Academy Xi Blog

FAQs: Product Management

By Academy Xi

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We’ve compiled this list of questions most frequently asked about Product Management to help you understand what it’s like to start a new and dynamic career as a Product Manager.

Already know you’d like to study Product Management?

Get in touch with our Course Advisors to discuss training options, and check out the upcoming intake dates here.

Product Management and why it’s important

What is Product Management?

When customers buy and use a product, it’s normally because it squarely addresses their needs. Product Management is an organisational function that prioritises the needs of the customer and uses them to guide the development of a new or improved product through every stage of its life cycle.

Product Managers are responsible for overseeing an end-to-end product strategy, from conducting customer research and identifying unmet needs, to finding viable solutions and rallying the teams that turn a product vision into a reality.

Typically, Product Managers are creative thinkers, excellent problem solvers and inspirational leaders. It’s no surprise that the current CEOs of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo all began their careers as Product Managers.

How do businesses use Product Management?

In today’s saturated markets, offering a product that satisfies the demands of customers is one of the surest ways for a business to set itself apart from the competition. 

When it comes to developing innovative new products and features that customers will love, Product Managers are always on the lookout for the next big thing. Maintaining a product-led approach means businesses are able to stay one step ahead of their rivals and increase profit by as much as 34%.

Modern businesses rely on Product Managers to make sure the customer’s voice is heard throughout an organisation. Working cross-functionally, Product Managers will align different teams around a product vision that’s shaped by the demands of the market, leading to products that solve customer problems, increased sales and a more profitable company.  

What does a Product Manager actually do?

Product Management is a multifaceted role, which normally comes with a wide range of responsibilities. Although no two roles will ever be the same, some of the day-to-day tasks that go into being a Product Manager include:

  • Performing market research
  • Collecting and analysing customer feedback
  • Prioritising product features
  • Defining a product roadmap
  • Coordinating different teams
  • Assigning and managing tasks
  • Managing stakeholders, both internal and external
  • Determining metrics for success
  • Collecting and analysing product data post-launch

Product Management essentials

What’s the difference between a Product Manager and a Product Owner?

There’s often confusion about what distinguishes a Product Manager from a Product Owner. Though these two roles do occasionally overlap, in organisations where both are working simultaneously their responsibilities will be kept separate and distinct.

While a Product Manager will be tasked with setting a product strategy, using market research, vision-setting, alignment and prioritisation, a Product Owner will collaborate more closely with the development team, working toward the goals set by the Product Manager.

Here are the two roles, broken down into day-to-day activities:

Product ManagerProduct Owner
Collaborates with outside stakeholdersCollaborates with internal stakeholders
Defines a product visionHelps teams execute a product vision
Determines what success looks likeBuilds a plan for achieving success
Owns vision, marketing and ROIOwns task assignment and management of team backlog
Strategizes at a conceptual levelInvolved in day-to-day activities

 

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a document that communicates the strategic direction of a new product or a product improvement. Forming a crucial part of the product strategy or product plan, it’s used to align stakeholders, teams, and sometimes even customers on what kind of a product will be delivered.

A product roadmap should be centred around the big picture and the problems a product will solve. Product Managers will often create internal and external roadmaps. 

  • Internal roadmaps are created for internal teams and will focus on specific outcomes, such as alignment with company goals, product details, or customer benefits.
  • External roadmaps are created for customers, and as such should highlight the benefits a new or improved product offers to customers. 

What is a go-to-market strategy?

If a business releases a new product without proper planning, it’s difficult to avoid appealing to the wrong audience, entering the market too early or too late, or targeting a market that’s saturated with similar products. 

In order to avoid wasting time and resources by launching a poorly positioned product, it’s crucial to develop a go-to-market strategy. A go-to-market strategy is a step-by-step guide used to support the launch of a product. This will involve considering:

  • Product-market fit: What problem will a product solve?
  • Target audience: Who’s experiencing that problem and how much are they prepared to pay for a solution? What are the pain points and frustrations that your product can remedy?
  • Competition and demand: Who already offers a similar product? Is there demand, or is the market oversaturated?
  • Distribution: Through what mediums will the product be sold? Will it involve a website, an app, or a third-party distributor?
  • Marketing: What marketing channels will be used to promote the product? What will the marketing messaging be?

Although each product will be unique, a good go-to-market strategy will always be structured around the customer’s problem and position a new product as a much-needed solution.

How is agile used in Product Management?

