It's an interesting question. The first thing that should come up to you is defining what "the best" means. Usually, in most digital companies, the Product Manager creates products with the development team. There is no explicit agreement on what the best PM should be in the market. Many of you can search Google and find disparate answers of what the best Product Manager can mean. In my previous post, I showed that some venture capitalists define a good PM as a "CEO of Product." Meanwhile, some others say that a great PM is characterized by skills and experiences tailored to the business needs.
Also, social media and forums, such as Reddit, Hacker News community, and Product Hunt, serve as an echo chamber that promotes an unrealistic ideal product manager that serves no clear purposes other than to create frustrations from hiring managers and job seekers. It is pretty easy to see people asking advice about getting a job as a PM and then seeing conflicting answers from the users. This confusion generates real-world consequences for all parties. Hiring managers searching for "top qualities to look into a product manager" will not hire for what their company needs. A job candidate finding information about ace a PM interview may get a job, but he may not like what he does, and the company will end up with a sub-optimal employee.
In this blog post, I'm going to walk you through some essential ideas so you can hire the best Startup Product Manager that you need.
The disagreement of what "the best Product Manager" means
The current definition of the best product manager comes from the idea of those who can succeed in getting a job offer from Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Yes, the FAANG PMs. There are tons of people asking for help to pass an interview in any one of those companies. Impressively, there is even a market where candidates pay thousands of dollars to product management career consultants to help them score a position in a FAANG company. A PM position in a FAANG company is the current Goldman Sachs investment banker position or McKinsey consultant. So are you hiring someone who passes an exam or some who can do the job?
There is a strong belief that whoever can pass an interview with those companies will be smart enough to handle any business problem.
Interestingly, it is tough to find information about what are the typical characteristics of a good PM. Worse, there is misinformation or distorted ideas of successful products being created by PM. An example is Gmail. The world's most famous email platform was created by an engineer in his 20% "free time," not from a PM. So the lack of a standard view of what a good PM should be is a big red flag of what you should expect from the best product manager.
Also, many PMs are successful because they have a supporting structure surrounding them. A startup or an established company that does not have enough supporting areas will undermine the PM's work. So now, the PM will have to build those support networks and grow the product simultaneously. So don't be surprised to find stressed PM having spread his effort too thin.
To hire your best product manager, you must start by defining what you want that person to do and what kind of resources are available. Then you can find archetypes of PMs to fit your needs.
Why does a company need a Product Manager?
For a lot of companies, including startups, that is an essential question. Why your company needs a PM? Is it because you are copying from a startup template org chart? Or because you've heard that someone successful had a PM? In many circumstances, especially in the startup world, the founders and engineers are still launching new products and features without a product manager. Conversely, a well-established legacy enterprise should have a product manager, but it never came to them that such a role could help them drive business further.
It is also essential to understand what kind of resources are available for that individual. Some companies hire a Head or VP of Products to help build the team from scratch. Meanwhile, for companies with established teams, a PM is mainly focusing on enhancing the existing products. There are many scenarios that you have to consider when evaluating the need to have a PM.
I'm sharing a quick rule of thumb checklist so you can check if you need a PM or not (the more statements below you agree, the more reason is to have a PM):
- Founders don't have more time to deal with the creation of new features.
- Founders are too busy raising funds.
- Engineers don't have time to deal with customers complaints
- Engineers are too focused on optimizing systems
- The marketing team is all about social media campaign, SEO, and SEM; all users complaints are directed to customer service
- Customer service is overwhelmed with bug and issues
In a pragmatic view, a PM can solve short-term issues like the above, and once the startup is stabilized, he can work with the senior team to come up with a vision and strategy to grow the business. However, startups with strong visionary founders will control the vision and strategy; then, the PM executes that vision, maintaining the road mapping and prioritization.
Common Key Responsibilities for Product Managers
- Build and maintain Product Strategy
- Own Product Vision
- Execute GTM (go-to-market) strategy
- Maintain rapport with cross-functional leaders and teams
- Hire, lead, nurture, coach and grow PMs
- Collect user feedback and needs
- Translate business requirements to technical language
- Do project management
- Apply and improve Agile methodology
- Create, groom, write and manage user stories, backlog, and delivery timelines
- Partner with business
- Collaborate with engineers
- Identify and manage vendors and partners
- Evaluate market and trends
- Define, measure, and set successful metrics
- Define and maintain the product roadmap
- Prepare and deliver scope or definition documents
- Prepare financial models
I'm skipping skills and experience required because that could be a book on its own.
Creating the Jobs Description of your Ideal Startup Product Manager
It's essential to break the ideal and hypothetical Product Manager and the preconceptions it brings. The best PM starts from your reflection of what is required to make your business successful. With that in mind, you can list the responsibilities of what your ideal PM can do. Then, it's important to evaluate what kind of support team and roles will help the PM succeed.
The Job Description itself is pretty straightforward once you have done your homework. The current standard follows this structure:
- One or two paragraphs about what your company does; it's pretty common to find companies putting generic blurbs where you cannot understand what the company does at all.
- One paragraph about its culture: the size of the company, values, history, and latest successes or product launches.
- List the "Key Responsibilities"
- Then list "Key Skills, Background, and Experience"
- After that, "Nice to Have"
By following the standard format, you will filter candidates as they are filtering you too.
Hiring "the Best" Product Manager takes more time than just a few Google Searches. Also, it's imperative to avoid accepting the archetype of the best product manager just because social media and even influential bloggers say so. Instead, you must understand your company's needs and the resources it can provide to that individual. Then you will find someone that fits your needs, leading you to have a higher chance to have a happy and successful team.