The Product Manager's Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed as a Product Manager



The world of business is moving at breakneck speed. More is being demanded of everyone?with fewer resources than ever. In no profession is this more apparent than

Product Management.

Written by one of today's leading Product Management

thought-leaders, Steven Haines, ...

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The Product Manager's Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed as a Product Manager

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The world of business is moving at breakneck speed. More is being demanded of everyone—with fewer resources than ever. In no profession is this more apparent than

Product Management.

Written by one of today's leading Product Management

thought-leaders, Steven Haines, The Product Manager's Survival Guide provides best practices, practical on-the-job advice, and a step-by-step blueprint for succeeding

in Product Management. Whatever your level of experience—whether you're a novice product manager or seasoned Product

Management leader—you’ll find everything you need to make consistent positive impacts on your business.

With this practical guide in your hands, you have the most powerful tool available for increasing your productivity quickly and dramatically—in a way that is noticeable and measurable.

The Product Manager's Survival Guide is conveniently organized into four sections:

  • I. Getting Your Bearings: Map out your plan to begin the journey to success
  • II. Learning the Product's Business: Go beyond features and functions to become the product expert, customer advocate, and domain expert
  • III. Getting Work Done: Synchronize and orchestrate the work of others to help everyone maintain focus on company goals
  • IV. Moving Forward: Round out your experience to take the next critical steps in your Product Management


The only way to excel as a product manager is to develop a strategy for the long run. Start formulating one now and you will be well ahead of your competition—internally and externally. The Product Manager's Survival Guide gives you the tools and insight you need to start putting the pieces in place now—so you can

succeed well into the future.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071805469
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/14/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 350,543
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Haines is the founder of Sequent Learning Networks and The Product Management Executive Board. Sequent Learning Networks is a global training and advisory services firm based in New York City. Its mission is to help its clients improve the structure and function of Product Management so they can produce great products. The Product Management Executive Board is a professional association of senior executives who share a common bond in their quest for product excellence. Steven’s books serve as foundational bodies of knowledge and Product Management best practices for product managers, product leaders, and executives across the corporate landscape.

Steven spent more than two decades in corporate leadership roles in industries as diverse as wholesale industrial products, intimate apparel, medical products, communications, and software & technology. Further, he spent twelve years as an adjunct professor at Rutgers University’s business school.

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Read an Excerpt




The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Steven Haines
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-180547-6




* All product managers and product leaders begin their journey from different points in their career continuum.

* To be successful in Product Management, you need to formulate a personal strategy that will work best for you.

* When you can paint an accurate portrait of yourself at the outset, you then have the wherewithal to proactively make changes and improve your capability as a product manager or product leader.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.


Landing a job in Product Management can be compared to making a parachute jump into an unknown field: each person lands in a different spot within the confines of the terrain. As with any unfamiliar landing place, you need to quickly orient yourself to where you are in this new environment. As you try to navigate by yourself, you may feel frustrated and lost in this unknown territory. If you don't find a way to accomplish all that is expected of you, you will be driven by the urgent demands of others and lacking in the proper context for what is being asked of you; and if you don't possess enough knowledge of the proper context, others will create that context for you.

This can happen so quickly that your good feelings about your new role will rapidly dissipate, and you'll experience déjà vu—back to running on the same old treadmill as you did in your former job. You accepted this new job in the first place because you envisioned yourself as a businessperson who will manage and guide your product[s] to succeed in the most desirable markets. If you cannot achieve that success, you will feel unfulfilled.

You are not alone. In a survey I conducted, over 72 percent of product managers indicated that they were disappointed and disillusioned in the first six months after they start their new assignment. The top three reasons cited include:

1. Organizational obstacles they did not know how to overcome

2. An underestimation of their prior experience in a given area

3. A lack of guidance from their manager

What adds to the burden is their knowledge that their bosses have high expectations of them. At times they feel unable to meet these expectations no matter how many long hours they put in and how hard they work to achieve their goals.

On the other side of the coin, many bosses lament that product managers are too tactical (task-oriented). I am told by managers that they feel their product people just react to the needs of the moment and don't have any time to be "strategic."

What these managers of product managers don't realize is that they should be able to coach and guide the product people who report to them. Unfortunately, those managers of product managers are often inexperienced in various aspects of Product Management themselves—especially if they were promoted from another function or worked on a product that was at a different phase of its life (e.g., they managed a mature product, and now they are leading a group of product managers who manage newer, faster-moving products).


Considering the perspective just discussed, I want this chapter to help you with strategies and tools that can accelerate your socialization into your organizational environment. You have to move up the curve as fast as you can in order to get down to the business of your product—which is really what Product Management is all about.

Your starting point depends on several factors. It is most important that you identify and assess who you are and where you are so that you can calibrate your own perspective as well as the perspectives of others with whom you will work. With this in mind, I've divided "you" into three categories, as follows:

1. You are a brand new product manager coming in to a new organization, either as a new employee or from another function (for example, a marketing analyst, an engineer, or another position) and you transferred from there into Product Management.