Agile is an iterative approach to product development that enables product teams to deliver projects faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of putting all their efforts into a “big bang” launch, an agile team will deliver a product in smaller, more manageable portions of work that are usually referred to as ‘sprints’. 

An agile sprint is a short predetermined period of time when a team performs a set amount of work. Agile sprints ensure product teams are able to complete tasks systematically, helping them sustain even the most complex projects.

A product is evaluated continuously when using the agile methodology, giving teams greater flexibility and a natural mechanism for responding to change. This means a product can be adjusted and improved as new discoveries are made throughout the development phases. 

Product Management Skills & Software

What skills does a Product Manager need?

A successful Product Manager will draw on a variety of hard and soft skills when completing their day-to-day work. The most in-demand skills that any aspiring Product Manager should aim to develop include:

  • Commercial acumen 

Product Managers need to understand the target market, customer demographics, market demand and value proposition. Commercial acumen helps Product Managers create popular products that meet specific customer needs.

  • Analytical skills

Product Managers rely on market research and SWOT analysis to make product decisions. Analytical skills help Product Managers build sound, well-informed product strategies that are based on data insights.

  • Project management

Developing products often involves coordinating input from multiple teams. A Product Manager relies on project management skills to facilitate collaboration and ensure team members complete tasks within set timelines and budgets.

  • Problem-solving

A Product Manager always aims to create products that solve specific problems for specific customers. A Product Manager with a problem-solving mindset can brainstorm product ideas and uncover the best possible solutions.

  • Communication

Product managers work cross-functionally, collaborating with anybody from engineers and data scientists, to designers and marketers. Strong communication skills enable Product Managers to secure stakeholder buy-in, nurture meaningful work relationships and keep teammates updated on an evolving strategy.

  • Leadership

Product Managers leading a product development project are expected to break ideas down into actionable items, prioritise tasks and allocate responsibilities to teammates. Product Managers use their leadership skills to motivate colleagues, offer guidance and give constructive feedback, ultimately keeping a project on track.

  • Strategic thinking 

From the identification of lucrative market opportunities, to the development of the product portfolio and its go-to-market execution, Product Managers are often required to think strategically. Product Managers also rely on their strategic skills to ensure that all teams, infrastructure and resources are aligned with a product vision.

  • Financial acumen 

Companies create products with the ultimate aim of generating more revenue. A sound grasp of financial acumen enables a Product Manager to forecast the cost of creating a product, budget for each phase of development and make cost effective decisions at every stage.

  • Decision-making 

Inevitably, a range of choices have to be made when leading a product development project. Product Managers have to be able to weigh-up options, anticipate probable outcomes and make smart decisions that positively impact a finished product.

What software do Product Managers use?

There are a wide range of platforms that offer Product Managers the tools needed to quickly and efficiently develop products. While these platforms are primarily used by Product Managers and product teams, other departments can also use them to keep track of a product’s progress.

Some of the most powerful platforms that today’s Product Managers rely on include:

  • Jira

Jira is part of a family of products designed to make managing team projects easier. Product Managers use Jira to create roadmaps, product backlogs and sprint boards, which can be accessed and worked on by an entire team. Jira also helps Product Managers:

    • Assign and manage tasks
    • Estimate workflow 
    • Create project reports
    • Perform project analytics
    • Assign user permissions

Offering a range of functions for collaborative working, Jira allows Product Managers to plan, track and coordinate an entire team’s work using just one tool.

  • Miro

Product Managers also use Miro, a virtual whiteboard platform that helps a team to work creatively and visualise the progress of a project. 

At an ideation phase, Miro is useful for brainstorming, sharing possible design ideas and making decisions as a team. As a project progresses, a visual management system like Miro has a number of advantages over to-do lists and other written project management documents:

    • It simplifies even the most complex projects. 
    • It helps people understand at a glance what tasks need to be done and when.
    • It creates open, real-time lines of communication.
    • It gives the whole team visibility of what each team member is working on and the project timeline. 
    • It enables Product Managers to identify where work has slowed or stopped and take the necessary steps to fix it.

Jira and Miro combined help Product Managers ensure that the work carried out by digital teams is synchronous and collaborative. Behind every great product is a great product team, and behind every great product team are the platforms that facilitate teamwork.

