What does it really take to become a good Product Manager? Is it about being technical or having a business background or something completely different? Senior Product Manager at LinkedIn made an argument about products being about people and talked about his own background, how he got into product Management and why you need to understand people.
Jonathan (Jasper) Sherman-Presser
Senior Product Manager at LinkedIn. Previously Business Development intern at Spotify and Product Manager at Comcast and MyNewPlace. Has a degree in English and an MBA. Weird fact: worked as a Trip Leader in France for 2 years.
We can look at product management from many different angles and none of them are wrong. Let’s look at it from this one now: “To build great products you need to understand people.” People are the users so it makes sense to go to the source and try to understand their problems and desires in order to build products that address them. Here are our top picks about why products are about people.
“To build great products you need to understand people”
You won’t get very far building products if you don’t know the reasons behind building it. Understanding people’s needs, desires and problems is crucial in this process because essentially products are made for those people. The important thing is to understand what problem you’re trying to solve in order for you to take the idea and execute it.
Figuring out what the real problem is can be discovered by asking why until there are no more whys. What is left is your problem.
PM’s learn from the wrong solutions
If you ask a PM whether they’ve spent more time with a successful product than an unsuccessful one the answer is no. Most PM’s spend most of their time with unsuccessful products because it’s not PM’s job to have solutions for everything. Product Managers need to own the problem not the solution, and not get attached to any particular solution. People don’t care about the solution they care whether it fits their needs.
“Great products make people feel something”
When you’ve built the product well you’ll see the results. Those results can be seen for example in the amount of users that product has. People come back to use the product because it gives something to them. It gives them feeling of productiveness, effectiveness or it inspires them. Even though the product is never perfect and it’ll never be ready it already gives something to the people to make them feel.
“Products are built by people”
There is always a team behind building great products. The size varies between companies but the idea is the same. Product Management is about the process of getting to the right solution with the team. Product Manager’s job is to make the team do the things the PM wants them to do to make them and the product successful.
The intention is not for the Product Managers to have all the answers to the questions that the team asks. PM’s main goal is to help the team by giving them the tools to figure out the answers themselves.
Questions from the audience
How do you stay away from great ideas that the data doesn’t support?
Saying “no” is one of the most important and most difficult things as a Product Manager. Make sure that people are focusing on the problem. Really press them on it. If a person comes to you with an idea that you know is probably not a good idea challenge them by asking how do they think it addresses the problem. Make sure that it does and that it doesn’t just sound exciting. Sometimes if you just help people through that process they will figure it out and realize that it’s not such a good idea.
The other option is saying that it’s a great idea and that we can do that in the version 2 if we do the other things first. The intention behind it is to make sure that you solve the small things first before moving on to the bigger things. Also letting people make their own mistakes and learn from them is an important thing to do so sometimes you have to let them do what they want to do.
How can you figure out quickly what each team needs from you?
Depends on the team. Some people learn it overtime when they learn people’s personalities. I’d say you need to get a good sense of who are the loud people on the team early on and listen to their feedback. You can also do regular retrospectives to get the whole team together to talk about what’s going well and what not so well, what are the things we changed what did we improve on.
It’s the whole team talking to each other and they have different perspectives on it. It helps them feel like they’re one helping and being part of the process.
How do you sense when a product is going downhill?
There is a certain point in the product life cycle that doesn’t matter what you do you can’t move any metrics anymore. Even at that point it doesn’t mean that you should abandon the product. Your product can still be really successful but you have hit the total penetration of your market and there are no more people to do what you want them to do. It is totally fine but as a business you need to start doing other things in order to grow.
But this is different from trying things that don’t work. It could be that the solution wasn’t any good or the problem wasn’t really worth solving in the first place. It’s one of the hardest things is to know when to throw in the towel.
Any advice for people that want to become Product Managers at LinkedIn?
We would ask you if you can look at a specific thing and articulate why that product is great, what does it do that works well. We’d want to know if you understand how products and solving the problem work and whether you can articulate and diagnose those things. The second part is just whether you can get shit done.
For example, how do you measure success, how do you draw a roadmap, how do you feel about working with engineers if you don’t have technical background and how do you deal with different things. We look for people of all stages of experience. Because we’re a big company we can look for people that don’t have 4 years of PM experience.
Products are about people because they’re built for people. An important thing to understand is not only what the problem is and what people want but also understand what the team needs from the PM to get things done. Essentially it’s all about people, their desires and needs and solving problems.
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