December 18, 2017

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!


  1. Tom, I thoroughly enjoyed your minutes and captured highlights of the discussion. I did not see much in reference to the importance of good relationship and interface between customer support and product managers. Synergies of the two may drive change or improvements of products and inform or influence product marketing.

    • compellingpm says:

      Hi Chet – Thanks for sharing that thought. While the panel discussion did not end up addressing that issue, I completely agree that Product Managers must develop strong relationships with all of their internal constituencies in order to be successful. This include customer support, sales, engineering, marketing and operations as well as executive leadership.

      I recently saw an article, that I need to go back and find, but it was discussing a survey of the skills of Brand Managers and it noted that while they were strong in the technical skills of the role, they needed improvement in the soft skills, and this also relates back to their point.

      Aeris Vincere

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