  • monday.com

monday.com is an online product management platform that helps teams of all sizes plan, track and schedule their daily tasks. From large-scale product roadmaps to daily iterations, monday.com enables teams to define clear ownership of tasks, track productivity, manage sprints and effectively collaborate. 

monday.com is popular among Product Managers because it offers complete clarity over a project’s status. A static checkbox marking a task as “complete” or “incomplete” doesn’t provide enough information for team members to know where things really stand. Team members can provide detailed status reports in monday.com, indicating exactly what stage a task has reached, or even documenting any blockers that have stemmed the workflow. 

  • Productboard             

Used by the likes of Microsoft and Apple, Productboard is a product management system that helps teams understand what target users need, prioritise which features to build (and when), and unify teammates around a product roadmap.

Productboard has the tools to aggregate customer research, with the customer feedback portal allowing teams to gather customer insights from multiple inboxes. It can even be used to produce detailed automated reports that can be used to determine product features. For Product Managers who are keen to work with an ongoing feedback loop, Productboard is the perfect platform.

Careers in Product Management

There are a wide variety of reasons to choose a career in Product Management. Most obviously, it’s a profession that’s in high demand. These days, businesses in every industry understand that great companies are built on great products.

Before you embark on becoming a professional Product Manager, it’s useful to have a clear picture of what the average career path might look like. 

What does a career path in Product Management look like?

Here’s an example of a typical Product Management career pathway, broken down into roles of increasing responsibility and seniority: 

Associate Product Manager

The entry-level position that will kickstart many careers is an Associate Product Manager. Larger organisations with big product teams will often hire Associate Product Managers, who are often freshly qualified in the field. 

Some of an Associate Product Manager’s responsibilities include: 

  • Assisting product managers with their duties
  • Conducting market research
  • Gathering product requirements

Junior Product Manager

The next step in your career might entail landing a role as a Junior Product Manager (although in some cases, this role will be interchangeable with an Associate Product Manager). To distinguish between the two, a Junior Product Manager is more hands-on, works more closely with the product team and has greater ownership of the product.

Some of a Junior Product Manager’s responsibilities would include:

  • Collecting and reporting on customer feedback
  • Helping to define a product vision and roadmap
  • Working with developers to design product features

Product Manager

After gaining a few years of industry experience, you’ll be well placed to apply for Product Manager roles. Being a Product Manager is more strategic and relies on your ability to coordinate the efforts of different teams across a business. 

A Product Manager’s responsibilities might include:

  • Determining customer needs
  • Setting the final product vision and roadmap
  • Assigning tasks and workflow within the product team 
  • Coordinating cross functional teams

Senior Product Manager

Once you’ve accumulated roughly 3-5 years of experience as a Product Manager, you’ll have the chance to move up to the role of Senior Product Manager. At this level, you’ll be taking on more serious responsibilities, which include:

  • Managing the work of your company’s Product Managers
  • Leading collaboration across cross functional teams
  • Leading a company’s product strategy
  • Managing interactions with internal and external stakeholders

Product Leader

Depending on your organisation, before you reach the role of Chief Product Officer or VP of Product role, you may need to hold the role of a Product Leader. One of the key differences between this role and a Senior Product Manager is that the Product Leader tends to be less involved in people management and more focused on the product itself. 

A Product Leader’s responsibilities include:

  • Owning the product vision and direction
  • Hiring for roles in the product team
  • Owning the process for product development

Chief Product Officer/ VP Of Product

At the top of the career ladder is the role of Chief Product Officer, or VP of Product. Depending on organisational structure, your company may have one or both of these roles, the responsibilities of which include:

  • Owing the overall product strategy of the organisation
  • Aligning the product team with the rest of the business

Industry demand for Product Management

How high is the demand for Product Managers in Australia?

Delivering the products customers need is one of the best ways to drive sales and build long-term business value. It’s no surprise that Product Managers are highly sought after in most industries. Demand for Product Managers in Australia is steadily rising, with national employment rates set to increase by 10.3% in the next five years

Currently, over 6,000 Australian Product Manager roles are available on Seek (August 2022). It’s worth remembering that a Product Manager’s capabilities are in demand globally, so wherever you find yourself living, you’ll have work experience and a CV that employers are hunting for. 

How much do Product Managers earn in Australia?

The pay opportunities for Australian Product Managers are representative of a profession that’s in high demand across a number of industries. 

Talent.com records the average Product Manager salary in Australia at $136,500 per year (or $70 per hour). Even entry-level positions start at $113,247 per year, while more experienced Digital Marketers make $170,000 per year on average.

