We have all witnessed this phenomenon – organizations typically choose some of their best individual contributors or domain experts to be in leadership positions (past record is the best indicator of future performance!). Irrespective of whether or not expectations at leadership roles are specified and understood, this transition from being an expert to a manager is often hard and bewildering. This book that I read recently (“Expert to Executive: Mastering the SOPs of Leading” by Tyson, Edward E.) proposes a framework to bridge the chasm between an expert and a leader
One of the assertions the book makes is that leaders aren’t leading because we haven’t clearly defined the term or differentiated their work from their team’s work. The book is written in a conversation style describing struggles of a co-founder Raj, who is one of the best scientific minds in the field his medical research based start-up operates in. Raj along with Franky and Mak started this company seven years ago. After the sudden loss of Mak, Raj had been elevated from Chief Science Officer to CEO. A year into his elevation, Raj has gone back to the shell of conducting experiments while the rest of the org is on the brink of collapse due to chaos and lack of leadership clarity. Franky has hired an executive coach, Lake, to help solve the problem by working with Raj. Rest of the book narrates how Lake and Franky understand the situation and turn-around. It’s an easy read (but hard to reflect!), I will just list out few of my takeaways
As a leader, taking responsibility for your actions is important. Taking all of the responsibility may rob others of theirs!
“The ECT(M) Transformation Model helps leaders guide individual, team and organizational development efforts. The first three phases (Explore, Clarify and Transform) are often repeated multiple times in succession until the process and outcomes meet the established criteria
The big takeaway about emotional intelligence is it can be developed, versus more stable elements of who we are, like personality or raw intelligence
As a leader, your coaching has to match your mentee’s level of understanding. This is the reason why platitudes like “have more frequent interactions with stakeholders” don’t exactly work for someone who is having a hard time working with others. Because often struggling person doesn’t understand how having more meetings will help
One must be aware of own “unconscious competence” to bridge any gap especially when assessing other people
Leadership is a process of social organization meant to yield willing, capable and sustainable communities of effort
Community of effort implies a group of people who are united by their willingness and ability to act interdependently
Leadership is the process we use to cultivate a community of effort. If you could do it alone, you wouldn’t need to lead
The important thing is to build a strong leadership foundation. This means focusing on three key areas: structuring, operating, and perfecting your communities of effort
Leading is the active engagement in the process of cultivating willing, capable, and sustainable communities of effort while leaders are those who accept accountability for this effort
Your primary goal as a leader is assembling a high-performance engine, not winning the race! Winning the race is the team’s primary objective and your secondary objective
Every leader has to create her own Leadership SOP basis what works for her, team and organization and keep it refining (perfecting)
Fig 1: Key Components of LeadershipSOP Framework
It’s a great practicable book, would recommend reading and importantly reflecting on it to create one’s own LeadershipSOP model which is indeed a harder task!
Hello readers, I am resuming writing here after a year! I hope to be more regular going forward. I am also changing the book review format a little this time, in order to make it more legible and understandable for the readers
The book Strong Product People by Petra Wille is a recommended one for a product leader managing other PMs. If you have been a fan of Marty Cagan’s writings, his foreword does give confidence on the content of the book. The book is neatly divided into five segments and my reviews follows the same
defining the product manager role in your environment and what it means to be a good PM
managing your team
finding and recruiting good PMs
developing your existing product team
building a great product culture
Defining the PM Role
The author likens the role of a product leader to that of a building the shipyard i.e. leading the folks who build ships or ship builds (pardon the pun!). Almost all the activities a head of product (HoP) does can be centered around product, people, and process triangle
In the second chapter, focus is on doing an as-is analysis of PM capabilities. Every PM needs to be assessed as Gets it, Wants it, Capacity to do it labels on all competencies defined for a good PM role. This grid should give you an idea about org capability and specific development gaps you need to bridge
Figure 1: The job of a product manager
As Marty Cagan says the only true measure of the product manager is the success of his or her product, I couldn’t agree more!
Managing a PM team
Being highly self-aware is the starting point of any leadership journey. An A-grade leader can be defined as someone who
inspires and motivates others
displays high integrity and honesty
solves problems and analyzes issues
drives for results
and communicates powerfully and prolifically
The very best leaders understand that management is all about people and building strong relationships and trust. A great leader has to understand his people outside work and spot interpersonal tensions and react to them appropriately before they become worse! A leader’s behavior is also very closely watched by his people so leading by example becomes extremely important. As leader you have to also set benchmarks for good performance since everyone’s watching to see what the lowest level of PM performance is that you as HoP are willing to tolerate. You have to also follow through on your commitments!
