Something is going on. When you read job ads for “Head of Product”, not only “customer understanding”, “understanding of technology” and “know how to work in an agile environment” show up as requirements. Increasingly things such as “coach and mentor our Product and UX teams to deliver their maximum potential” are there as well. In my interpretation, I would read that leadership capabilities are becoming increasingly important in the product management space. As long as pieces of advice to Heads of Product like “you need to coach your product managers 1:1” is sold like the hottest thing on earth, we haven’t reached a desirable level of maturity in the product management discipline.
I would see this as a good signal. Many product managers ended up in a leadership role in their organizations – and failed. They weren’t able to assess and develop the members of their staff. This is a sign of a bubble happening as we speak – too many people too early in leadership roles. There are Head of Product & VP Product roles in Berlin that are open for weeks and weeks. It is hard to find the right person. And organizations are increasingly hesitant to promote their existing product managers into leadership roles. The new breed of product leaders will have understood the importance of leadership capabilities. They will combine their product management expertise with a wealth of tools and personal experience to create value as a leader. There is no shortcut to this slow growth. To close this post, I would like to familiarize you with the “Peter Principle“ in case you aren’t aware of it yet. It is from 1969. And more valid than ever – especially in the product management function, I am afraid…
This is the sixth and last post about the SPLSG company services. And yet we believe it might be the most important one. After having seen that it all comes down to having the right product leadership in place, the way we see “digital transformation” is to help companies become true product companies.
True product companies understand that their business success depends on creating value for their customer (the famous WHY & WHAT) with (software) technology (the famous HOW).
How often do we hear that product & IT are there to “serve the business?” This might be true in mature traditional markets. But digital has turned the way upside down how value could be created for customers and businesses. In times of uncertainty and increasing digital competition, it is vital to change the mindset from top down to empowerment.
SPLSG Partners can help you if you are in an ambiguous situation. It is much more about grabbing the opportunity than having fear. “There might be dragons” – but they are not invincible. Read more here. Or reach out!
We are looking forward to your thoughts sent to us .
Marty Cagan from Silicon Valley Product Group (https://svpg.com) presented a topic during MTP Engage Hamburg Conference last month. This topic has to be close to the hearts of any product leader: “Empowered Product Teams.”
It was a really good presentation. Marty explained very well how important empowerment is for product managers and organizations. I am a big believer of Marty’s concept about product management.
But IMHO there are some unanswered questions in his presentation. Perhaps either Marty himself or someone else can help us answer them.
Our questions for Marty Cagan
Does the empowerment concept apply to all organizations? Or does it apply only to those that are dealing with a high amount of uncertainty and/or pressure to innovate?
How to navigate as a product leader in organizations where the product (discovery) is playing only a small role? Where e.g. the CMO or the COO is very dominant?
Marty talked about only 20% being companies with “missionaries” and 80% “mercenaries”. What do I as a product manager do if I happen to be in a “mercenaries” company? Walk away or try to influence/help the company to grow culturally?
How do I work with a CxO / line manager who doesn’t believe in the empowerment of the product team?
How do I change the perception of product management in my organization? From “serving the business” to being “empowered to serve the customers, in ways that meet the needs of the business.”
SPLSG focuses on “horizontal” product leadership. Based on the assumption there is a world-class team of product managers, the focus of the product leader is to understand how general management works. And -even more importantly- how to influence the course of their respective organizations. Read more about this here.We firmly believe that it is time to stand up and become respected leaders. Also outside our very own product management function.
Today the first ever Product Leader Roundtable has taken place in Berlin. Ten product leaders including CPOs, Heads of Product, and others have met to discuss relevant topics around product leadership.
“It was a pleasure and an exciting experience the like to welcome all those professionals to our first ever Product Leader Roundtable. The level of discussions and quality individual contributions was great and we are looking forward to more in the future,” says Jörg Malang (initiator & founding partner SPLSG).
Based on this first success, SPLSG is planning to roll out this concept to other cities & countries as well. Together with SPLSG Ambassadors like the SPLSG Ambassador Berlin Luca Criscuolo, there will be a local “anchor” in every location.
All participants confirmed that they see value in this concept and are planning to attend the next iteration in about three months. In case you are interested in updates and/or in participating in the next Roundtable, please sign up with your email address below.
If done right, a product manager sits at the source of the future success of their organization. They are the experts of customer needs . Focusing on customer problems is the start of identifying opportunities for growth.