There’s also a good chance you’ll find being a Product Manager highly rewarding, with the profession scoring a healthy 4.1 out of 5 for job satisfaction.

Becoming a Product Manager

How hard is it to learn Product Management?

Even for a complete beginner, picking up Product Management is not as hard as you might think. That said, it’s important you begin with a strong motivation to connect with customer needs, solve problems and think creatively. 

It takes time and dedication to grasp the theory that underpins an effective product strategy, and you’ll also need to learn how to manage the product life cycle from end to end. Additionally, you’ll need plenty of hands-on practice to get the most out of the industry’s latest tools.

If you’re aiming to get a foothold in the profession, you should consider earning a formal certification in Product Management. It will be difficult to secure your first role without this, since so many other candidates will have a certified skillset.

Where can I study Product Management?     

There are many options when it comes to qualifying as a Product Manager. In the past, many Product Managers have taken Bachelor’s degrees in a related field, which take 3-4 years, before specialising in Product Management.    

There’s less of an expectation for Product Managers to be university qualified these days, with most employers favouring skills, experience and a good portfolio over formal degrees. 

As a result, more people are enrolling in condensed bootcamp-style courses, which leave graduates industry-ready in a much shorter period of time. These courses focus on the hands-on techniques and tangible skills that today’s Product Managers need to make an impact in the industry.

What Product Management courses does Academy Xi offer?

Academy Xi offers practical, industry-recognised training that’s designed for digital careers. 

Whatever your starting point, our Product Management courses will give you managerial, analytical and creative skills needed to take an amazing new product from idea to market.

Whether you want to venture into a new profession as a Product Manager, or upskill and test the waters of a Product Management career, Academy Xi has a course that’s perfectly suited to your goals and lifestyle. 

  • Product Management: Transform – For those who want to kickstart a new career as a Digital Marketer, including 24 weeks of access to a Career Support Program that helps over 97% of graduates straight into industry.
  • Product Management: Elevate – For those who want to boost their career with in-demand Product Management skills.
  • Product Management: Elevate (self-paced) – For those who want to boost their career with in-demand Product Management skills, while also enjoying the flexibility of self-paced learning.

Both courses have been built in collaboration with industry professionals from top digital companies, including Deloitte, PwC Digital, and MYOB, offering you the chance to:

  • Ideate and plan a launch from end-to-end by building a new product strategy, while also improving an existing product.
  • Walk away with in-demand skills, from creating product backlogs with Jira to running Agile sprints.
  • Hear first-hand anecdotes, battle stories, case studies and tips from the frontlines of the industry.
  • Master crucial soft skills like communication and collaboration to manage a team project, sell a vision and influence the best outcomes.
  • Devise your very own digital product, either for yourself or your organisation, and graduate with a comprehensive, executable strategy. 

Not sure which course is right for you? Chat to a course advisor and we’ll help you find the perfect match. 

Not sure which course is right for you? Chat to a course advisor and we’ll help you find the perfect match.

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Ray Jaramis

By Academy Xi

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Upskilling in Product Management is helping Ray design a scalable HR, payroll and benefits platform that promises to empower millions of Australians.

After 2 years with Employment Hero, Ray decided to expand his expertise and enrol in the Product Management: Elevate course. Find out how Ray’s new skillset is helping him hatch a plan to make financial advice accessible to everyday Australians. 

What were you doing career-wise before studying Product Management?

I’m formally educated in social psychology and worked for a number of years in financial services. Ongoing changes to the financial services industry has resulted in some questions as to how accessible advice is to everyday Austarlians. Often, advisers need to see a minimum level of income or wealth in order to justify the investment in advice.

I started with Employment Hero a couple of years ago and immediately started working on a service that would leverage the power of tech and offer financial and wellness advice at scale. My team and I challenged ourselves to break down the barriers that prevented everyday Australians from developing their financial literacy. Our long-term goal is to create an environment where people earning an average or below average income are able to easily access sound guidance on how to make the most of their personal finances. 

For the project to be a success and really get the most out of technology, I knew I’d need product management skills and a solid grasp of the fundamentals that go into building an optimised product. I wanted to learn how to manage a development team, and make sure we were using the power of the Employment Hero platform to its full potential. There was a gap in my skillset that I wanted to fill, so I started exploring Product Management courses.

Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi? 

After I’d carried out my research, it came down to choosing between Academy Xi and a couple of other providers. When I downloaded the Academy Xi course guide, all the modules were broken down very clearly and I could easily sense the depth of what I would learn. For a 12 week course, it seemed very comprehensive.  

