The Germination of Great Product Teams

By Anuraag Verma
May 26, 2016

Building a great product team begins with hiring great product people

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Building a great product team begins with hiring great product people. But who are product professionals and what exactly do they do? Sometimes even product pros find this a difficult question to answer because their scope is wide and they wear many different hats.

Ken Yeung, a reporter for The Next Web, defines them as, “the unsung heroes of the industry, these skilled professionals are the people who manage every movement of the product’s lifecycle, taking the idea and guiding it through development.”

So how do you find one of these multi-talented, unsung heroes that’s the perfect match for your products and company?

Create an Ideal Candidate Persona

This role is often a jack-of-all-trades, able to dabble in anything from software engineering to market predictions, customer surveys and sales. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to find someone who checks all the boxes, but by starting with a clear picture of who you want, you’ll have a much better idea of what traits to look for and where and how to go about sourcing them.

Defining exactly what you want in the role is not a clear-cut task and will vary across companies. The skills, experience and personal qualities required will be dependent on the specific needs of your company and the role you are trying to fill. However, there are some common traits to look for.

Customer Empathy
They must display a deep understanding of both customers and competitors to build products that customers want to use. This valuable market insight comes from having a genuine sense of empathy. Rather than viewing themselves as separate from the customer, they must be willing to immerse themselves in the customer’s world to understand that perspective: what their needs are and how to meet them.

To screen for this, ask candidates about your target market and note their reaction: Do they relate to and respect your customers? Do they have past experience with them, or express passion for learning more about them?

Work Ethic
Product management requires doing whatever it takes to get a variety of jobs done. It requires a heightened level of focus and commitment.

The success of the product is in their court, and you need to trust that they’ll be there to catch the ball at all times. Their strong work ethic and commitment to the product’s success needs to be contagious enough to carry the whole team through.

Communication
Strong communication skills are critical to success. This includes listening to—and implementing—customer feedback, providing succinct but detailed updates in meetings, and maintaining communication channels between engineers, designers and the marketing and sales team. To gain trust and communicate efficiently, it’s important they speak the language and technical jargon of each department.

It’s easy to pick up on oral communication skills during an interview, but also consider using a short writing assignment to test a candidate’s written communication skills.

Past Experience
Do you want someone who will successfully meld into a large company culture? What about someone who has skills that pertain to a specific industry? Or, perhaps you want someone who is more entrepreneurial. Maybe you want someone who can build out a team and create a structure for building new products. Knowing how high within the organization or team this person will sit helps determine what past experiences and skill sets to look for.

“Unless the position is very junior, I'll usually hire product managers who've actually shipped a product,” said Ken Norton, a product partner at Google Ventures. No amount of studied skill can beat hands-on experience.

Skill Set
As they interact with people across all levels and departments on a daily basis, they must fit seamlessly into company culture. They should be easy to work with and willing to joke and have a bit of fun, even when under pressure. Although the skills you focus on hiring for will vary based on whether someone spends most of their time in marketing and sales or works with engineers to develop the product, here are some common skills to look for:

    • Technical: Not all product positions require technical skills, but it’s beneficial to understand what is required from the engineering team and be able to discuss this in technical terms. This helps ensure an understanding of the technical implications of a product decision.
    • Business and marketing: There’s no use building a great product if no one wants to buy it. They must understand the market they are catering to and must know how to tailor current and future products to meet those needs.
    • Management and communication: Product people don’t work alone, or even in one department. They collaborate with a diverse team and need the communication, leadership and interpersonal qualities suited to this role.
    • Strategic thinking: Product professionals, especially at a senior level, must be able to think strategically. This helps them be successful in planning, budgeting, resource allocation and operations.

Skills can be learned on the job, so don’t be too critical if an otherwise acceptable candidate doesn’t have the entire skillset you are looking for.

The Job Description

Now that you have a very clear idea of what skills, personality traits and experience you’re looking for in a candidate, you need to create a job description before you can start sourcing candidates.

As product positions can be so open-ended and vary from company to company, try to be as clear as possible on exactly what their duties and responsibilities will include. Do you require someone to market current products? Will they conceptualize and build new products? Will they only focus on a specific industry?

Paint a picture of the work environment and the teams they will need to coordinate with. Be clear about who you are as a company. Spell out the exact skills that are necessary and any other educational requirements. Indicate the experience level required and provide an idea of what a successful candidate would be like. Also remember to reflect on the appeal of working at your company, rather than simply listing your demands of applicants.

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About the Authors

  • Anuraag Verma is the head of business development at Alpha, an on-demand user insights platform for product and innovation teams. Anuraag has successfully launched new businesses and products across four continents, and his diverse career spans engineering, consulting, technology, education and not-for-profit. He has facilitated hundreds of product management workshops for senior executives at companies including General Electric, American Express, Staples, Danone and Pearson. You can connect with him at alphahq.com.



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