A PM leadership role is supposed to be that of a coach and the author lists very practical steps; before you as HoP can put on your coach’s hat. First you have to ensure that your PMs are high on competence! Also when you are coaching a PM, you have to tame your advisor’s instinct and let the coachee find the way by asking her the right question at the right time! You have to also keep experimenting with different aspects of your coaching: the setting (for example, less-formal settings vs. more-formal settings), the frequency of your coaching sessions, different questions, approaches to follow-ups, different coaching frameworks, and so on. And then do more of what works in your context!
In terms of managing performance expectations with your team members, the author refers to the Radical Candor approach i.e. care personally and challenge directly. It’s your job to balance both sides! You have to also focus NOT on your fears but what they NEED. When providing negative feedback, it should also be not tied to personal traits but to specific behaviors. It goes without saying that providing negative feedback needs more work on HoP’s part than a positive feedback would
You should absolutely find time for people development discussions and not postpone those in favor of “work” related ones. This can sometime mean you have to tie your people development goals to your bigger work and life goals (e.g. “I want to build the best ecommerce product talent here and this is my opportunity to do so!”)
Finding and recruiting the PM talent
When hiring for product people on your team, you have to assume direct responsibility and work with your talent acquisition team to attract the best talent out there which means being personally visible on channels which matter to the talent pool. When screening candidates especially for leadership roles you have to focus more on how well they understand the problem and whether they have gotten things done with a team. When onboarding a new PM, you have to focus on getting her first educated guess made as soon as possible! You have to be superprecise in terms of setting expectations with your new hire! (side note:you will see so many super- prefixes throughout the book!)
Figure 2: A typical PM’s career progression
On the other hand, while working with senior PMs – HoP should think about mastery, autonomy and sense of purpose as key levers to drive true motivation. You should also plan one big change for your senior PM talent every year!
Developing your existing product team
When you set strategy and vision for your product, you have to focus on one or two critical issues in your situation i.e. the pivot points that can multiply the effectiveness of effort—and then focus and concentrate action and resources on them. In short, you have to ensure your strategy is how to achieve your vision and why for your roadmaps!
Figure 3: A simple framework for creating product vision, strategy, goals and principles
The author gives a practicable tip to get PMs find new ideas and assumptions through a term called desk research which is an umbrella term for finding some statistics, user research etc..essentially the objective should be to build right things than just building any thing
PMs are always starved of time, this problem is compounded by Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available!) and our natural tendency to procrastinate. The author offers a practical advice around timeboxing any activity which should objectively ensure reasonable time given to important activities without above factors affecting the time invested adversely
Similarly when choosing which meeting to attend, every meeting should be slotted into one of the three types: update, brainstorm and decision. The PM should be clear what every meeting’s objectives are and only attend the ones she absolutely should
Figure 4: choosing which work to finish first: rocks (big ones) should go first!
HoPs should also invest enough time especially with their junior PMs to help them hone their story telling skills (don’t leave them alone here!) and also be able to explain why something is not getting prioritized to their peer groups. Just for reference, a good story has 4 components
It paints a picture of a desirable future
It makes it clear why you should become part of this future
It acknowledges the current situation while describing the potential difficulties that may arise and why it’s worth overcoming them
It suggests a common goal with just enough information to make next steps clear for listeners
In order to make a message stick, you should avoid using words more often used in your org context or jargons etc. They make the core message lose some shine!
Building a great culture
As HoP, you have to create space for your product talent to succeed. If your org structure comes in the way of creating strong product culture, you have to additionally balance with detailed role descriptions and a clear definition of responsibilities with partner orgs. And as a guiding principle, you have to take care of the product, people and process; and ensure that each of your PMs has the next bigger challenge lined up for them which ensures they keep learning!
If you are a product leader managing other PMs: 7/10
If you are an individual contributor PM: 4/10
If you are a non-PM leader who frequently works with a PM leader: 6/10
Can this be the first reading as a product leader seeking answers to questions posed here? No, the book assumes familiarity with certain concepts from the readers!
What would have made the book even a greater addition to your reading list?
