I enumerated the problems a product manager solves, correlating to functions that a product manager performs to address these problems that stand in the way of product success.

    I then enumerated questions that shed light on the extent to which the product manager is successfully performing these functions. I did not mention product sales, revenue, or any other product performance metric.

    As you contend, many factors outside a product manager’s direct purview contribute to the performance of a product. If developers don’t competently carry out their duties, product performance will suffer. If sales doesn’t competently perform its functions, product performance will suffer. If marketing doesn’t competently perform its functions, product performance will suffer. I blogged about this issue in 2005, writing then that I did not believe product performance equals product management performance.

    But to the extent a product manager hasn’t facilitated process that empowers, with strategy and context, developers, sales, and marketing to succeed, she is responsible.

    You can make the case that the answers to the evaluative questions I enumerated still depend on the competence and abilities of others. I welcome tweaking the questions to get more directly at the product manager contribution.
    .

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