I spoke to the Academy Xi sales team and they sent me a link to the course mentor’s LinkedIn page. His resume included some really heavy hitting companies. It was reassuring to know that the course would be led by someone who’d had such a distinguished career as a professional Product Manager. 

Plus, a team member I work with had already taken an Academy Xi course and was really impressed by the whole experience. In the end, I picked Academy Xi, and I’m glad I did – I made the right choice!

How would you describe the course experience?

It was much less prescriptive than a degree or other formal education courses I’ve taken in the past. There’s an advantage to learning Product Management with the freedom to experiment. When you have an opportunity or face a problem in the real world, there’s not always going to be a clear roadmap to follow. Instead, you have to think critically about what tools suit the situation and improvise the best possible solution, which is exactly what we learned to do throughout the course.  

The class worked on two projects, one for Cellar Door Society, which is an online marketplace for wine lovers and another which was a personal project of our choosing. We were given a brief that involved using the Product Management process to increase revenue and optimise the business. The process uncovered some really unexpected results in both projects. I’d never have guessed what we’d end up focusing on in order to improve each company, which was a great way to learn the power of the Product Management process. 

My contribution to the projects allowed me to practise scoping projects and leveraging tech, which is exactly the exposure I needed for my role with Employment Hero. 

How did you find working with your mentor?

My mentor was Dane and he was fantastic. Dane was a brilliant facilitator and did everything possible to keep everybody fully involved. Recognising that lots of people in the cohort would be new to Product Management, Dane made a point of giving each individual time to talk and the chance to answer questions. It gave everyone the chance to ease themselves into the course and develop their ideas. 

Studying in an online environment makes it that bit easier to find a corner to hide in, but Dane made sure that the whole course was a really inclusive and engaging experience.     

Throughout the course I had two opportunities to sit down with Dane and deep dive into my Product Management questions. As well as getting practical advice about my assignments, I also got the chance to talk openly with Dane about the industry. Being able to build a relationship with someone who’s got such a high level of professional experience was invaluable. 

How did you find working in teams?

I really enjoyed it. We would break off into group discussions during the live sessions, which gave everyone an opportunity to learn firsthand what someone else’s interpretation of the same information was. I think it’s possible to go down a bit of a rabbit hole with your own ideas, and it’s not until you talk to someone else that you realise there are all these other possibilities to consider. 

The course is condensed into 12 weeks and you’re trying to develop your knowledge in a relatively short time frame. For that to happen, it’s really important to have other people that you can explore and test out your ideas with. As well as Dane, we learned so much from each other. There’s a course requirement that you provide feedback on your peers’ assignments, so we were actively involved in one another’s progress. 

At the end of the course, there was a big round of LinkedIn invites between the cohort. We had a pretty cool group, so it’s really nice to keep an eye on what everyone’s been up to professionally since graduation.

How are you applying what you’ve learned with Employment Hero?

Employment Hero is a business that just about doubles in size every year. Naturally, that level of growth presents a bunch of new opportunities. As a product manager, it’s my job to decide which opportunities to follow and how to allocate our resources. I have to make sure our teams’ efforts are focused in the most effective ways possible.  

My role involves understanding the risks, rewards and feasibility of possible projects. I have to come up with a project hypothesis and then present it to the leadership. It’s crucial that I’m able to validate my proposals, and the Academy Xi course has put me in a much stronger position to do that. I can suggest projects that are carefully considered and backed up by a really robust process. 

Once everyone is onboard, those projects are broken down into action items and divided into sprints. I work with product developers and it’s important to articulate a clear vision of the project’s underlying purpose. Everything I learned throughout the course helps me impart an understanding that even the smallest tasks can positively impact a project. That way when the team is working on the project, no matter how small a decision is (for instance changing the colour of a font), everyone will have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the overall product vision. The course has put me in a strong position to ensure everyone’s contribution is aligned. 

Would you consider taking another course further down the track?

Absolutely. In this space, I believe everybody should always be willing to learn. For anyone involved in tech, the skills you pick up even a few years ago can very quickly become outdated. This means you have to be on the ball and always willing to update your skillset. 

The whole tech industry is about change and innovation, and your career needs to be an extension of that. As soon as you decide that you’ve learned enough, that’s likely to be the point when you get overtaken by someone who’s still pushing their boundaries! In the not too distant future, I’m sure I’ll be taking another training course and expanding my knowledge. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in studying Product Management?

It might sound obvious, but I’d say make sure you take it very seriously. The guideline workload for the coursework is 10 hours a week, but don’t be tempted to take any shortcuts. It’s an opportunity to seriously advance your career, so putting in anything less than the maximum will only be a disservice to your own ambitions. The course gives you full access to a wealth of learning material, and you should spend as much time digging into it as possible. 

I set my alarm for 7am every Sunday, shut myself in a room and spent a solid block of time going through the assignments and all the learning content. In the end, my hard work really paid off. The Product Management: Elevate course has equipped me with a bank of formulas and techniques that I can use to solve problems in my day-to-day work. Whatever obstacles I encounter, I have the toolkit to troubleshoot them and devise the best possible solutions. In that sense, the course has set me up with know-how that will serve me for the rest of my career. 

Finally, would you recommend Academy Xi?

100%! Based on my experience with Dane, Academy Xi mentors are passionate subject matter experts, and not just people in the industry looking to make a little extra money on the side. They’re industry professionals who are at the top of their game and it’s a real privilege to get their time and attention.

Ray Jaramis

I’d also recommend Academy Xi for the sheer amount of material the students get access to. I now have a paid Notion subscription, which is basically a web-based personal wiki that gives me access to all sorts of articles and subject matter expertise. There’s this deep library of expertise that I’ll have at my fingertips for the rest of my career.  Regardless of what crops up in my role, I’ve got the know-how and resources to respond in the best way possible.

Learn how to take a product from idea to launch with the Product Management: Elevate course.

5 Product Management Experts

Academy Xi Blog

Why Product Management is having a moment right now

By Academy Xi

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We asked a group of talented product specialists for their take on why 2021 saw product management continue to gain momentum in business.

Key themes include: 

  • Kinesthetic learning
  • Storytelling
  • Product Management role ‘archetypes’
  • Problem definition and articulation
  • Hiring strategies
  • Good humour

Anton Stout – Senior Product Designer, Myer

Anton is also a Founder of Clue Group which creates tools and strategies to support Experience Designers.

There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?

It’s certainly a busy time for Product Managers, and it’s not likely to change soon as the demand for digital offerings has increased. For business, it’s simply been a question of survival. If they never had a digital presence or operated under a lackluster digital strategy, lockdowns have changed all that.

It goes without saying those already invested in digital saw a significant uptick in demand through digital channels, putting downward pressure on team capacity as backlogs started to fill up.

The rapid hiring of digital talent has seen teams balloon, calling on greater people management skills. This lands squarely at the feet of the Product Manager.

What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?

First, it’s all about the people. Without a doubt, your most important skill is communication. Communicating clearly and frequently in terms of performance, bottlenecks, and workarounds to key stakeholders and equally co-ordinating and keeping the team focused on the right tasks is critical.

Second, lean heavily on your area of expertise. Those with design, engineering, architect, etc backgrounds will definitely find traction with team members that occupy those disciplines. It’s important to determine if the gravitas of the team’s challenges marry well to your area of expertise if you want to better guide team outcomes.

Third, release the pressure valve. It’s not all about hard business skills. Good humor is a hidden superpower of great Product Managers. You need to let go and inject a few laughs into the process, knowing when and how to do that brings and keeps the team closer together is often an unrecognized talent.

Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?

Make sure you have the right team for the job. If you have the opportunity, hit your network if you need a solid team, if the Job/Position Descriptions haven’t been written, ask yourself, who do I need that has done this (and done this well) already. While controversial, I’d want to know the hiring strategy and the skills/talent match based on the OKRs/desired project outcomes.

Performance is completely based on the team capability, if you don’t have a fortified cross-functional team, a clear resourcing pipeline and if you suffer from any team attrition you’re going to be underperforming.

Lai’i Dowsett – Senior Consultant, Product Development (previously Tesla, Apple)

La’i loves building new things. After graduating college in Boston and working in Silicon Valley, she returned to work in Australia in 2018 to be close to her family.

There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?

Absolutely. And with this demand being driven by the pace of technology, increasing customer expectations and competition, businesses (tech & non-tech) realise their continued success will depend on building a more dynamic (broad and deep) level of ‘integrated competence’ and collaboration. Businesses don’t necessarily have the same luxury of time when it comes to R&D and launching new products to market. They need to test & learn quickly. As products and services become more sophisticated, the way we work, self-organise, and deliver value to customers has also had to evolve; a sharper operating rhythm and rapid adaptability to change is required to thrive. (Cue product management.)