More emphasis on practical scenarios and how the author has tackled them in her work situation
A coherent sequencing for some chapters, some of which appear disconnected. For example, chapter 24 in Part 4 around managing senior PMs could probably have been better slotted in Part 2 as managing teams
Sometimes content is inserted abruptly e.g. Agile manifesto, many book references, infrequent quotation from the Internet could have been placed better or perhaps omitted altogether
Citations could have been directly linked to specific portions in the text. Though overall references do appear as good recommendations to go through later, they appear disconnected and intimidating to get good grip on the content
Did you know that the collective value of all organic traffic in the world is more than a trillion dollars!
First a little story. In 2011, when I started my product career with Naukri.com (India’s largest public Internet company by market cap as of Apr 2021 and leading classified site for over 20 years), I had ZERO idea about anything called SEO. Anyway I was tasked to work on the jobseeker acquisition and engagement funnel at the classifieds leader and happened to work with an inhouse SEO team. Frankly, I did not know anything about the term called “Product-Led SEO” or that term existed in wider usage until I happened to chance upon this book
As I progressed through this book “Product-led SEO: The Why Behind Building Organic Growth Strategy” by Eli Schwartz, I harked back to those times a decade back and could retrospectively see the work our team did fit well into the paradigm this book describes. Little surprising now that Naukri was able to fend off any impending threat from many job aggregators like Indeed, Mitula or Jooble as well LinkedIn to a certain extent during that time while successfully managing to navigate the web to mobile transition. The absolute traffic from SEO grew by 3x in those 4 years and in my assessment a sound SEO position remains a competitive moat for the company till today!
Coming to this book, it is a good concise one arguing essentially that product-driven growth when combined with SEO’s strategic application can unlock growth for most companies. One should not expect hands-on SEO domain knowledge from the book, for which there are umpteen online resources one can refer to. However this book does neatly describe challenges any SEO leader and practitioner faces in a complex org and offers clear tips to navigate the org dynamics. The author, in my view, remains honest in recognising the limitations of SEO craft in driving low-cost growth which makes his advice throughout the book even more credible. So let’s dive in!
General Background about SEO
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization, and that it is a process of taking known rules of how search engines work and building it into a plan to improve upon the visibility
Product-Led SEO builds a great product for users first and optimizes for search second
Maximizing SEO visibility requires taking the known rules about search engine best practices and applying a level of creativity and logic to develop a strategic approach
Focusing efforts on technical SEO, on-page factors, or user-experience optimization together is essential to drive results through SEO
In general, these are the 5 stages of how Google or any search engine works
Discovery is the algorithm that crawls the web to identify new pages and sites that Google has not previously indexed
Once a URL is discovered, Google has to decide whether it wants to expend the resources required to crawl the URL. It’s typically constrained by crawl budget for every site that Google enforces
The indexing algorithm determines how to cache a web page and what database tags should be used to categorize it
The indexing algorithm will decide whether to trust the content or not based on technical SEO signals on the page
The most important part in any SEO audit is to check whether links are getting indexed by Google
Ranking uses the information from the first three algorithms to apply a ranking methodology to every page
5. Intent understanding (BERT)
This NLP algorithm launched in 2018 doesn’t directly impact the rankings of websites for queries, it rewrites the actual queries to what Google believes the user is searching
Latest trends in SEO
1. Complaints that SEO is only getting harder are a byproduct of all the AI already included in the algorithm
Google doesn’t just have a better understanding of what its users want, it has used AI to dramatically change how it values links
This is the change with the biggest impact on users
2. Frequent software updates from Google including the the two biggest updates to its algorithms
The first update was called Panda rolled out in 2010. The goal of Panda was to flush out sites that used keyword matching just to rank on highly searched terms without providing content of any value to those keywords on the page
The second algorithm update was called Penguin and was released in 2012. Penguin’s target was manipulative link-building practices. When Google discovered unnatural links, it levied a penalty on the site
3. Mobile SEO and Trends in Voice Search
Google ranks websites on mobile optimization the same way it does on a desktop. Google recommends having a mobile-responsive site that will look and function great on a mobile, tablet, or desktop environment. The nuances between SEO for desktop and mobile are in how users interact with search and websites after they click
However, on mobile there are fewer results, meaning a number-five slot on mobile is essentially like being on page two of results
A mobile-first index merely means Google is ranking the content of a website that is visible to a crawler that emulates a mobile browser
4. While mobile was last decade’s big paradigm shift in SEO, this decade is going to be all about voice and smart assistants
Also the number-one reason voice search is never going to replace multiple results is voice must be perfect, and perfect is never possible in our changing world
Also as voice assistants get increasingly more powerful, having a proper schema is important
What’s product-led SEO?
The key part of building a Product-Led SEO strategy is that it is a product (an offering of any sort) that is being built. An ideal Product-Led SEO strategy is programmatic and scalable, creates something new, and addresses untapped search demand i.e. build an experience that is useful for users first, and the search engines will follow
Product-Led SEO requires thinking of the reader and why they should spend their precious time enjoying the content
Create the content that you know there is untapped demand for. Google will reward you and will direct users to you with search-query suggestions
Nevertheless unlike other marketing methods, content is inherently trackable and should justify its RoI
Bad content for paid marketing channels is less prevalent than that in SEO since marketers know that the costs are high in case the content is not engaging their users enough
Should SEO be the focus area for early stage companies?
The author recommends that early-stage companies first spend as much as they are comfortable allocating toward paid marketing before they shift to SEO. Also SEO investments should not be made by businesses that are close to the edge on survivability
Paid marketing will help quickly determine product-market fit, identify customer journeys, and generate revenue. Knowledge gained from paid marketing will help SEO maximize its success
In later-stage companies where the new hire will only work on SEO projects, prioritizing skill sets is critical
The business category and type of customer are two of the biggest factors in how one should invest in SEO. Visibility only matters when you are visible to the right user. For many categories, especially long-sales-cycle B2B, SEO is absolutely the wrong investment
SEO is an optimization channel, not a demand-creation channel. SEO efforts improve the visibility of a website when the demand is already there
Competition and SEO
1. For SEO, the competitor is any site targeting the same search terms. Also one should assess whether she is targeting queries that real humans would actually write? Since search is all about queries written by users, the underpinning of any tactical effort is keywords
2. Pay attention to your competitor’s specific tactics, whether in the content type or technical setup. How, specifically, is that site driving growth?
3. Predicting how the competition might react should be an essential part of how you develop your SEO strategies
What’s an SEO persona and how to identify it?
SEO persona is the one that pays you (or whatever the conversion element might be), and one should track those people back to the original acquisition source. Those people will be aggregated into the persona buckets that should be your focus
Persona research should answer questions, such as where in the buying funnel a user might be when they’re visiting a particular piece of content
Channel Strategy and SEO
1.Brand traffic is great, but it doesn’t indicate SEO success. Growth of branded traffic will plateau at the natural penetration level of the brand. The focus of SEO should always be on non-branded search since their potential is immense while branded search grows with brand awareness.
Consider also that good ranking on targeted keywords is often aspiration and may never be achieved
Paid could dominate brand placements at a very inexpensive cost in a way that organic never could. OTOH SEO is a hybrid between branding and performance traffic
Word of mouth is also not a sustainable strategy since that can dissipate quickly
2. SEO and paid marketing are very similar from a performance standpoint. Ultimately SEO is done by humans for humans and it takes a unique person to be able to combine customer empathy with creativity layered in SEO knowledge
Duplicate Content and SEO
How is duplicate content generated?
One area that is a common source of duplicate content is the lingering legacy of site moves and updates. So, when undertaking any big update or migration, it is vital to get it right
A full site migration should only be undertaken when absolutely necessary for legal purposes or branding needs. One major consideration to keep in mind with all redirects is the redirects likely have to be maintained in perpetuity
The primary takeaway on updates and migrations is that they should be done carefully, slowly, strategically, and with full consideration of the risks
How to identify duplicate content?
