3 Key Traits of Effective Product Managers

This week, Product School hosted Tabish Gilani, Former Product Leader at YouTube, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Tabish talked about becoming an effective Product Manager, dealing with organizational politics, and keeping stakeholders aligned.

Meet Tabish

 Product Leader at YouTube

Tabish currently heads up product, growth, and data efforts at Replit, a venture-backed Series B startup focused on empowering the next generation of software creators and providing a social collaborative browser-based IDE. Prior to Replit, he led global growth at YouTube Kids helping set up their North Star metric, experimentation frameworks, and growth models to help the teams focus and achieve a 50% Y/Y growth for Weekly Active Viewers (WAVs).

He’s also held roles leading growth for the Google Canadian team focused on their consumer businesses, led product and growth at Leap (acq by Airbnb), and roles at Tilt (acq Airbnb) and IBM in growth and analyst roles
Tabish empowers his team and people around him to be more user and data-driven adopting a first-principles approach to problems.

What traits are the best to look after and develop in order to become an effective Product Manager?

I think when I was earlier in my career, I always believed that strong Product Managers are very technical and understand the full software development process. As I’ve grown and come across other really strong Product Managers in the space, I’ve come to realize they all have 3 key things that set them apart:

  1. Their ability to be forward thinking; as opposed to fire-fighting all day
  2. An understanding of what data and the numbers actually mean as opposed to just looking at metrics and repeating what you’re observing. There’s a difference between saying “this experiment improved our metrics by X% because more users started doing this action so the experiment was a success” v/s “this experiment affected our metrics by X% because the underlying insight ABC about our users was true/false and we need to learn more about why ABC is happening”
  3. User focus. User focus. User focus. Talking to users is a very underrated part of the job and while there are times the quant can give you a lot of the surface level data, there’s no substitute for getting a user in a room and learning more about their experience irl.

Another great read: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

group of people standing in a room with white t-shirts, all looking down at their phones

How do you deal with the politics of the organization?

Great question! Politics generally has a negative connotation associated with it. But fundamentally, what you’re trying to do at the very core is align incentives and values across the organization and team.

This was most evident during my time at Google and YouTube where stakeholder management was a high priority (more so than other parts of the PM role. For myself, the biggest thing for me was gathering context and understanding key drives for the people that I’m working with and who the major key players (stakeholders are).

As an example, at YouTube Kids, legal team held a lot of power, just by virtue of the space we were in and so they were a critical partner in all launches and feature development. I made sure to include them early and often in the process and be very upfront and clear about what I’m hoping to accomplish while asking them to do the same with the constraints that they required me to work within

How would you define Product Management? It seems that every industry, company, product, B2B, B2C, early stage, late stage, etc has their own definition.

Ooo interesting question – I’ve broadly always looked at my roles, in particular, as a person that fills in the gaps where the org is lacking and what it desperately needs. There are times when you need a design-oriented PM or a growth-oriented one based on the stage you’re in. That would probably be my definition.

Largely, however, I think, at YouTube as an example, I felt PM’ing was a lot of “herding the people” and creating alignment to focus on the biggest impact opportunities.

two people herding sheep in the early morning

So in a sense, Product Management could be defined as a function created to create alignment and help the org focus (Could also be product ops, biz ops). There are other places where I would say PM definitions are:
Be the bridge between the mission, strategy, and users and help connect all 3 to build meaningful products and experiences.

I think the reason I prefer the original one I stated (fill in the gaps) is because it allows me to be adaptable to what the company needs and how I can best serve based on my skillset (being a strong generalist).

Check out: Decoding Job Titles: The Different Types of Product Manager

Any tips or resources on how to do product demos?

Short answer – do it as often as possible!

Long answer – a product demo should take place anytime you hit a milestone or have something meaningful to share.

Naturally, demos differ at different companies at different stages of the lifecycle of the product. Here’s a screenshot of the process that I’ve outlined currently at Replit that is very barebones but provides some structure on how often we should be Demo’ing and testing and iterating. The goal of demos IMO is

  1. to keep major stakeholders that need to be informed; but aren’t directly associated
  2. to capture feedback and biases that may have been missed by the development team

Demo’ing when you’ve scoped a problem, when you have multiple solutions, low-fi prototypes is a good rule of thumb and keeps feedback moving along while bringing people along for the journey. At YouTube, this approach felt more waterfall oriented and demos felt heavier where you had to have something more meaningful (like a prototype) to demo and there was more risk/pressure associated.

cardboard demo VR glasses

How would you respond to this PM interview question: Review a service describing how it works – basic principles and processes.

Maybe a follow-up. Are you asking for the technical explanation? i.e what is happening when a user interacts with the service on the infra or is it more around what a service provides to a user – so on the user funnel/flow.

Basic principles for both would be to have a high level diagram and then break down into smaller components to explain how each part of the service would work. For technical, I would focus a lot on the interaction and interface between the user <> interface <> infra
For business, I would focus a lot on what value the service provides, what the user expects to happen, what should happen.

You might also be interested in: Behind The 10 Most Common Product Management Interview Questions

How would you respond to this PM interview question: What would be first 3 products improvements to start with if you are employed?

This is also highly dependent on the stage of the company. But for the most part, I will offer the same feedback/advice I’ve been given in all new roles with a little bit of caveat.

Focus on quick wins. Caveat – Make sure the quick wins are tied either the highest impact opportunity area or they help derisk the same.

woman staring at computer and frowning in concentration

At all places I started, instead of just working on a feature in isolation as a “quick win”, I tried to learn more about parts of the business that we don’t know anything about and run some quick experiments there to learn (and get some incremental metric improvements).

Read next: Every Product Manager’s First 90 Days

I don’t have 3 in particular but I would say a feature that has:

  • low adoption
  • low engagement
  • high correlation with user satisfaction
  • low effort to get an MVP or test some assumptions/biases

is probably a sweet spot. This helps build a lot of trust for you and as a leader within the org who can connect their work to the broader work that’s happening

Any final advice?

No final advice in particular – but I would encourage PMs to always be adaptable and think deeply about what the most value for your effort will be, not just at the feature level, but from a cultural standpoint too. i.e is it more valuable for me to focus on our data infra? Or should I spend time thinking about discipline? Or should we try to create alignment? etc

That will help PMs level up and think about where the company and product is headed as a whole as opposed to just features! 

Want to break into product? Come to the Product Career Fair to meet hiring managers at the biggest tech companies in the world!

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: