I recently read a great article by Mind the Product which shared a framework to help guide great Product Leaders in creating great Product teams and spaces, and it really got me thinking about what it takes for a person to be a great product leader and really manage all of these different facets of Product.
The Product Leader Map
The product leader map created by RighttoLeft and shared by Mind the Product is a great snapshot of all the things that a Product Leader needs to balance. From a product perspective, they need to be able to deliver a vision that’s inspiring, motivating and exciting, as well as clear, structured and attainable. They should deliver a clear and concise strategy that is detailed enough to follow, but high-level enough to allow room for creativity. All the while, the leader should also be monitoring the performance of the products and communicating customer feedback and insights.
The product culture needs to be a healthy mix of set-in-stone principles, emotive and inspiring stories, and hard statistical evidence and social proof. And from a team perspective, a leader needs to be comfortable with effectively structuring teams, confident with hiring exceptional, diverse, and cohesive talent, and coaching and nurturing the next generation of product leaders.
That’s a lot of balancing for a Product Leader, so based on my past product top tips, and some further research I’ve collated a list of top tips on how to be the best product leader, whether you’re new to the space or just want some new tips and tricks.
Characteristics of Great Product Leaders
- They Create Winning Processes
When multiple people are working towards a common goal, it is so important to have clear structure and effective processes firmly in place, so that everybody is always on the same page and are collaborating efficiently to work towards a common goal. These processes should make it as easy as possible to work together, using different tools, all towards the same goal, whilst allowing people to feel a sense of ownership, accountability, and enjoyment. Well communicated and well-structured processes make it easier to respond to errors and mistakes or avoid them altogether.
- Focus & Prioritisation
A great Product Leader is also a great decision maker and strategic thinker. There are often so many ideas being thrown around within Product teams that the Product Leader needs to be able to decide which ideas to pursue, discard, and delay, by redacting the product to its core values and judging the importance and necessity of ideas against the product strategy and values. A big factor in this is prioritisation, because working in product is as much about choosing what to say “no”, or “not right now” to as it is about deciding what to actually do. Every decision should be informed by the product strategy and vision.
- Balancing Vision & Metrics
Normally, being a visionary, and focusing on the objectivity of metrics are two skills that you probably wouldn’t put together. But that’s exactly what a Product Leader needs to be able to do. Great Product Leaders often have amazing vision and the ability to sell that vision to the product team and the customers, whilst having really good intuition into how the markets will develop. A clear vision aligns the team and empowers them to wow the user and the shareholders.
A Product Leader knows that customers often don’t really know what they truly need, and that relying solely on their feedback has limits, so they can utilise their intuition and market knowledge to shape a product that will really satisfy their customers. At the same time, Product Leaders are often metrics obsessed. They have a really precise sense of the drivers of product success and know how to measure and optimize against these drivers, in order to deliver a great Product.
- Strategic Thinking
The ability to be a great strategist and to think strategically underpins much of what I have mentioned above. To be able to think strategically means that a Product Leader weighs up everything against the core vision of the Product. Everything is evaluated in relation to that vision. Decisions are made and tasks are prioritised depending on their impact on the vision, metrics are decided, measured, and analysed in relation to that vision and how things contribute to that vision, all information is gathered based on that vision. Essentially, everything has a reason and is traceable to the product vision.
Image Source: J Smith Portfolio
- Thorough Understanding of the Business
In order to be able to do all of the above, a Product Leader needs a broad understanding of the business, in order to shape and deliver a product that meets the goals and vision of the company. By understanding the principles and functionality of the business and the activity and behaviour of its’ target audience, the Product Leader can create and narrate a user story that will really attract and appeal to the right people, whilst solving problems that are pain points for those users.
- Creating Great Product Culture through Communication
The Product Culture must be a safe environment for collaboration. This means encouraging discussion, feedback, idea sharing, and open communication. Every team member should feel comfortable and psychologically safe enough to contribute ideas and feedback within the team. The culture should encourage trying new ideas and making mistakes, whilst celebrating learning and success, which is the key to effective product discovery and improvement. Communication is key, and that means both delivering clear and concise information, as well as actively listening to others.
- Driving Team Development
Great product leaders build high-performing teams and hire exceptional talent in key disciplines, from engineering to project management, user experience and marketing. But they don’t stop at just hiring. Investing in Product Teams with training, coaching, and one-to-one performance reviews are fundamental to driving team improvement and personal development within the team. Not only will this ensure your team is the best they can be, but it also ensures they feel valued, and that their careers are important to you. A great leader can identify, hire, nurture, and retain top Product talent whilst giving them a progression pathway.
- Exceptional Product Execution
Product Leaders should spend most of their time focussing on discovery and delivery. This involves talking to customers, gathering market information and feedback to validate ideas to pursue. If the Product Leader doesn’t know how their customers are responding to the product, or what their current pain points are, they cannot possibly deliver a high-quality product, that meets demand. Leaders should be continuously researching user patterns and behaviours in order to continually improve and elevate the product.
- Passion for Product and People
Product Leaders should believe in their product and be invested in its success. Leaders should be able to recognise great ideas and products, even when they aren’t products that they themselves would ever utilise. Not only this, but great Product Leaders are people-centric, and put the user at the centre of everything that they do. Every decision should have the vision, and the user journey at its heart.
There are so many more fantastic traits I have seen in Product Leaders such as technical knowledge and creativity, but the above are just some of the ones that really stand out to me. Would love to hear from my network what key traits you look for in/ value / embody as Product Leaders. Drop a comment below!
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