Google Search Console can be particularly helpful in identifying problems with duplicate content
It’s possible that so much of a website is duplicate, it could fall into the realm where the Panda algorithm might think the website is of too low quality to be included in Google’s index
Linking Strategy and SEO
1. Links are a critical part of Google’s ranking algorithms, as a link to a page is a vote of popularity and contextual relevance. Quality is not created by a website alone. The page giving the link will also have its own authority, which will be determined solely by the search engine
Every domain has to stand on its own within the web, based on its own backlinks. Google claims to view hundreds of factors in determining rankings, links have always been a very prominent part of the calculation
2. Attract links instead of acquiring them. Most social media links (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc.) do not count as quality SEO backlinks. To generate links, just do what a PR agency would. Build relationships with journalists, understand what they like to write, and pitch stories
Some of the best link builders use PR methods
In your link-building efforts, be creative and generate unique data
3. Externally, page rank is a two-way street, so a site that wants to hoard all of its page rank would nofollow all its external links. Many websites inundated with spam links, including Wikipedia, opted to make all their outgoing links nofollow by default
It’s very likely there’s no real difference between a follow and a nofollow link, so one should not place much stock in the classification of a link
4. A site directory does not have to be a visually well-designed page to be effective. It can truly be an alphabetized list of every category and page on a website
The ideal internal-link graph looks like the route map of a budget airline that thrives on point-to-point connections
5. Featured snippets: This is when Google takes a portion of a website’s content to answer a user’s question and puts it in a box in the first position. If you are just looking for awareness, this might be a feature; otherwise, else avoid ending up in these boxes
Stakeholder Management and Navigating Org Dynamics for SEO Leaders
1. Justifying RoI. SEO should be measured the same way any product is measured: by adoption and engagement
Much of effective SEO Product management, especially in a large company, is about diplomacy
For smaller companies, if you are competing on search with a large competitor, know that you have the advantage, as they can never adapt to change as fast as you. Negotiating the system in a larger company is part of the essential skill set
Most sites cannot do statistically significant A/B testing on SEO because of traffic significance. Large sites can, and a change might lead to lower average ranking positions on search, but if its net result is higher conversions, it is a winner
2. One has to consider that rankings alone, as a KPI for SEO, is a vanity metric and should never be used in budgeting, or financial modeling. Also since paid and organic searches are both going after the same user, the author recommends strategizing each channel’s core competencies and having each focus on its strengths
3. A good metric in growth in impressions on search pages. Use the data you have and not the data you think you should have. Then, find a way to test and trial until you build the data you need
4. Using keywords as a predictor of how much search traffic you can expect to generate is not a viable option for a few reasons since there is competition for high traffic words and some keywords may not even exist
Without the ability to rely on keyword search as a north star for your new product, you need to find a proxy instead. Use a tangential product that might have similar demand, and use the search volume for that site
5. For a growth-minded Product manager or marketer, the bureaucracy can be negated by embracing incremental wins as a method to succeed. SEO should be viewed as a Product in and of itself
Instead of asking the engineers to update a whole bunch of SEO requirements, ask for engineers (or content or money) to build X for SEO
All in all it’s a great book for product leaders and founders to understand and lay foundations around as to how SEO can potentially unlock growth for their product! For really low level details about the art and science of SEO, author refers to very authoritative sources which can be explored. Hope you enjoy reading this book!
Finally I got hold of this book “Making of a Manager: What to do when everyone looks to you” by Julie Zhuo, I heard about it from Twitter and got intrigued. I recommend reading this book to all managers, especially the ones newly-minted as well those who want to ensure they are not reinventing learning from wildly successful companies like Facebook where the author has learnt the ropes – rising from an intern to VP of Design. Seeing the recommendations from Silicon Valley stalwarts in the first few pages of this book would probably motivate you to dive into as it did for me!
You would find this book easy to read (can be finished over the weekend), situations relatable and advice quite sensible to put into action immediately. That said, the overall tone of the subject matter is generalist in nature and may not especially cover for the peculiarities that PM managers face. That should however not deter you from imbibing the deep lessons embedded in the short 10 chapters of this book. What follows is my key takeaways in the order in which they appear in the book
A. What is management?
A manager’s job is to
build a team that works well together,
support members in reaching their career goals, and
create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently
Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together and therefore if the team’s outcomes are mediocre, you cannot be termed as a great manager
Being awesome at the job means playing the long game and building a reputation for excellence
Manager’s tasks can be filled into 3 buckets – people, process and purpose (making the team aware of what success looks like and ensure they care about achieving it)
Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Role is to improve and process people or the purpose of the team! However if you are in survival mode, do what it takes!
How to know if you will be a great manager?
Do you find it more motivating to achieve an outcome or play a specific role?
Do you like talking to people?
Can you provide stability for an emotionally charged situation?
While manager is a specific role, leadership is the particular skill of being able to guide and influence other people and therefore in order to be a great manager, one has to be a leader!
If you can pinpoint a problem and motivate others to work with you to solve it, then you’re leading
Also leadership is not something that can be bestowed. It must be earned. People must want to follow you
B. What to do in the first 3 months as a manager?
The playbook varies depending on whether one is a freshly minted manager (apprentice), founding team member grown into a managerial role, new boss leading the team internally or an external hire or a successor replacing someone
To have hard conversations, it is essential to internalise that you own your team’s outcomes
To get honest feedback from your reportees, ask how their dream manager looks like
You need to proactively invest in building relationships. Being vulnerable sometimes helps in generating trust
You will be far more successful aspiring to be the leader you want to be and playing to your strengths than trying to live up to some other ideal
C. How to lead a small team?
No matter what work you do or the size of your team, knowing how to diagnose and solve problems with your reports is critical to your shared success
Trust is the most important ingredient
If the answer to your questions around “How are you” is fine for multiple weeks from a report, take it as a sign to prod further!