2. You are a current product manager who wants to move up, but you are not gaining any traction in your current environment. You're not entirely overjoyed with your situation, but you have what you have. For you, it's time for a reboot.

3. You are an individual contributor product manager, and you want to get promoted to a higher level individual contributor job (for example, a senior product manager).

No matter how you came to your role as a product manager, the important point is that you have to be able to figure out the path you've already taken so that you can more easily map the path ahead of you.


Product people are business people, first and foremost. They work across functions and serve to integrate or synchronize the work of others so that products and portfolios can be planned, developed, launched, and managed.

Here is an example of the complexity involved. If you wanted to build a house on a piece of land, what's the first thing you'd do? Hire an architect? Engage a building contractor? Employ a surveyor to determine the "lay of the land" and how to situate the house? Who would be the best person to synchronize the work of various people who must be involved in achieving the most desirable outcome? That would be the general contractor or GC.

The GC coordinates the timing and flow of work activities because the GC knows how to build the whole house. The GC has the ability to anticipate problems and the finesse needed to coordinate proper scheduling and setting priorities. Product managers, like GCs, must be able to:

1. Communicate clearly to people in all functions.

2. Garner respect from people in those functions.

3. Appreciate the timing and coordination of work produced by people in those functions and anticipate that there will be problems to be solved along the way.

4. Create a shared vision with all those concerned.

5. Know enough to recognize the quality of the work performed in the fulfillment of the vision.

Here's the point: No matter where you start out as a product person, you have to be able to assess where you've been and where you are now. By doing so, you can figure out where to go next. That path forward is your strategic plan.

Let us begin.


Senior leaders tell me that they want product people to be business people and domain experts. By being "business people," they mean that they want product managers to completely grasp every aspect of the product's business. This includes markets, people, systems, finances, performance measures, and processes. Business savvy is an expression many use to describe the attributes of curious problem solvers who "get things done" in a complex organization.

In terms of domain knowledge, leaders want product managers to comprehend the characteristics of the industry and technologies. While leaders admit that there are some industries in which the domain can easily be learned, there are other areas in which the level of effort required to understand the domain may be great and require extra time to cultivate.

To prove this point, during a benchmarking interview, one senior executive at an advanced technology company described the ideal Product Management leader as a "T-type" person. He held his hands in a perpendicular "T" to illustrate his points. He said, "I want my product leaders to have broad business experience and deep technical expertise." The T type is shown in Figure 1.1.

Several times during my corporate leadership career, of necessity, I recruited domain experts over business experts into my product organization. On one of those occasions, I knew I needed a technically oriented employee. Unfortunately, there was an external hiring freeze. I decided to take a chance and recruit a software engineer as a product manager because he understood the technology of a complex product. Over time, I learned that I should be very careful in the evaluation of any candidate's key professional attributes. In this case, the reason became apparent after the individual started the job. He had a narrow focus which he applied to product requirements, and he had the same narrow focus when dealing with customer problems.

These experiences have taught me that in most instances it is unwise to empower a person as a product leader unless that person has broad business experience and deep domain experience. I want to help you avoid some of these slippery slopes. In the end, your ability to prepare yourself for your role will help you to quickly achieve positive results.

This first chapter is devoted to you because assessment is so vital to your ability to move forward. I want you to create as accurate a portrait of your professional attributes as is possible, regardless of your starting point. This assessment can be undertaken based on the eight attribute clusters I detail in this chapter.

These professional attributes listed are aspects of you and relate to the traits or behaviors that are expected of you by others. They relate to your actions and outcomes, and they must be visible, apparent, and evident to those around you.

First, read through the attributes to see the whole picture. Then, pause and reflect on each attribute as it relates to you, thereby putting you in the best position to realistically evaluate your current state—and discern what is relevant to you, whether in your present job or based on your aspirations.

As you review the attribute descriptions, you may think they're obvious and, perhaps, somewhat oversimplified since they're not nuanced or deeply detailed. However, I've interviewed many product managers about these attributes, and one of the things I've learned is this: Understanding a definition is one thing; living the definition is another. Also, many people feel that when they understand the definition, they are, by default, already living that definition. Unfortunately, that is often not the case—something that will be important as you continue with a self-evaluation.

You will also notice some recurring patterns and connectivity among several of the attribute definitions. For example, you can see why active listening and active observing in the communication cluster have impact on the attributes in the interpersonal cluster. These are important connections to recognize because the astute product person will recognize how the interrelationship of these attributes can contribute to a greater level of personal and professional effectiveness.

Attribute Cluster 1: Environmental

* Product and technical knowledge and experience. Includes a comprehensive understanding of product functionality, capability, and usage so you know how your product is used and how it solves a customer's problem or meets a customer's need. This also includes characteristics of the technology used in the products you manage (such as software, development methods, materials, and components) or in the techniques, processes, or methods used by your customers. Last, it covers aspects of the product's business that encompass pricing models and promotional techniques as well as sales and distribution channels. These areas, and others, will be discussed further in Chapter 3.

