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The job profile of a product leader is akin to a CEO of a company.
A product leader is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of a product, and by extension, the company itself. This raises the question of what makes a true product leader.
We find out the traits of a model product leader and the product team in this book.
More and more organisations are moving away from a traditional top-down approach, whereby senior management determines ‘upstream’ what people ‘downstream’ should be doing.
Companies like Spotify have been very successful in creating autonomous and cross-functional teams. The success of this approach doesn’t only come from the cross-functional and collaborative nature of Spotify teams; people within these teams are also very close to the customer. The People in the company are the product.
The primary focus has to be on the problems faced by customers. Instead of features, one can opt to provide themes, based on what the customer wants and what problem is solved.
Themes are a promise to solve problems not to build features. Once you’ve truly understood customer problems, you can start prioritising. Prioritisation is best done through the lens of the core product management principles: first, is it valuable; second, is it usable and third, is it feasible?
Successful product teams do NOT require hard skills, such as engineering, design or even specific product management expertise.
In contrast, with product managers, the focus is much more on soft skills.
Experienced product people with strong soft skills are low in supply in most markets. One can derive the characteristics of good product leaders from the high level traits of a successful team.
One key aspect in this respect is a product leader’s ability to align team members around a shared goal or vision.
Common characteristics of Successful Product Teams:
Product management and product leadership are people-first roles. Teams are made up of individuals who each bring their own personalities, perspective, and opinions. Understanding what makes people tick makes it easier to get the best out of them and identify when there is a problem.
Being an empathic product leader doesn’t mean you have to be all things to all people but you’re able to engage emphatically with others, even if they don’t have a lot in common with them.
The kind of leader that needs constant recognition and praise is not likely to be the best person for this job.
The top product leaders hardly ever get recognition for their hard work and dedication. Furthermore, they tend to turn any limelight they receive back on their teams.
Product leaders are typically comfortably wearing the hats of marketer, manager, technologist, customer advocate, and facilitator, to name a few.
This doesn’t mean they are experts at each of these roles; rather, they are comfortable working across all areas as the role evolves or as the product demands.
Having a deep interest in learning, enthusiastically accepting new challenges, encouraging others to speak up, and listening to their perspectives are all actions driven by curiosity.
The ability to share information in a clear, concise manner is a necessary and desirable skill for a product leader.
Whether they’re talking, listening, writing, planning, sharing, or facilitating, the goal is always to be understood.
This might be controversial, but when you consider what product leaders do each day, it’s no surprise that selling is one of the things to look out for in product leaders.
To be clear, this is not the type of selling associated with business development; rather, it’s not the type that works to change minds and get buy-in from others.
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