I think there’s still a lot of change ahead with various PM role ‘archetypes’ evolving from different business’ needs (i.e. having a technical, strategic, and/or execution/delivery slant). This presents a lot of opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to enter the Product space; customer support, marketing, and engineering are just a few functions that people can make natural pivots from.

What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?

First, communication. Articulating ideas and problems for different audiences, but also being able to collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders. It’s important that a PM has the ability to move between strategic discussions and then quickly pivot and dive into detailed product work. Because PM is a fast-paced, multifaceted discipline, I’d say this is an underrated and very important skill.

Second, adaptability to change. Having a level of resilience, stick-with-it-ness and adaptability to change in the face of ambiguity is important. I think this is something learnt through exposure, being thrown in the deep-end, or being responsible for avoiding failure at all costs. As a result, exposing yourself to new environments/projects as frequently as possible could be a good start.

Third, problem solving. There will be many things you don’t know the answer to – but the job of a PM isn’t to know everything – it’s to know the questions to ask, and to strategise, prioritise and drive outcomes. A willingness to learn, genuine curiosity, and an appetite for wearing multiple hats/leaning into being a multi-faceted contributor is important.

Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?

Once the problem you’re solving for and opportunity have been shaped, making a few initial, intentional technical/product hires is key (Tech lead, Engineering, Design). These will look very different depending on the problem you’re solving/product you’re building. However, finding a small founding team who can wear multiple hats is the starting point.

It comes down to this: when you don’t know the answers, you want to be in a room with people who 1) know the questions to ask, 2) have the perseverance and adaptability to change to keep breeze in the sail, and are 3) resourceful, curious, and reliable team players.

Zeke Condon – Business, Innovation & Product Consultant, Director & Founder, Telos PM

Zeke’s business, Telos PM, sees him launch media, & web mobile applications, deliver product go-to-market campaigns & consult on organisational-wide product transformation programs.

There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?

Would you like to buy Tickets for a Rocketship anybody?

The joke at the beginning of the work-from-home was “Q: So who was responsible for driving your digital transformation? CEO, CTO, CIO, CPO? A: the global pandemic”. And it’s true. There has been more digital change in the past two years than any forecast x10 would ever have predicted. But the thing is, most of the corporations out there adopted existing technology – both for servicing their internal and their external facing customers.

Now that all of those businesses are coming out of lockdown, confidence is increasing and companies are realising the need to customise on top of the technology they have adopted, or are now in a much better state of digital readiness that they are ready to bring forward their big hairy audacious innovation goals. Likewise, consumers’ digital readiness is through the roof. Simple adoption trends like the humble QR code are opening up new markets for product interactions that were previously reserved for early adopting markets.

With all of this tech and innovation comes more competition, and then the new wave of understanding, adoption, and adoption of better product development and management principles. Someone has to drive all that change and product management is finally moving from niche tech companies to mainstream industry. Read more about the Product job market in The Enormous Growth of Product Management.

What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?

First, kinesthetic learning. It’s one thing to read or hear about something, but doing something yourself. It creates an entirely different mindset & set of insights that a product manager can product, plus it sets you up for the next skill.

Second, storytelling. It’s impossible to know every single data point and trend, let alone piece that all together into a coherent statement. There’s just not enough time. A PM who can instead tell a story about a customer experience, an observation of a trend in the market or articulate the patterns that make certain technologies work over others is most likely to elicit imagery and free thinking in those they work with. This is about empowering the teams to build on top of ideas and make them even better.

Third, coaching & mentoring. PM is one of those roles that has a ‘manager’ title, but (normally) nothing they are responsible for… but you are accountable for the results… so influence is a big factor in the success. A great way to influence others is to start by coaching & mentoring, being the selfless leader, putting the people ahead of you and sharing what you know and learn freely. A good coaching PM can create an entire product without ever making a decision, just asking good questions, listening deeply & intently to those around them.

Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?

Invite the whole team to a full day treasure hunt somewhere in the city. There is no map, there are no instructions, there is no clear goal. They can’t ask me for advice or tips because I technically don’t exist, nobody knows what they are looking for and nobody tells them what tools they can use. All they get is a vague but powerful vision statement that tells the people who participate that at the end of the day everyone will be better off.

Then watch that team learn all about what it means to really understand what it means to be a team that is flying blind towards a vision.