* Domain knowledge and experience. Involves the collective aspects of the industry, technology, and other factors related to your product. This can broadly be thought of as domain (or as I'll discuss in Chapter 4, the product's "environmental domain") in which products are marketed and sold. Note that while technical knowledge is listed above, there is a difference between the state of a technology and having technical experience.

* International business experience. Relates to your travels to other countries to transact business or work with colleagues. It must include the analysis and comprehension of discrete market areas—a country or a region. It can also include working with external partners and internal structures such as a manufacturing plant or a customer service center—and the people who work in those facilities. I'll discuss this topic further in Chapter 8.

* Industry thought leadership. The work you do to produce research or findings that are published or presented and that identifies you as an industry expert. This, too, will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Attribute Cluster 2: Mindset

* Critical thinking skills. How you continually assimilate and evaluate business, market, financial, and environmental data that leads to vital conclusions that could help in the formulation of an insight and/or the derivation of a strategy. I'll review this topic in Chapter 8.

* Systemic thinking. The way in which you develop insights from the evaluation of complex interrelationships that are drawn from internal and external indicators. Internal indicators might be derived from cross-functional, cross-organizational, financial, or operational indicators. External indicators might include customer, competitor, or industry data.

* Problem-solving capability. The proactive approach you take to solve problems. This includes three main points:

* The ability to assess a situation (ask the right questions or evaluate the environment).

* The use of logical analysis to determine the source or root cause of the problem.

* The engagement of others in the analysis, and the identification of solutions. I'll review an approach to problem solving in Chapter 8.

* Strategic thinking. In uncertain or ambiguous market environments, the demonstrated ability to consider and evaluate various, continuous inputs and situations and to envision future solutions. Derives scenarios that drive business or product line options and opportunities. These may have implications that stretch from broad to narrow and may have near-term, midterm, and long-term impacts on the success of a product or portfolio.

Attribute Cluster 3: Action Orientation

* Self-starter. The ability to identify and initiate work without supervision means that product managers and product leaders shouldn't always have to wait for their orders. I'll discuss this further in Chapter 8.

* Risk management. Product managers are stewards of the firm's financial, human, and reputation assets. Therefore, product people have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that their decisions do not expose the company to undesirable outcomes. Refer to Chapter 8 for some additional information on this topic.

* Decisive action. Follows a sound decision-making process based on accurate analysis of all factors and consideration of alternatives and outcomes. Ultimately, acts in the best interests of the product's business and that of the organization.

Attribute Cluster 4: Communication

* Persuasive presentation skills. This doesn't necessarily equate to your PowerPoint skills. It's related to how you communicate to others in a manner that captivates their imagination and inspires action. In Chapter 8, I'll discuss this further.

* Clear and concise writing. The ability to write in an organized manner to a specific audience. This is especially important when you are documenting your market insights, writing product requirements, composing Business Cases, and producing performance reports.

* Active and attentive listening. This skill is not only important for interacting with the people you work with, but it's a vital skill for hearing the voice of the customer, especially during the requirements elicitation process. It includes the ability to engage others in your quest for answers and insights. Active listening involves posing open-ended questions, paraphrasing, reflecting, and summarizing because you're focusing on people who are talking. For additional information, refer to Chapter 8.

* Active observation. A closely related capability product managers (and others) use to evaluate operating environments. Active observation techniques include the characterization of organizational work flows and operating models used by the company where the product manager works, as well as customer companies.

Attribute Cluster 5: Interpersonal Skills

* Positive relationship building in the organization. Acts in an open, available, and friendly manner. Creates personal visibility through actions that show direct interest in others. This is achieved by engaging in conversation with people, finding common interests, learning about their work, and understanding the issues they face. It also includes the ability to help others feel valued and important.

* Political judgment. Recognizes, analyzes, and reconciles incompatible interests or agendas on a team, in a department, or in an entire organization. Considers major corporate imperatives whose tenets you must abide by, even if they are not completely consistent with your own beliefs. As relationships are developed with key influencers across your organization, political judgment may also be driven through the understanding of the subtleties of the implicit or unspoken words of others.

* Developing and maintaining positive customer relationships. Builds strong, binding relationships with customers through frequent interactions. Knows how customers "do what they do" so that implicit needs can be uncovered. Creates an environment in which a cross-functional team can be led so that a comprehensive, collective awareness of customers can be shaped. Ties key industry activities to the challenges faced by customers. By doing so, deeper customer ties can be forged, which often results in the creation of value-based solutions to customers. Ensures that what is provided to customers fully meets or exceeds their expectations and, as such, creates deeper bonds that transcend product functionality.

Excerpted from THE PRODUCT MANAGER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE by STEVEN HAINES. Copyright © 2013 by Steven Haines. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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