December 18, 2017

Archives for March 2013

Are We Overlooking the Most Significant Skills Gap in Product Management & Product Marketing?

Recently, I have been involved in several discussion around the most important skills for Product Managers and Product Marketers (Please see my blog post from PCA10 and this LinkedIn Group Discussion) and what’s interesting is that the soft skills always stand out as the most important.  I also recently read a McKinsey Quarterly article from April 2010 and if you look at Exhibit 2, it highlights that the most significant gaps that exist for Brand Managers  is in the soft skills (yes, this is also relevant to us PMs & PMMs), and yet, the expectations for the technical/functional skills are well met.

In general, the soft skills that stand out in all discussions include:

  • Influence
  • Conflict resolution
  • Time management (Productivity)
  • Communications
  • Managing strong relationships with internal stakeholders
  • Leadership

But if you look at where we tend to focus most of our efforts in training and development, it tends to be on the more technical/functional skills and not on the soft skills, possibly assuming that the soft skills come naturally or PMs and PMMs can learn to develop these on their own.   Clearly, both technical skills and soft skills are important and we must make sure as PMs and PMMs, we take time to develop those skills, and if we are PM/PMM leaders, we must make sure we spend time developing these skills in our team members.

As someone else once indicated, the soft skills in life are important to all and are the basis for success in almost all roles, but I do think that these are even more critical for those of us in the PM and PMM roles.


Warning – What follows is a blatant, self-promotional plug!  

How to Be a Phenomenal Product Manager

As far as I know, the only training course offered that teaches Product Managers and Product Marketers how to improve their soft skills is the How to Be a Phenomenal Product Manager course (that I offer in partnership with 280 Group)  In it, we teach the topics of:

  • Influence
  • Time management
  • Working with sales and engineering
  • Conflict resolution
  • Managing your career
  • Importance of clear role definition

 Learn more about the How to Be a Phenomenal Product Manager Course

PCA 10 Executive Panel – Great Products Need Great People! An Executive Perspective on What It Takes to be a Great PM

On February 16th, at ProductCamp Austin 10 (PCATX, PCA10), I had the great honor of moderating a panel that was made up of three of the top Product Management and Product Marketing executives in the Austin area.  The discussion and interaction amongst the panelist was fantastic and I commend them for making this such a great session.   Below, I have compiled notes that ProductCamp participants have shared with me as well as tweets I collected to document the key discussion points for the panel.  I’m sure I missed some points, but I think we got the main ones.  I hope you find these notes valuable as you think about how to move ahead in your Product Management or Product Marketing career!

 Panel Participants

Michael Helmbrecht

Vice President and General Manager of Video Solutions, LifeSize


Tom Hale

Chief Product Officer, HomeAway


Jay Hallberg

VP Marketing and co-founder, Spiceworks


Moderator – Tom Evans

Principal at CompellingPM



Question – How would you define an exceptional product manager or product marketer?   What key characteristics do you look for?

Critical Skills for Product Managers
•             Passion* •             Influence and Lead others
•             Intelligence •             Stick to a vision for a long-time
•             Customer Empathy •             Great writers
•             Technical strength •             Sales strength
•             Synthesis of Data •             Curious and want to learn*
•             Good person •             Self-motivated*


  • The Product Team is a team and that means you have to have the right mix of skills, modalities, etc. on the team.  Creating that right mix is more important than a specific set of skills for one PM candidate.
  • Each team needs someone who is the “spirit of the product” person.
  • Different prod mgmt skills required for dealing with remote teams.

Good Interview Questions

  • When interviewing Product Management Candidates, Tom Hale asks, What MicroSoft Office product would you be and why? Word, PP, Excel, Access?  The answer to that provides significant insight to the personality of the candidate.
  • Which products do you love?  Which products do you hate?
  • Tell us about a great product and why it’s great.

Question – How do you recruit great product managers?

  • Look for the parents of great products and hire them.
  • Grow locally or bring in globally your development talent.

Question: Can a product manager and product marketer exist in the same body?

  • It’s rare when you find someone that is excellent at both, but when you find one, don’t let them leave!
  • The Combo of great Product Management and Product Marketing people are too hard to find.  The best option is if you can’t find them, grow them
  • Product manager is more like a movie producer now.  Prod mktg must have speed to deal with today’s communication methods and global customers.
  • A successful product marketer must be creative and an excellent writer.  If you’re not a good writer, you’re just not going to be a great product marketer

Question:  What Are Some Lessons or Experiences You Can Share

  • Michael Helmbrecht – Avoid taking feedback from only customers.  The installed base likes consistency & minor changes only and will be the last folks to talk to about radical ideas.  So watch out for “the tyranny of the installed base.
  • Jay Hallberg – Spice Works has their user community provide feature suggestions and then vote on them.  They don’t have a formal Product Management role.
  • Jay Hallberg – Give introverts avenues to open up and speak.  Maybe chat, small groups etc.  But for Extroverts – should warn people when they’re thinking out loud.  As some ideas may be bad!
  • Tom Hale told hilarious story about product failure in Japan because they chose a product name that had an insulting slang meaning.  So know your market and localization choices
  • Get out of the office and experience a day in the life of a prospective customer.  Jay Hallberg told the story about when they were analyzing opportunities for a start-up (now Spiceworks), they visited the IT managers in 30 small companies in the Austin area and learned a great amount about their challenges, and from that were able to create a company around that.

Question – How important is Agile Experience on your resume?

  • Agile is a process and you can learn a process.  Agile experience is something you can learn you don’t need to have it to do the job. Too much time is being spent on the process these days.
  • Don’t be a progress by the pound guru.  You box yourself in and can be perceived as slowing down the process.
  • Process can be a crutch, we hire talent over process any day!!!

Question – How do you consider a PMs life away from work?

  • Everyone needs a life outside of work.  We don’t really care what those interests are, as long as they have one.
  • Best PMs have to have something else to do, a source for creativity.

Final Thought from Tom Hale (a Haleism)

Based upon his story of someone suggesting that HomeAway needs to place branded dog doo bags in rental homes/units.

  • Don’t put dog doo by my brand name.
  • Don’t compete with free.


Please share your thoughts on this topic!