Luke Hymers – Chief of Staff to CEO, Baraja

Luke leads executive, product and engineering operations at Baraja, a rapidly growing start-up which makes self-driving car technology.

There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?

I think the perpetual trend is just masses of new product companies popping up solving old problems better with new tech. There is also greater appreciation for the mindset shift from one-dimensional focus to more ‘product thinking’ focused on value creation and outcomes for customers and the business. Increasingly you’re seeing this shift in functional/operational areas where the customer is the business but hasn’t been thought of that way before. In short, more people in more places are starting to think of more things “as a product” with an aim to inspire more innovation and impact.

What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?

Good product managers need to analyse, synthesize and define. They seek to understand the situation from all angles and can consolidate information to create coherent insight, clear vision, strategic narrative and focused direction. Those building blocks help determine the necessary decision points – what is priority, what is contentious, what needs to be communicated and what needs to be resolved. PM’s must also be exceptional communicators and ‘wood-chopping, water carrying’ leaders for their teams. But perhaps the most important role is simply being those eyes that see, distill and influence things across the business. Few roles have as broad and deep exposure as PM’s.

Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?

One of my favourite pieces from MIT says that problem definition is ‘the most underrated skill in management’. Before you do anything or build anything, you need to deeply understand and articulate the problem(s) you’re trying to solve and know that they’re commercially meaningful enough to even need a product or product team! Paraphrasing Des Traynor – small, rare problems don’t make good foundations for products. There’s then the ‘plumbing’ which is critical to building impactful, motivated teams – you need to set clear strategic context. Marty Cagan’s new book ‘Empowered’ outlines a good framework for this: purpose, vision, strategy, KPIs/scorecard, measurable objectives, team ‘topography’ (structures, process and rhythms) – those are the guardrails which enable people to effectively focus on, explore and solve the right problems.

Tiffany McHugh – Head of Product (Learning), Academy Xi

Tiffany heads up Academy Xi’s Product function which is responsible for delivering cutting-edge, employment-driven learning experiences.

There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?

Due to the global impact of COVID, digital transformation became a matter of survival for many companies. The rise in popularity of product management accompanies and facilitates these necessary and important digital changes. There is a growing need for skilled professionals who can drive rapid development of new products and services to meet the demands of established and new digital industries and tech-savvy customers.

At Academy Xi, we have seen a significant uplift in interest in studying Product Management. We’ve also noticed an increase in hiring partners looking for PM graduates, and we have observed a variety of tech-adjacent roles adding PM skills into their hiring mix. “Help! I can’t find good tech talent” is a good read which outlines the demand in the current job market. We expect this trend will continue for many years to come, and believe that the diverse commercial, strategic and technical skills that underpin product management are beneficial for many digital professionals, not just those titled as “Product Manager”. Check out our Product Management Elevate course.

What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?

First, analytical/strategic. Skilled at unearthing the “real problems” and opportunities. Second, pragmatic. Balancing the needs of the customer with the needs of the business. Third, persuasive and personable. Possessing the diplomacy to take on many (sometimes competing) perspectives, the capacity to understand the technical difficulties involved, and to motivate a team with a range of challenges towards a single unified outcome.

Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?

First, understand the organisation’s digital strategy moving forward. Without a clear overarching mission, vision and strategic plan, product initiatives may remain unfocussed. It’s important to know what values most heavily influence business and product decisions. Cheapest, fastest, biggest, best? Know your company values and priorities.

Next it’s important to understand the capacity, skill and technical constraints of your teams from the outset. A product will only be as successful as the contributors that built, sold and supported it, so understand the capabilities that exist now, and the gaps that may need to be filled so you can find the right people to build the right products to meet the company’s goals.

Product Management can certainly occur in smaller companies without a dedicated product manager; cross-functional teams with good management (and a project owner) who collectively understand PM methodology can collaborate towards a unified goal. But as the business and projects scale up and evolve more rapidly, it makes sense to embed a PM professional (or more) to formalise and organise these collaborations. Better still, give your key people core product management training to allow them to practice key product planning moments in a safe environment. As to whether these teams follow agile ceremonies or formal PM processes will entirely depend on the nature of the work and organisation. As with any methodology, it is best to pick and choose the elements that suit the context of the business. It’s about overriding ‘business as usual’ thinking and not every tool and method in the PM textbook will be relevant in every business.

Want your business to harness a ‘product mindset’ to better solve problems? Why not give your key people a strong foundation in Product training?

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