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The Essential Pieces of Strategic Product Leaders

In conversations with executives over the past year, I repeatedly hear stories or experience product managers who lack essential elements of product leadership. Not the person leading the team, (although that’s another blog post), but those who lead products.

Whether you manage a single product as a contributor, guide numerous products in a portfolio, or lead a team and strategy for a product line or business unit, product leadership counters most of the tactical issues that surface in product management.

What are the essential pieces in building Strategic Product Leadership? Below are five areas I believe are the pieces to every product leadership puzzle.

 Product Vision – is first on my list. While many executive teams have a high-level vision, it’s product leadership that guides the how, why, when and where of product strategy and makes the vision a reality. Product management has a great influence on product vision. Driving strategy as a leader begins with knowing your markets, defining a product vision that’s realistic, communicating this vision and investigating what you don’t know.

Market Authority – is second on my list of essential pieces. Without it, product management’s value is relegated to tactical tasks related to product definition and delivery. Market authority is a continuous action and is built from many sources including; customers, industry events, analysts, focus groups, online information and social media. You can find limitless information with the right plan in place. It’s interesting to note that in a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center about  Twitter use:

  • 62% of users post work updates on a daily basis.
  • 12% of users post work updates more than once a day.
  • 72% post personal updates.
  • 19% of users post personal updates more than once a day.

Why is this important in becoming a market authority? Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn groups have become the common platform for open dialogue. I have read product management rants about lost deals, delays in product releases, ineptness of development, company turmoil and other topics that provide competitive insight. 

Having an intimate knowledge of your product(s), other products inside your organization, markets, competition, buyers and users, the buying and sales process all strengthen your effectiveness as an authority that senior management will rely. Remember, If you aren’t the market authority, someone else will be.

Product Planning – falls next on my list. Most product managers gravitate toward more tactical and short-term measurable aspects of a product’s life and often feel a natural connection with the development of a product. Leading products requires a balance of strategic and tactical and often the details of the next release overshadow product planning. When product management looks at product life more than life-cycleit will add another piece to the puzzle. 

Product Leadership – the personal side is next on my list. In Michael Hopkin’s recent post on Leadership and Product Management, Mike shared, “The key to successful product management is working well with other teams. Product managers hold a unique position in the company: they depend on people from other groups, but they do not have managerial authority over those people (in most cases). Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the other team members to do great things. Therefore, a product manager must earn the trust of people in the organization and influence them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.”

Measurement – while last, this may be one of the most critical pieces of strategic product leaders. When measuring impact, most organizations rely on revenue and financial metrics. It’s interesting to note that these are not leading, but lagging indicators. Think about it, sales revenue, profitability, cost of sales and profit margin are not known until the end of a cycle.

Areas carrying operational influence provide current and leading indicators. Indicators such as market sensing, speed to market, product launch and others may offer more leading information than their financial counterparts and better alignment to product management and its leadership.

I welcome any comments will continue to develop additional content surrounding the strategic pieces of product leadership. If you’d like to connect via Twitter you can find me @jim(underscore)holland.

0 comments
  1. Saeed

    Jim

    The list of 5 characteristics is great. Most people don’t have all 5 areas covered.

    For those Product Managers (or Directors or VPs) who are typically understaffed and overburdened, how can they get to a point where they have sufficient coverage over these 5 areas?

    Given that most people don’t have all 5 areas covered sufficiently, how would you recommend people progress — i.e. which should they focus on first, second, third etc. until they can have coverage in all areas?

    1. Jim Holland

      Saeed, Thanks for the comments. I agree. Prioritizing what should be first, then second and so on, is the leader of product managements role.

      While I’ve seen a lot of leaders actively assessing a teams capabilities, most don’t know how to assess these areas and find it a challenge at best.

      If anyone is interested, I have a simple assessment that product teams and its leadership may use.

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