Pedro Arantes
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Great, Good, Okay, and Bad Product Managers

If I know the characteristics of Bad and Okay Product Managers, I know what I shouldn't do.
#hypotheses
Blog, July 04, 2022
Reading time: 14 minutes

I wrote this article as an exercise to understand the characteristics of the Product Manager's role. This idea came after reading a Shreyas Doshi thread in which he explained some traits of Good and Great Product Managers.

While reading, I asked myself, "Great thread explaining the Great and the Good Product Managers, but what about the Bad and Okay ones? If I know the characteristics of Bad and Okay Product Managers, I know what I shouldn't do."

Topics

For each tweet of the original thread, I created a section with the characteristics of each PM. The Good and Great is the original one, which I copied from the tweet. As part of my exercise, I tried to explain each topic briefly and fill in the Bad and Okay PMs attributes.

The heading of each topic is the number of the original tweet plus a title that names the subject, for example, 1/ Deliver. After that, I wrote a question that clarifies more about the topic. Finally, the bullets explain how Great, Good, Okay, and Bad PMs act in the topic context. The bullets are also answers to the question.

1/ Deliver

How do PMs deliver products and results to their customers?

  • Great: Great PMs consistently and singularly improve the company's trajectory through the products they work on.
  • Good: Good PMs consistently deliver quality products and results.
  • Okay: Okay PMs deliver products and results, sometimes with quality.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't deliver products and results.

2/ Metrics

How do PMs use metrics and data to make product decisions?

  • Great: Great PMs make metrics-informed product decisions. Great PMs are masters of the art of blending quantitative and qualitative inputs, as warranted by each individual situation.
  • Good: Good PMs make metrics-driven product decisions.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't use metrics to make product decisions.
  • Bad: Bad PMs use the wrong metrics to make product decisions.

3/ Product Domain

How much do PMs know the domain of their products?

  • Great: Great PMs become the worldwide experts in that domain. When new to a domain, great PMs bootstrap this process by seeking the counsel of existing worldwide experts.
  • Good: Good PMs extensively research the domain in which their product operates.
  • Okay: Okay PMs do basic research about the domain in which their product operates.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't do product research and use only their thoughts.

4/ User Research

How do PMs use market research to develop their products?

  • Great: Great PMs have a broader view of the value of user research. Great PMs are diligent about using a variety of user research methods to inform what product to build in the first place.
  • Good: Good PMs are proactive about doing user research to identify & fix UI issues in their product.
  • Okay: Okay PMs do proper user research and use it to focus more on shipping new features than fixing UI issues.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't do market research at all.

5/ Logic, Reasons, and Emotions

How do PMs view logic, reasons, and emotions?

  • Great: Great PMs view logic and reason as important tools, but they also know that people—and therefore the users & customers of their product—are driven by emotion more than by logic.
  • Good: Good PMs make product decisions based on a thoroughly logical and rational view of the world.
  • Okay: Okay PMs make product decisions based on their logic and view of the world.
  • Bad: Bad PMs do the same as Okay PMs and don't accept others question them.

6/ Developing Product Hypothesis

How do PMs develop their product hypothesis?

  • Great: Great PMs also listen to what isn't said and anticipate where the industry overall is headed when developing their product hypothesis.
  • Good: Good PMs know the importance of talking to customers frequently. Good PMs listen intently to customers to develop their product hypothesis.
  • Okay: Okay PMs talk with customers but can't understand their customers' needs properly, creating misleading hypotheses.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't talk with customers before creating the product hypothesis.

7/ Team's Creative Product Ideas

How do PMs inspire their team to come up with creative product ideas?

  • Great: Great PMs know that buy-in isn't enough; you need passion & ownership to build great products. Great PMs facilitate discussions that get the entire team to come up with creative product ideas.
  • Good: Good PMs inspire their teams with their creative product ideas to get their buy-in.
  • Okay: Okay PMs allow their team to develop product ideas but don't inspire the team to do so.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't allow their team to develop new ideas and participate in the product ideas.

8/ Pushing Back Ideas & Instincts

How do PMs allow their colleagues to push back on their ideas & instincts?

  • Great: Great PMs make it as easy as possible for colleagues to push back on their ideas & instincts. They often ask: "What am I getting wrong?"
  • Good: Good PMs seek to validate their ideas & instincts with trusted colleagues. They often ask: "Does this make sense?"
  • Okay: Okay PMs ask for colleagues' to validate their ideas & instincts but generally don't consider their opinions.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't ask their colleagues' to validate their ideas & instincts.

9/ Product Attention

How do PMs pay attention to product details and quality for launch?