If you don’t truly respect or care about your team members, you cannot fake it! Managing is caring!
Supporting and caring for someone doesn’t mean always agreeing with them. What caring does mean is doing your best to help your report be successful and fulfilled in her work
If your report feels that your support and respect are based on her performance, then it will be hard for her to be honest with you when things are not going per expectations
If you can remove a barrier, provide a valuable new perspective, or increase their confidence, then you’re enabling them to be more successful
Your report should have a clear sense at all times of what your expectations are and where he stands
Help people play to their strength. However it does not have to always work since sometimes success is a function of personal and org priorities!
When you decide to let someone go, do it respectfully and directly. Don’t open it up to discussion
Change is hard, but trust your instincts. Would you hire this person again if the role were open? If the answer is no, make the move
The end goal of management is to get better outcomes. When someone isn’t a great fit for his role, there is a cost
The growth mindset has taught us that anyone can get better at anything given the will, hard work, and time. The question is, how long would it take? And how would that affect the team?
Don’t tolerate brilliant assholes on your team, it actually is better off when they leave! In general, you should make people moves quickly!
D. How to be a great manager? Art of giving feedback
For a leader, giving feedback—both when things are going well and when they aren’t—is one of the most fundamental aspects of the job
Four common ways to inspire a change in behavior
Set clear expectations in the beginning
Give task specific feedback as quickly as you can
Share behavioral feedback thoughtfully and regularly
Collect 360 degrees feedback for maximum objectivity
Every major disappointment is failure to set expectations
You feedback only counts if it makes things better
The best way to give critical feedback is to deliver it directly and dispassionately
Own the decision, be firm and don’t open it up for discussion!
E. How to manage yourself better?
Being a great manager is a highly personal journey, and if you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team
No matter how often imposter syndrome rears its ugly head, it doesn’t have to derail you
Be brutally honest with yourself
The first part in understanding how you lead is to know your strengths—the things you’re talented at and love to do. This is crucial because great management typically comes from playing to your strengths rather than from fixing your weaknesses
Develop a growth mindset i.e. be motivated to seek out the truth and ask for feedback because you know it’s the fastest path to get you where you want to go
When a negative story takes hold of you, step back and question
Is your interpretation correct?
Are there alternative views you’re not considering?
What can you do to seek out the truth?
To fight self-doubt, visualise success. It is a powerful tool!
Maximize on the job learning. Treat your manager as the coach and not as a judge!
Take advantage of formal training! Or maybe professional coaching
When you invest in your personal learning and growth, you’re not just investing in your own future but also the future of your team
F. How to organise meetings?
Analyse efficacy of meetings by their purpose. It could be broadly of 5 types 1. Making a decision 2. Information sharing 3. Providing feedback 4. Generating ideas 5. Strengthening relationships
A great decision making meeting has the following components
Gets a decision made
Includes the people most directly affected by the decision as well as a clearly designated decision-maker
Presents all credible options objectively and with relevant background information, and includes the team’s recommendation if there is one
Gives equal airtime to dissenting opinions and makes people feel that they were heard
Invite right people to the meeting
Give people a chance to come prepared. Float a pre-read if possible
Before concluding the meeting, summarise next steps
Make it safe for people to contribute. Sticky notes or having a round-robin around the table are helpful
Some meetings don’t need you and be ruthless in culling ineffective meetings
If you trust that the right outcomes will happen without you, then you don’t need to be there
G. How to hire well?
Hiring doesn’t just matter at scale—even a single great hire can make a big difference in your team’s outcomes.
The most important thing to remember about hiring is this: hiring is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to build the future of your organization
Design your team intentionally. Have a thoughtful one-year hiring plan in the beginning. Tweak as you go along
Hiring is your responsibility. Align with your recruiter in defining the role, sourcing, the onboarding process and onboarding really closely
Describe the role as clearly as possible and deliver an amazing interview experience
Examine a candidate’s past experience. They are probably the closest predictor of performance at the job!
Hiring is a gamble but do make smart bets! And since it’s a gamble, reject weak hires!
