Polishing Product Management Skills

Leadership roles are, by their nature, fuzzy. Look at the Engineering Manager role and you might see one of 5 common archetypes, or an even less common variant. During Shortcut to Tech Leadership, we explore how and why technical leadership roles evolve; looking at the factors that drive differences in the same role across teams, time and organisations. Quite frequently, technical leaders must polish their product management skills and this article will describe why and show you the resources you can use.

Leaders at all levels must fill the gaps and missing capabilities in their context. For many software teams and organisations, this gap is good product management. Although companies may have people called “Product Managers”, they play the role only in title. Instead, it’s more common to find product managers acting like project managers, or worse — micromanagers who think they manage a feature factory. This common scenario requires technical leaders, who have worked with good product managers, to step up instead. The Product Engineering Manager is a great example of this at a team level but I have seen this at all levels including the executive level. For example, I often run into CTPOs (Chief Technology and Product Officers) who lead both the technology and product teams, or CTOs who spend a majority of their time acting more as the CPO.

Although I know what good looks like and can quickly identify bad product processes and product managers, addressing these gaps is not the focus of the self-driven training, guided workshops and coaching services I offer. I still receive many requests for help in this area, so I offer you the resources I repeatedly point others to. Use these resources to develop and polish your product management skills, regardless of the title you may have.

Books

Note: I’ve tried to include books that focus exclusively on product management, product thinking or the product manager role. Although I could have included more books on leadership for product managers, or on user-centred design, I’ve tried to keep this list as short as possible.

  • Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra – An underrated book that is worth getting a physical copy as its design keeps it far from being boring. This book is less about product managers and more about product thinking by focusing on the user. Focus on making your users awesome, and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Empowered by Marty Cagan – A collection of stories about what product leaders can do to empower their teams to build successful products. Slightly more focused on leadership skills for product managers.
  • Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perri – Avoid treating product and engineering like a feature factory. This book is all about shifting away from outputs and focusing on outcomes and how Product Managers can do this successfully.
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – The controversial science and psychology behind building addictive products like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Note: After unleashing this on the world, the author published a counter to this, “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
  • How to Lead in Product Management by Roman Pilcher – A wealth of practical tips and strategies for product managers focused less on the product thinking, and more on the required skills required when leading product in an organisation of any significant size (e.g. managing stakeholders, influencing, decision making and discovering unspoken needs and interests).
  • Inspired by Marty Cagan – A collection of stories and insights into how the world’s largest tech companies structure and staff their product organisations.
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – Applying the start-up mindset to product thinking even if you’re not working in a startup.
  • Principles of Product Development Flow by Donald R Reinertsen – This is a book you should use as a reference, coming back to again and again for new insights into what makes a good product development process, how to organise for flow and learning. Thanks to Gergely Hodicska for the reminder!
  • Project to Product by Mik Kersten – Provides a framework for enterprises, used to running “projects”, and how to pivot to product-based thinking. Not as relevant for newer, product-centric companies.
  • Strong Product People by Petra Willie – The missing guide to a personal development framework for Product Managers.
  • User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton – A deep dive into a practical technique for building a MVP, and how to build products both incrementally and iteratively.

Communities

  • Mind The Product – A large organisation publishing content, running conferences and events and offering training with a free slack community of 20K+ product-minded people.
  • The Product Coalition – Hosted (sponsored?) by Medium.com, this community includes many written articles, podcasts and a 7K+ free-to-join slack community.
  • Product Manager HQ – A paid for ($US25) slack community of 7K+ product managers
  • Product School – A slack community of apparently 60K+ product-minded people

1-1 Coaching/Mentoring

These are people recommended to me that offer coaching/mentoring for senior Product Mangers (Head Of, CPO, etc)

I hope you find these resources useful regardless of what role you currently play. If I missed any that are for leaders with a large product management responsibility, drop me an email and let me know (or leave a comment).


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