Pouya Jamshidiat has a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation and design thinking. For someone who has designed, managed and owned products for global leaders in finance and technology — Lloyds and IBM to name but a few — such interests are essential to success.

But equally essential is knowing what separates the product managers from the excellent product managers — and what separates the excellent from the exceptional. If the top 10% are those who really know their industry and how to apply their knowledge, what sets apart the top 1% of them? We caught up with Pouya to hear his thoughts on what makes a product manager truly stand out.

What it takes to be a top 1% product manager
For Pouya, exceptional product management is about taking ownership of the end-to-end product lifecycle from Incubation, Development, Delivery to Post Production. The knowledge and experience of how to manage the product in each stage are central to a top 1% product managers, whether they work for the biggest multinational or the smallest start-up."

Pouya breaks the essential experience, skill and circumstances required into several points:
Luck, first of all, is useful: “getting to work for a company that gives the chance to work on a product from ideation, experiments, development through the maturity and of course in an organisation that has the appetite to invest on experiments”. You’ll also need product delivery experience that can allow you to manage any task and handle any issues throughout the lifecycle.

Thirdly, he advises on the importance of another skill — proactivity. An exceptional product manager should proactively help to establish a product-led mind-set in companies that want to move towards being a product-led company.

Making informed decisions that drive the product vision
If you have the experience, knowledge and drive, and are in the position to implement them, then being bold and making independent, but informed, decisions is crucial to product management — driving both product vision and wider industry innovations.

“In your life as a product manager, there’s always a period of unpopularity with your team. And why is that? When a product is in development, regardless of how well you communicate your idea, regardless of how well you communicate the vision, there might still be lots of unknowns – simply because the product doesn’t exist yet and you don’t know what you don’t know. So there’s a lot of push-backs”.

The key is not to be narrow-minded or refuse to listen, however, but to be consistent and unafraid in what you do: uncomfortable situations are temporary. You can’t always be popular when you’re making difficult decisions, to ensure that these decisions are thoroughly backed up by hard evidence. And if the data changes, then change with it — you should always be flexible.

Knowing your customers, as well as your business
Products need to be driven by a context in order to be successful. That’s why knowing your customers, as well as your business, is central to success. “A product needs to resolve a problem for the customer”, explains Pouya. Nonetheless, it has to generate value too — you have to see and experience both of these elements. Knowing when and when not to push for closer attention and emphasis on product development is also important: “not all businesses should be product-led”.

Establishing product management mindset
But what about when a business should be led by its products, and investment is required? In these instances, a top 1% product manager will actually establish the company-wide mindset that is necessary. 

“It’s important for product owners within the business to establish a company-wide mindset for product management. If this culture is absent you’ll struggle to build a product that adds value to both customer and business, even with the most cutting-edge technology and all the investment in the world”.

Interpreting Data
The ability to gather and interpret data successfully is essential. Product managers “should have the mind of a data scientist, not in terms of building a kind of algorithm to drive the data from the inside, but actually looking at the data they can actually make good sense of it. This will drive the product vision.”

Pouya reiterates this point: in the top 10% of product managers, the thing that sets apart the top 1% from the other 9%, is the ability to make correct interpretations of a data scientists’ findings. “You can’t just sit and let visions come to you like a prophet”, he explains, “the product has to be backed up with hard data. We now live in the world of data — you have to make the most of it”. 

Designing insightful experiments
In Pouya’s experience, the great product managers are the ones who know how to design and run insightful experiments in order to prove or disprove their hypothesis and to establish an evidence-driven culture. 

There is not such a thing as ‘failure’ in experiments. They are just identifying one more case that doesn’t lead to success and at the same time minimising the risk of building a wrong solution. That’s what great product managers continue to do so fearlessly and with loads of resilience.

And as long as there are big problems out there to solve, they still see themselves on a career path – this is no summit or finish line in the profession. Every problem is a new challenge. This is the mindset of these Product Managers.”

Affecting a product
With that in mind, how can the very best manager affect a product, and how can they affect the business of making products in a wider sense? 
For Pouya, an exceptional product manager should speak four languages: “the language of business, the language of design, the language of engineering and the language of the end vision”.

This latter point — the end vision — has the most significant effect on a product. The very best managers, it seems, initially steer clear of solutions, and focus instead on problems. This allows them to overcome immediate issues, without getting ahead of themselves in hastily establishing an end-point. 

“You have to spend probably 70% of your time trying to find out what the problem is, and what its root cause is. During that time, you stay away from solutions. You are not looking for a problem to solve with a solution that you have had in mind. And you spend the rest on experiments to find the right solution. As a result, products become user-centric – and this means that a real solution, rather than a perceived one, will come about."

Thank you to Pouya of Lloyds Banking Group for taking part in our Thought Leadership series. Do you need to fill a Product job? Why not get in contact with our expert Consortia Product Team, who will be happy to assist. Alternatively, if you are looking for a job, click here. If you'd like to take part in our Thought Leadership series, please email here.

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