A product leader is best suited to make an impact
Trying to move the needle on business impact is at the heart of a product manager’s responsibility. As a product manager, I am working full-time on becoming THE customer expert of my organization. My goal must be to become “a personified customer advocate.” I am able to advise how to turn those insights into concrete products and services. I influence the product portfolio and have tools and processes at hand that ensure a positive business impact of any feature built.
Customer centricity means those closest to customer need to influence the direction (and not those with the manager job title)
Being close to customers is by no means the privilege of a manager nor even of the CEO. As a product leader, I must insist on having direct access to my customers. Don’t let the CEO tell you: “We have done extensive customer research. Better read that instead of wasting your time with repeating that exercise. In case of doubt, I can give you my opinion.” (And I swear you, this is what I have been told by one of my past CEOs who doesn’t want to be quoted here publicly.)
Most importantly, you must not let you be pushed into thinking about solutions to early. Or – even worse- let management dictate the features you are supposed to build. You must gain the authority to say “no” it if is justified in customer insight. Product managers are in a pole position for this. They have learned how to systematically approach the challenge of customer understanding. They know all about lean UX and therefore know how to effectively come to a solution for a given customer problem.
Being close to customer needs is a constant source for innovation
Product leaders know the problem space inside out. They also know very well the technical capabilities of their organizations. Over time they develop an acumen what is feasible with a reasonable level of investment. But they also know when a customer problem is really worth tackling. Good product leaders bring “invention” and “businessvalue” together and create “innovation.”
Excuse my French, but most of you Product Managers, Product Owners, Heads of Product, etc. out there are NOT a product leader. Just because you have the “product manager” title doesn’t mean you are a product leader in your organization. How would you know that you are not a product leader?
You spend only very little time with your peers and the CEO.
You feel more comfortable discussing details than challenging the direction of your organization.
In sessions with your peer Executives and the CEO, the only question you are being asked all time is: “When will we get feature A released?” or ” Why is the release X delayed?”
You get excited about things like “design thinking”, “agile”, “lean startup”, etc. but don’t worry too much about the business strategy of your organization.
You are focusing on technology, ways of working, feature implementation & release planning rather than questioning what is being built and released.
Don’t get me wrong, as a product leader you need to understand how product management works. You need to be deep into writing user stories, running a lean startup, ensuring customer centricity, etc. Those are all necessary, but not sufficient skills. As a product leader, you need to do more. I am afraid to say: MUCH more.
Otherwise, you are doing a disservice to your organization. At times you might even need to challenge the CEO and the shareholders. If you don’t do that you risk the future of your organization by staying in your comfort zone.
Not all organizations will appreciate your mission. Almost like an immune system under a virus attack. It will defend itself against the attacker. What if you are perceived as the “virus” by your organization? You would better be prepared. Let’s talk @SPLSG.
For the first time in Berlin, the Senior Product Management Leadership Group opens an invitation-only round table to experienced Product Leaders for learning and networking.
Similarly to a Bootcamp, the attendees will bring in advance topics. The list of topics will be prioritized upfront by the attendees and facilitated by Jörg Malang (Initiator & founding partner of Senior Product Leadership Group SPLSG).
Two topics have been identified already and will be covered in any case:
Perception of product management organizations and how to influence it
Innovation vs optimization – product management organizations juggling between unknown and safety
Only attendees in an actual product leadership position qualify and only a restricted number of applicants will be selected based on their experience and potential contribution. By applying to this round table, your name will be included into an initial list, we will reach you ASAP to communicate the acceptance or rejection.
Jörg Malang says: “This is a unique opportunity to join and shape the only product leadership initiative in Berlin. We believe this helps our community to grow and reinforce in the years to come.”
After the announcement of our local SPLSG Ambassador for Berlin (Luca Criscuolo), SPLSG is entering the German market with a special focus on Berlin.
Jörg Malang, the initiator and founding partner of SPLSG says:
“During many of my discussions with product leaders in Germany, it has become increasingly clear that it is difficult to find appropriate events for product managers who have the responsibility for a team of product owners/product managers, etc. in Germany.”
Product leaders need to demonstrate leadership and be able to influence the direction of the company – beyond the “vertical” expertise they need to have anyway.
Where do you as a product leader turn to in case you have questions or need support in your daily routine? A good starting point might also be the two meetups in Berlin and in Munich (see below). Alternatively, please feel free to drop us a line.