  • Great: Great PMs pay this degree of attention to the entire customer experience: they know that the docs, the API, blog post, website, support emails, etc. are also "the product".
  • Good: Good PMs are detail-obsessed, making sure that the product meets the desired quality bar for launch.
  • Okay: Okay PMs are overall-obsessed and don't pay much attention to details. They aim for a low bay quality for launch.
  • Bad: Bad PMs have a product low-quality bar for launch.

10/ Point of View

How do PMs argue their point of view and the opposite?

  • Great: Great PMs can also make convincing arguments to support the opposite of their point of view.
  • Good: Good PMs can make convincing arguments to support their point of view.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't have good arguments to support their point of view.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't accept other people challenging their point of view.

11/ Product Requirements Documents (PRDs)

How do PMs write PRDs to support engineering & design?

  • Great: Great PMs iteratively write their PRDs so engineering & design tasks are rarely blocked on them.
  • Good: Good PMs write detailed and lucid product requirements documents (PRDs). Their teams become highly reliant on these PRDs to make forward progress on engineering & design tasks.
  • Okay: Okay PMs write low to medium-quality PRDs.
  • Bad: Bad PMs cannot write and put in words the product requirements. The team relies only on meetings and synchronous conversations.

12/ Hard Working

How hard and overwhelmed are PMs?

  • Great: Great PMs work hard but are rarely overwhelmed. Great PMs understand task leverage and spend the majority of their time on the highest-leverage tasks for the company. Great PMs also delegate frequently.
  • Good: Good PMs work hard, are always extremely busy, and are often overwhelmed.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't work hard and are rarely overwhelmed. They delegate tasks but don't work on the highest-leverage tasks.
  • Bad: Bad PMs are always extremely busy and overwhelmed and work on low/medium leveraged tasks.

13/ Missing ;(

14/ Set of Tools & Processes

Do PMs have which set of tools & processes?

  • Great: Great PMs are more adaptive—they have a wider repertoire that they expertly tweak for each specific team's needs.
  • Good: Good PMs over time converge on a set of tools & processes that they trust—sprints, OKRs, RICE,... Good PMs introduce these to all their teams for better execution.
  • Okay: Okay PMs do the same as Good PMs, but their set of tools & processes are ineffective.
  • Bad: Bad PMs do the same as Okay PMs and are authoritarian.

15/ Splitting Engineering Work On Features, Infra and Tech Debts

How do PMs split engineering work between creating new features, infra, and tech debts?

  • Great: Great PMs advocate for infra & tech debt work because they care as much about uptime, latency, dev productivity as they do about new feature-work.
  • Good: Good PMs understand the value of infra-work, but they advocate for more eng time to be spent on features that meet customer needs.
  • Okay: Okay PMs understand the value of infra and maintainability work a little.
  • Bad: Bad PMs know nothing about the costs of technical debts and don't care about infra.

16/ Executives' Questions

How do PMs answer their executives' questions?

  • Great: Great PMs see their role as being greater than just answering execs' questions. They know that product reviews are a joint truth-seeking process and so they often reframe execs' questions.
  • Good: At product reviews, Good PMs provide thoughtful answers to executives' questions.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't always provide thoughtful answers to executives' questions. Sometimes they have good answers, but sometimes they don't.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't have good answers nor reframe executives' questions.

17/ Questions, Answers, Wisdom, and Data.

How do PMs deal with questions, answers, wisdom and data?

  • Great: Great PMs usually deal in questions and wisdom.
  • Good: Good PMs usually deal in answers and data.
  • Okay: Okay PMs usually deal in answers and don't use data appropriately.
  • Bad: Bad PMs deal with unsatisfactory answers.

18/ Problem Preventers and Solvers

How do PMs are at preventing or solving problems?

  • Great: Great PMs are outstanding problem preventers. Great PMs are discerning about which problems to prevent, which problems to solve, and which problems not to solve.
  • Good: Good PMs are outstanding problem solvers.
  • Okay: Okay PMs are average to good problem solvers.
  • Bad: Bad PMs are bad to average problem solvers and usually focus on solving problems that don't matter.

19/ Product Strategy

How do PMs deal with product strategy and its execution?

  • Great: Great PMs first ensure that the product strategy itself is optimal. Great PMs know that their team's time is too precious to be squandered away on impeccable execution of a flawed strategy.
  • Good: Good PMs try their best to deliver optimal results for a given product strategy.
  • Okay: Okay PMs try to deliver enough results for a given product strategy.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't deliver enough results for a given product strategy. They sometimes don't understand the product strategy.

20/ Describing the Product Strategy

How are PMs capable of describing their product strategy?

  • Great: Great PMs ensure that their team members can also describe the product strategy over the course of a short elevator ride.
  • Good: Good PMs can describe their product strategy over the course of a short elevator ride.
  • Okay: Okay PMs reasonably describe their product strategy over the course of a short elevator ride.
  • Bad: Bad PMs can't describe their product strategy over the course of a short elevator ride.

