What is it like being a product manager in a really big company? How do you stand out when you work with lots of other PMs?
I've been on many product teams, been a product manager myself, and now at Aha! work with hundreds of product teams around the world.
There are a lot of good product managers. But the ones that stand out as great have two things in common:
- Deep understanding of the organization and how their product impacts all areas of the business. Good product managers know their product. Great product managers know their product and the ripple effect of each decision.
- Elite communication. Not only do you have to understand how your product impacts others, but to really stand out you need to be a great communicator as you share that information.
On standing out..
A part of me questions weather “standing out” is a great goal. Why make it one’s aim to stand out?
Presuming one works for a great company (big assumption, I know) most of the PM’s will be excellent, why not focus on solving difficult problems and executing brilliantly and consistently and let reputation take care of itself.
I can imagine a company filled with folks trying to stand out being distracted by internal competition, egotism etc. Personally, I’d advice staying clear of organisations with the stand out ethos and focus on orgs that prize PM’s Who Work with teams to deliver great outcomes and actually solve problems.
Hope this helps.
My PM experience working in both small and large companies as well as supporting hundreds of others in a consulting capacity is the larger the organization, the larger the politics that need to be dealt with. Politics are commonly called out as the least favorite part of the job when I talk to other PMs. Unfortunately, it is a reality of the position, especially in large organizations.
With that in mind, a few thoughts that I can offer up on how PMs can stand out when working with lots of other PMs are as follows:
- Politically savvy enough to unify cross-functional team members (that have different goals and don't always get along) behind a common cause as part of the product launch process. This ultimately helps lead to successful launches which get you noticed.
- Earned trust and respect throughout the organization, often achieved by being clearly focused on company and product goals and not hidden agendas (that usually aren't well hidden). This helps to also defuse the political component.
In addition, PM's can also stand out through their analytical skills and corresponding product performance relative to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We live in a world heavily influenced by analytics. The best PMs are deeply involved in the analytics for their products, understand how their products are performing and are actively engaged in positively moving the needle through having a clear strategy with projects, tasks, and features aligned with the strategy.
I can think of many quick ways to stand out as a product manager. Trouble is, they're almost universally related to standing out in a negative way. Clearly, that's not the desire.
Think more about long term contributions and consistency in defining and delivering great products. Listen, think, collaborate, plan, adjust. If that makes you stand out, well then OK. In my opinion, what would be even better is if that makes you another strong contributor on a great team.
In the end, it's about results. Those results come from doing a good job over the long term on your product and operating well politically. For me, I've found that accountability and empathy also go a long way with my customers and with my leadership. On the accountability side, whenever there is a problem with the product, I take responsibility for it immediately and work to find the best possible solution. This gives me credibility with everyone that I'm not going to blow smoke and will get things done. That makes me a more trusted resource.
I take an empathetic view with my customers, including internal stakeholders. People are coming to me for a reason, so it's my job to understand and appreciate that, then point my knowledge and relationships at helping them solve the core problem. When a salesperson is asking for help, I don't just toss him or her a brochure. I take the time to ask what they are looking to accomplish, then I help facilitate that. I also do my best to "teach others how to fish", so they don't look at me as the way to solve all of their problems.
Finally, it really comes down to good delivery over the course of time. I have come to believe that the decisions a PM makes today will be felt by the product in 6 months' time. So, the choices finalized today will become impactful in 6 months. That's because it takes time to build new features, test them, and get them deployed. After that, customers need to discover them and adopt them. This is true with every customer base and company. Ultimately, the best PM's will have a consistent upward trajectory of customer happiness and revenue. Because when you focus on providing the most value and impact to the market, you will have positive results over the long term.