If you are going to make a bet, bet on someone who has at least a few passionate advocates in the interviewing panel!
References matter the most, contact your common connections towards the same
Prepare your interview questions in advance. Take a long term view with top talent!
Build a team with diverse perspectives, hire people who are more capable than you!
You can’t create great outcomes without consistently attracting talented people and ensuring that they can also hire well
Make it clear that building the team is not just one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job!
H. How to make things happen?
Start with a concrete vision. An inspiring vision is bold. It doesn’t hedge. You know instantly whether you’ve hit it or not because it’s measurable. And it’s easily repeated, from one person to the next. It doesn’t describe the how, it simply describes what the outcome will be
Create a believable game plan i.e. strategy
Craft a plan based on your team’s strengths
Focus on few things well, prioritise
Define who is responsible for what
Treat big projects like a series of small projects. Keep in mind the planning fallacy: our natural bias to predict that things will take less time and money than they actually do
Choose perfect execution over perfect strategy
Good process is ever evolving. A resilient organization isn’t one that never makes mistakes but rather one whose mistakes make it stronger over time
I. How to lead a growing team?
Differences between big and small teams
People treat you differently. They’re less likely to tell you the ugly truth or challenge you when they think you’re wrong, even if you’d like them to
Context switching, everyday
You pick and choose your battles i.e. what are the most important topics for you to pay attention to, and where are you going to draw the line
At higher levels of management, the job starts to converge regardless of background. Success becomes more and more about mastering a few key skills: hiring exceptional leaders, building self-reliant teams, establishing a clear vision, and communicating well
Delegation is an art. It doesn’t mean you walk away!
The rule of thumb for delegation goes like this: spend your time and energy on the intersection of 1) what’s most important to the organization and 2) what you’re uniquely able to do better than anyone else
Anything your report can do just as well or better than you, you should delegate
People trump projects—a great team is a prerequisite for great work.
Beyond people, you and your report should be aligned on why you’re doing what you’re doing and what success looks like
The act of constantly trying to replace yourself means that you create openings to stretch both your leaders and yourself
J. How to nurture culture?
As you manage more and more people, you’ll play a bigger role in shaping culture. Don’t underestimate the influence that you can have
Pay attention to your own actions—the little things you say and do—as well as what behaviors you are rewarding or discouraging
Make a list of the aspects of culture that you admire about other teams or organizations. Why do you admire them? What downsides does that team tolerate as a result?
Never stop talking about what is important
If you say something is important to you and you’d like the rest of your team to care about it, be the first person to live that value
When a report does something difficult that is in the spirit of your team’s values, recognize them for it
Invent traditions. Rituals are powerful
This is a great book, do read and internalise the lessons. Almost all of those are universally applicable across roles!
PS: Additional recommendations from the author for frequent referencing are the book “Crucial Conversations”, articles like High Output Management and How to Win Friends and Influence People
The book “Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products” by Marty Cagan and Chris Jones is a must read for all product and business leaders. Marty’s earlier book “Inspired”is probably the most-referred book for aspiring / noob product managers, authors need no introduction to the authentic insights they bring!
What follows next is my recollection of broad themes, key takeaways and compelling arguments the authors put forth. Authors have relied on their learning from 500+ organisations of different scales, what they state is generally applicable. That the book was published during Covid times is testimony to the new realities we are all living in around resilience, adaptability to change and staying true to our core values amidst volatility. Unstated but these themes keep recurring throughout the book
The book is divided into 81 chapters, although most chapters can be independently read like a well-written blog. The authors differentiate strong product teams from what they call feature teams (one striving to serve the business) and most of the book is organised around helping leaders create strong product teams in their organisations. In the strong product team, the purpose of the product org is to serve customers by creating products customers love, yet work for the business. The book also argues that the key to building strong product companies is having strong product leaders
On coaching mindset
Coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom
Developing people is job #1 for managers
To earn trust of the team, be interested in the team member as a person
While a team member’s self-assessment to develop a career plan is helpful, the manager should not hesitate from correcting the difference in perception between him and the team member. Not doing so is abdicating the responsibility!
On developing talent
The biggest difference between competent PMs and effective PMs is probably their people skills
It’s manager’s responsibility to bring a new product manager into the team and unless she is competent enough to ensure the person is NOT doing harm to the team and is making reasonable decisions
Constructive feedback is the main source of value you provide as a manager. There should never be surprises in annual reviews related to performance!
