Making Product Decisions

This week Product School hosted Chris Rader, a Product Director at Centercode, for an #AskMeAnything session. Chris talked about the key skills to have on a resume, a typical workday schedule, the value of subject matter expertise, and making rightful decisions as a Product Director.

Meet Chris

Chris has a background in user experience and market research with a focus on product design and development. Currently, he is a Product Director at Centercode. He was a Product Manager and a Product Marketing Analyst at the company prior to earning his current position. Chris is devoted to delivering impactful product experiences that support the needs of diverse markets through data-driven product management. Prior to this, Chris was a User Researcher at Western Digital, he partnered with product teams to deliver delightful experiences across all product lines.

According to his colleague, he has a broad range of ability, and an incredible work ethic to back it up. From interacting with users to analyzing huge amounts of data to creating marketing documentation – Chris excels. He is a great team player that is able to work on his own and always turns out amazing results. Chris has a design mind and can see beyond the problems into a variety of solutions. He is a great collaborator and naturally works towards the best possible solution. 

“What do you think your primary purpose/ value is in being a Product Director?  How do you think about your role deficiently vs being a PM?

I feel like my biggest value is subject matter expertise across all our product lines. That vision allows me to help our sales and marketing teams, which in turn helps us sell more products. My role isn’t too different than a PM, I just get to oversee more product lines and assist other PMs with their products.

“What do you like most about being a PM?”

My favorite thing is definitely the ability to be creative, second is probably the ability to make decisions.

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“What is the toughest part about being a PM  and how do you cope with it?”

I think the hardest thing for many PMs is taking criticism, especially after spending so much time and thought into your products.

“Could you talk about the must-have skills you want to see on a Product Manager resumes?”

I like to see quantifiable impact on the company with the products you’ve lead. I love to see when product updates or products meet their revenue goals. If I’m looking at a new PM, examples of how they’ve used critical thinking to provide solutions.

You might be interested in: The Skills Product Managers Need in 2021

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 “Could you share what your typical workday schedule looks like?”

My day usually starts with looking at what is happening in the tech space, following up with some key companies, reviewing what customers are talking about. Eventually, I make my way over to review sales calls and see what prospects and customers are talking about. Sprinkle in syncs with sales, product, and marketing. Then I spend time going through data to help me get a sense of where the products/business is at.

“What is an essential skill set that all PMs must have? Aside from the obvious items like curiosity and creativity?”

Critical thinking is huge. Being able to clearly identify problems and think of what is driving them, what the negative impact of those problems are, understanding what options are available to solve that problem currently. This is usually what ends up shaping our products.

Check this: Design Thinking for PMs: 3 Lessons From Apple and Google

“How can one transition from Engineering to Product manager? What is the total experience in PM role?”

I would focus on the elements of engineering that actually align with Product Management. There are skills in engineering that will translate to product experience. As an Engineer, you are given a list of requirements, but you provide your own solution to implementing them. Understanding that it’s like a math problem, once you change up your formula you can speak product. Engineers have a huge advantage in understanding the feasibility of creating a product or solution and can often shape better requirements.

“For a Product Manager who’s been offered a job as a Business Analyst, what are the things to note? More importantly, what are the key differences in your opinion and experience?”

I’ve worked with some business analysts and I do a lot of business analysis myself. When i talk to an analyst or researchers I always recommend they take into consideration the person they are collecting or analysing data for, this can usually provide them an edge. Your measured by how well people use your information and how successful it is, not how much you collect or analyze. I would say the main difference is application of the data.

Business Analyst don’t often have to create the requirements or build the solution. PMs often use the data from an analyst to start building the strategy and concept for the product.

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“The PM is often described as the “swiss-army knife” in the org. Do you agree? how do you stay organized with so many workstreams you have to navigate?”

I agree, but I believe that product knowledge (Subject matter expertise) and the context of how to apply it to roles like sales and marketing are muddied in the concept of the swiss army knife. The ability to provide context to other teams often gets used so often it looking like you do all of the things.

To stay organized I take notes and try to finish (at least MVP) projects I start as soon as possible to not keep a running list of projects I have open.

“How critical is it that a PM be able to code versus driving the product strategy only?”

Personally, I have very little coding experience. Some SQL and front end experience, but I rarely use it. We have engineers and other smart people to do the things I cant or shouldn’t have to. It is definitely dependent on the company, I think this is the split of Technical Product Managers vs something more business focused like a traditional PM.

You might be interested in: What Is No Code And Why Is Everyone Talking About It?

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“What is your go-to method to acquire customer feedback?”

I guess it depends on what kind of question I’m trying to answer with the data. If I want to understand what prospects/leads are having challenges with, I review sales calls. If I want to know what issues my customers are running into, support tickets or support calls. If I have a new product update, I use beta testing.

“What are the top 3 advice/lessons you would give to people starting new into product management? Also, some key steps to hone their influencing / people skills for better stakeholder management?”

  1. Learn to listen, before you speak or provide solutions
  2. Learn how to think about the problem and keep thinking about it until you really feel like you found the source of the problem
  3. Always try to have an impact on your company or customers
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“Was there a time where your team went against (made a decision that didn’t align with) the provided data?”

Most PM’s will likely have to make a decision based on timing. While it would be wonderful to have perfect products, sometimes its more advantageous to get to market with a great product. But if the choice is between something that is wrong or will not work, I tend to stick with the data.

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