Being a Product Manager is tough, but is it tougher than being a Product Leader? At first sight, the obvious answer is no. Juggling a leadership role, plus needing to use his/her Product skills must be tougher? William Rowe, though, has a different opinion. As an expert Product Management Recruitment Agency, our tenacious Product Recruiter, John Magani caught up with William about why he believes this is the case.

John: So, William, tell us a bit about yourself…

“9 months ago, I left my role where I led the product, UX, project management and agile coaching teams. Since then I’ve been a consultant product manager and working on my own start-ups. I recently joined just3things.com as the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and still act as a product manager for the team on a daily basis.”

John: Great. How do you feel about duality within Product Management?

"Rohan Rajiv talks about how you need product leadership skills (deciding what to build) and product management skills (running the process to build it) in order to build products successfully.  I agree wholeheartedly with this duality in the product manager role. I want to discuss the difference between leading product managers and being a product manager.”

“In my opinion, both leading product managers and being a product manager requires strength in 4 functional areas:

Commercial – A product manager must be an expert in how the business works and where the commercial value in their specific product is created.  This encompasses; market analysis, unit economics, modelling, accounting and lifetime value. As a leader of product managers if you aren’t able to help your product managers improve in this area you’re going to struggle.”

Technology - Product managers need to love technology. They need to be technical.

Product managers need to be constantly developing their tech skills. They should want to be involved and engaged at all levels, taking notes and learning from the engineering team.  They should attend the meetings where they don’t have to add value or influence the outcome. They should go just to learn. Learning about modern technology practices such as XP (extreme programming) and DevOps is all part of being the best you can be as a product manager. It’s about caring about the whole process of delivering your product.”

“These points were made by Marty Cagan in Inspired.

William went onto add his own two points into the mix that he feels are also important:

UX and Design - whether your product team has a product designer or not, the product manager still needs to be an expert in the customer problem that's being solved by the product. As a leader of product managers, you must be able to help guide your product managers on how to work with product designers that are either dedicated to their product team or spread across a number of teams.”

“Lean and Agile - it’s really important that as a product manager you really understand the difference between agile principles and agile practices.  You should understand why the principles matter and then you can adapt the practices your team follows where required. As a leader of product managers its particularly important that you understand how to structure multiple teams, what really are your team's biggest blockers and why.”

William added “In addition to the 4 skills above in order to lead product managers, you need great leadership skills. Great leadership skills should be a prerequisite in any leadership role however in my experience product managers and software engineers have exceptionally high expectations of leaders.”

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John: Why do you think being a product manager is harder than leading product managers?

“Overall being a product manager is a really difficult job and for me at least always feels like you're not quite on top of all the work you could have done. You have to balance the day to day ceremonies, data analytics, user research and testing, customer discovery and roadmap refinement with thinking strategically, thinking of how to improve the product and the team.”

“Whereas, as a leader of product managers, you have one sole focus. Build a strong product culture and develop great product managers who can demonstrate the 4 skills. If you do this you don’t need to worry about the product leadership part of the product managers role as the product managers will be doing this. So many heads of product I see spend all their time doing product leadership and not leading their product teams, this might be acceptable as it might be what their organisation expects of them. However, it’s not going to achieve a great product culture where product managers are challenged properly to demonstrate product leadership and product management skills.”

John: What would you say to people who are deciding if a leader of product managers role is right for them?

“This is a really easy question to answer if you have done both roles but a lot harder if you haven't. If you're not passionate about practising great leadership 40-60 hours a week you should not go into a leader of the product manager's role. If the elements of your job you enjoy the most are listed in the 4 functional skills I've laid out, commercial, technology, UX & design or lean & agile then, you shouldn't go into a leader of product managers role. In order to be a great leader, you won't have the time to lead and to practice the functional disciplines, in my opinion, if you think you're doing both, you're almost certainly not doing a great job of being a leader.”

Thank you to William Rowe of Just3Things for taking part in our Thought Leadership series. While you are here, why not check out some of our other Product Management Thought Leadership articles...

How Product Managers work with other Departments by Stuart Jones of NewsQuest

Since the role of a product manager can span so many activities, from tactical methods to strategic planning, some of which are highly technical, and others considerably less so, it’s a difficult role to quantify. It also offers an interesting dynamic when it comes to working with other departments. Many product managers act as the CEO's representative and report directly to them about all things at the product level. Others are more strategic.

What separates the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%? by Pouya Jamshidiat at Lloyds Bank

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.

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