A written narrative for major decisions / products is helpful to be an exceptional product leader. It’s mostly a 6-pager doc with narrative in the first few pages followed by FAQs that might come from key stakeholders
An employee with an owner’s mindset takes responsibility for the outcomes rather than just the activities
Ability to think is the single most important behavior of a capable product person. How to assess this in interviews is by probing what the candidates do when they don’t know they answer
Three critical characteristics of strong product teams no matter what processes they use are
tackling risks early
solving problems collaboratively
and being accountable to results
A product manager’s career will survive mistakes which inevitably happen if she is on the whole dependable in her commitments, always works toward the company’s best interests, and takes responsibility for her mistakes
Also coach your people around ethics of product management i.e. whether something should be built in addition to viability, feasibility, usability and valuable
As a leader, it probably helps to measure success by the growth of people one has managed or helped throughout the career
Also the leadership is not about you, it’s about the team member. More like an actor vs. director in a theatre aphorism “don’t fix a line”
Leaders need to set the expectations, establish the governance that acknowledges necessary boundaries—but removes barriers to progress—and support the teams with the necessary tools and resources
In general the more senior an executive in the organization more likely they care about everything – customers, brand, revenue, compliance
Product managers need to invest in trust before they need it
On imposter syndrome: if I don’t do home and prepare thoroughly, the fear of looking clueless is what drives preparation. It’s not necessary something to fight against
Treating stakeholders like customers may dilute the role of true customer
On reducing number of meetings: if there is a way to make them happen asynchronously like status update is generally better
On decision making
The authors describe a colloquialism by Jim B, former CEO of Netscape
If you see a snake (i.e. an important decision to be made), kill it
Don’t play with dead snakes (past decisions)
All opportunities start out looking like snakes
Hiring is the responsibility of the hiring manager and not the HR!
The best product companies hire competent people of character, and then coach and develop them into members of extraordinary teams
There are two bases of hiring 1. Competence 2. Potential. Nothing wrong in hiring basis 2 as long as hiring manager is willing to invest time to develop the person
Product vision is one of the most effective tools for recruiting great product managers!
Every new hire should raise the average of the people
Reference checks should be taken seriously especially to weed out toxicity in behavior which can be hidden during the interview process
On product vision
Vision answers two critical questions 1. What’s the end game 2. What is my team’s contribution to it? It’s purpose is to inspire and it’s told from customer’s perspective
Evangelism is never finished. Just because a person is convinced one day doesn’t mean they will not be unconvinced the other day
Product vision should be accompanied by product principles or tenets in order to provide guidance to PMs in decision making
On team topology
Establishing an effective team topology is one of the key responsibilities of a product leader
The best team topology will balance the needs of product, design and engineering orgs
Topology choice should be guided by the team empowerment, real ownership, team autonomy and alignment with other facets of the company
Optimise for the product team rather than executives, managers or access to customers!
Beware of Conway’s law i.e. shipping your org chart!
If you’re making changes to team topology more than once a year, something else is wrong
Platform teams reduce the cognitive load for experience teams in using the underlying technology whether customer facing or customer enabling
On product strategy
While product strategy starts with focus, it depends on insights. Product strategy requires choice, thinking and effort. For elements of the product strategy are 1. Focus 2. Insights 3. Actions 4. Management
Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on few pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes
On OKR framework
If the leaders want the product team to feel ownership of the results, then the key results must come from the team
The team will also need guidance from leadership on how ambitious or conservative (roof shot or moon shot) they should be in pursuing solutions
Activities are not key results, outcomes are
All of the work need not be OKR. There could be some high integrity commitments which need to be tracked differently
High‐integrity commitments are intended for situations where you have an important external commitment or a very important and substantial internal commitment. They are the exceptions
It’s normal and often wise for different teams to chase the same objectives simultaneously
Technology makes many things possible, but if it doesn’t deliver on the needs of the customer, it will not deliver on the needs of the business
On product leadership
There are 3 things a product leader will be judged on a. Business results b. Product strategy c. Product team
Evangelism is one of the critical roles of product leaders in mid- to large companies
Top methods of evangelization
Share the customer pain
Share the vision
Share the learning i.e. information the audience needs to help come up with solution
Share credit generously
Learn how to do a great demo! It’s sales!
Spend time with your developers, designers and product managers
Show genuine enthusiasm!
The best source of innovation are your engineers!
In short, a must read book for all product and business leaders. The book contains decades of product leadership experience in a very concise and easily practicable manner and you can keep it like a ready reckoner for quite some time to come!