We kicked off 2021 by talking about the top skills that Product Managers would need to make it through the year and thrive.
And we almost did the same thing this year. But then we realized that, if the events of 2020 taught us anything, a product is only as strong as its team. Having a strong Product Manager leading the way is a phenomenal boon to a company, but they can’t shoulder the responsibility of launching a successful product alone.
As a Product Leader, entrepreneur, CEO, or anyone else in charge of building a Product team, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re consciously building it in the right way.
No one really knows what each year is going to bring, especially in the tech industry! 2022 is bound to bring new surprises and new opportunities. You need a team that can react appropriately to those surprises.
Things change direction in Product at the drop of a hat, and you need a team who can handle that. New insights learned through your research can make you realize ‘oh, actually, if we build A instead of B, we’ll solve the problem much more easily.’ Competitors can get to market first and bomb hard, giving you an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Or you can simply have a lightbulb moment!
If you’re interviewing for new positions on your Product team, try to gauge how well someone has reacted to change in the past. Someone who is rigid and unchanging, and who sticks stubbornly to their chosen path even in the face of new information is not going to make pivots easy!
Potential interview questions:
“Can you tell me about a time you had to react to sudden change?”
“Have you ever had to admit that you were wrong about something?”
However, one very important caveat to this is that how adaptable a team is able to be isn’t just dependent on who you hire. It’s also about the resources and time they have available to them.
For example, you could have the most talented UX designer in the world. But if you ask them for a whole new wireframe of your homepage and only give them the project brief two hours before you need it, you’ve crippled their ability to do their job right.
If your whole team currently struggles to react to changes and new information, look at some of your timelines and processes. In your retrospectives, ask them what could have helped them to change direction when they needed to.
In a recent interview with former Freddie Mac CPO, Eric Gerstner, he highlighted the need for diversity on Product teams. But diversity has to go beyond the ethnicity, gender, or nationality of the people you hire. It also has to come down to a diversity of education, and a diversity of experiences.
“And I think with those two things, if a person shows and can speak to a diversity of education and a diversity of experience, I know that they’re going to have some of the strong values of dealing with what is ultimately a diverse backlog.”
When you’re building a Product, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is building in an echochamber. It’s very easy to end up building a product that only works for the people in the room. If you’re all from middle-class California, for example, your assumptions and biases run the risk of being unchallenged. You also miss the opportunity to open new doors, and delight more customers.
The more diverse your Product team is in terms of education and experience, the more robust they’ll be, and capable of handling curveballs. This feeds back into our previous point about needing teams to be adaptable. To put it very simply, let’s say you need to pivot in a new direction, for example from B2C to B2B. Having at least one person in the room with B2B experience will be immensely helpful.
If you trust your teams, and you believe they’re smart enough to be making the right decisions, you need to make sure they feel empowered. But what does this mean exactly?
As a Product Leader, especially if you’re in a formal position of authority, it’s important to be aware of the weight your words carry. You don’t want a team of people who are afraid to say ‘no’ to you.
You’re probably already aware of the theory that as a leader you should always aim to be the dumbest person in the room. If you’ve listened to that advice, then your teams are very good at what they do, and they know more about their respective disciplines than you do. So if you come up with a dumb idea, you’d hope that your teams would feel comfortable saying no – or providing alternative ideas.
When it comes to capacity planning and timelines, it’s also important to have teams who are able to say ‘no, that deadline isn’t possible.’
It’s always tempting to hire people who think exactly like you do, and who will always say ‘yes’ to you. But that doesn’t make for a strong team.
Check out this talk from Atlassian Senior Product Manager, Gosia Kowalska, who talks about how to empower teams to build successful products:
In 2020, remote work was the name of the game. In 2021, we talked endlessly about hybrid work. In 2022, Hybrid models are fast becoming a tech industry favorite, with Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and Amazon all figuring out how to call employees back to the office while maintaining some level of flexibility.
Understanding how people like to work will help you to build a stronger culture. Because yes, culture is something that needs to be built and doesn’t happen by itself. That’s not to say that an introvert won’t thrive in your team of extroverts. It’s more about making sure that someone has the skills needed to fit into your team’s office/remote/hybrid environment.
If you’re remote-first, or trying to build a remote-first culture, having someone who is well versed in building Products in that environment will be a great boon to the team. This is especially true if you’re hiring for leadership roles, as you bring in someone who can lead by example and bring new processes in.
Potential interview questions:
“Have you worked with a hybrid team before?”
“Tell me about your ideal working day. How would you organize it?”
“How familiar are you with online collaboration tools? What do you like/dislike about them?”
The most important thing to do is to find a model that works for your company and your team, instead of simply copying another company’s model. If this is a topic you’d like to dig into more deeply, check out our Hybrid PM Playbook.
No, we don’t mean that they all have Harvard degrees. (Maybe some do, and that’s cool.) What we mean is that Product Managers are lifelong learners.
You can encourage that and foster a culture of learning and sharing things that people have learned. Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, talked on our podcast about how he did this for his team, which also encouraged him to keep learning as well.
“I did something called topic de Semaine – which is my bad French for the topic of the week. And every Friday morning at nine, I would consciously teach something to my team. It turned out that that act of hustling on a Thursday night to figure out what the hell I would say about designing, executing and analyzing AB tests, for instance, forced me to learn.”
When you’re building your team, try to look out for people who have pursued education in a variety of subjects. The marketer who took a coding course, or the Product Manager who is learning a foreign language.
If education in building products is something that you want for your whole team, you’ve come to the right place! Our team training can give your people the tools and knowledge they need to apply to their day to day work right away. Product School alumni love getting an education based on their real-life products and projects, and gaining insights that can improve their lives right off the bat.