Leadership and problem solving are the two most important skills in Product Management.
First of all, I like the simple definition that management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things. Of course in product management you need to develop right, market right, price right, sell right, install right and a whole list of implementing things right. But if your not building the right product for the right reasons at the right time, what difference does it make if you implement it right? Sure, you get a good product, but it doesn’t solve the customer’s problem and customer adoption will fail.
Don’t get me wrong, successful implementations take a lot of management and typically there is a whole team of managers to help with the implementation. There are marketing managers to make sure messaging is right, there are development managers to make sure the development is right, and there are quality assurance managers to make sure it’s a quality product.
My first role of a product manager had huge barriers to success. The basic idea of “Call Home” was a good one, but I needed to focus the team on the right problems to solve at the right time. The customers primary concern was security, I just had to make sure we developed a secure proprietary protocol, implement auditing, publish white papers, articles, presentation and educate the customer to the levels of security put in place. I used to say it’s not like we were doing internet banking or anything like that, not many hackers are interested in the part number of your power supply, but it’s makes a world of difference in making sure we ship the right part in a failure.
Then there was the level of integration, integrated with the hardware, operating systems, and making sure the installation went smoothly. Many difficult challenges that took many different development teams across IBM to implement. The good news was that we were successful and customers loved the results. From a few thousand installations to hundreds of thousands, every new installation meant that customers agreed with what we were doing.
In the end, the key skills were leadership and problem solving. We had to lead all the different development teams, lead all the different countries and geographies, and of course lead management. Along the way, we had to solve many problems. We didn’t have a blank check, we had to get the security thing right, and we had to listen closely to our customers.