21/ Credits

How do PMs give credits to their team members?

  • Great: Great PMs remember to also give credit to the enablers (mktg, legal, sales, support, operations, ...)
  • Good: When their products do well, Good PMs use the spotlight to give credit to the builders i.e. team members who worked to build the product (eng, design, research, analytics).
  • Okay: Okay PMs give credit only to themselves when their products do well.
  • Bad: Bad PMs give credit to themselves when their products do well and blame others when their products fail.

22/ Product Failure

How do PMs handle product failures?

  • Great: Great PMs, in the rare instances of product failure, improve not just their own approach but they also share the lessons learned with the broader company.
  • Good: When their products fail, Good PMs run a post-mortem to assess reasons for the failure and improve their future approach.
  • Okay: Okay PMs do a quick analysis of the failure.
  • Bad: Bad PMs do and learn nothing when their products fail.

23/ Stakeholders

How do PMs deal with stakeholders concerns to make decisions?

  • Great: Great PMs know that these groups aren't approvers, they're advisors. With due consideration, great PMs ultimately decide what's best for users & the business.
  • Good: Good PMs weave stakeholder concerns (legal, security, ...) into their plan & get their approval well before launch.
  • Okay: Okay PMs understand stakeholder concerns but sometimes don't meet their requirements.
  • Bad: Bad PMs can't understand stakeholder concerns.

24/ Company's Product Ethos

How do PMs deal with the company's product ethos?

  • Great: Great PMs edit the company's product ethos—they identify the unintended flaws in the principles, fix the flawed parts—and only then follow & espouse it.
  • Good: Good PMs follow & espouse the company's product principles to build better products & to eliminate decision deadlocks.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't understand and can't assimilate the company's product ethos.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't know what product ethos is.

25/ Team' Goals & Targets

How do PMs deal with their team's goals & targets?

  • Great: Great PMs always think a few levels higher than their current place in the org: they will happily sacrifice their team's goals & targets when it's in favor of the greater good for the company
  • Good: Good PMs move heaven and earth to meet their team's quarterly goals & targets.
  • Okay: Good PMs are aware of their team's quarterly goals & targets but don't always stick to them.
  • Bad: Bad PMs only care about their goals & targets and don't care about their team.

26/ Career Ladders

How do PMs deal with career ladders?

  • Great: Great PMs know that career ladders are imperfect proxies: they're more fixated on tangible competence & impact than on checking off boxes on the ladder.
  • Good: Good PMs are keen students of the company's PM career ladder; they often evaluate their ladder progression w/ their manager.
  • Okay: Okay PMs cannot progress at higher levels even though they only care about their career ladder.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't have a career ladder and stagnate in their career.

27/ Companies' Values Alignment

How do PMs acts when their values are at odds with the company's values?

  • Great: Great PMs know when it's time to disembark amicably & muster up the courage to do it.
  • Good: Good PMs find a way to motivate themselves to deliver value despite being at odds with the company's values. Even within rapidly deteriorating cultures, they pledge to go down with the ship.
  • Okay: Okay PMs don't do a good job when their values are at odds with the company's values and don't have the courage to leave.
  • Bad: Bad PMs behaviors help deteriorate the company's culture.

28/ PM-Driven vs Product-Obsessed Companies

How do PMs choose between PM-driven and product-obsessed companies?

  • Great: Great PMs know that "PM-driven" companies are rarely able to create superb products. Great PMs seek "product-obsessed" companies where Eng-Design-PM-DataScience operate as equals.
  • Good: Good PMs seek "PM-driven" companies as a way to make an impact in their role as PMs.
  • Okay: Okay PMs seek "PM-driven" companies to improve their status and optics.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't know the difference between "PM-driven" and "product-obsessed" companies.

29/ Learning

How do PMs learn about the craft of product management?

  • Great: Great PMs also learn through work projects, but they learn a lot more about their craft in their personal time because of their curiosity & passion for self-improvement.
  • Good: Good PMs constantly learn about the craft of product mgmt through the projects that they take on at work.
  • Okay: Okay PMs irregularly learn about the craft of product management only through the projects they take on at work.
  • Bad: Bad PMs don't learn about the craft of product management. They don't have curiosity or passion for self-improvement.

30/ Career Success

How do PMs attain career success?

  • Great: Great PMs also attain conventional career success. In addition, Great PMs attain a higher form of success: which is to have helped others around them find flow and fulfillment.
  • Good: Good PMs attain conventional career success at pretty high rates.
  • Okay: Okay PMs attain conventional career success at a median rate.
  • Bad: Bad PMs attain conventional career success at a near-zero rate.
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