Congratulations! You’re in the Top 5, Now What?

There’s always a lot of buzz when a major publication ranks and supports your profession as one of the Top 5 for the next year. Recently, Keith Cline published The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012. As an experienced recruiter for startups and high growth technology companies, Cline observed, “Hiring the best of the best is an absolute must if you are going to build a successful company.”

For over 20 years, most technology companies have relied on product management to be the face of the customer, a market instigator and someone creating, seeding or harvesting ideas and innovation and then proving that more than one company or person will buy.

Next year it won’t be any different or will it?

What Cline sees and most smart entrepreneurs value is handing the keys of product innovation and ownership to someone who can focus on it full-time. “It is always helpful for an early-stage company to hire someone who has very relevant and specific experience in your industry.  This is especially true for product management, since the person in this role will interface with customers and define the product strategy and use cases” confides Cline.

While I agree that early stage and any smart company should hire someone who has relevant and specific experience, each organization differs and specific experience versus adaptable experience applies.

As a case in point, my experience traverses a history in enterprise B2B technology. However, over the past 8 years I’ve found that my experience has adapted effectively in B2C companies, cloud-based technologies, consumer electronics, physical security solutions and others where I didn’t have the specific industry experience. Why?

When product management is grounded in sound product principles, has balance, thinks and acts with an agile mindset and is adaptable, industry experience isn’t as important. Now, I’m sure there are some people who will disagree, but that’s my opinion. Find me a product management professional with the attributes and DNA I mentioned, and I’ll take that over specific industry experience any day.

You’re in the Top 5, now what?

With the repeated visibility and recognition product management is enjoying, how can we capitalize on being in the top 5 of the most sought after positions in 2012? Below are a 5 things I believe we all have to do to build more credibility and value next year.

  1. Balanced accessibility – If you’re going to be the catalyst of your products and their direction, you need to balance your accessibility. Everybody wants or needs something from you when you’re in product management and their will always be pressures associated with managing product success. However, you can’t focus on the important things without managing your accessibility. Balancing internal access makes you more accessible externally to customers, markets, new insights and trends. Having this balance will give you a perspective that your executives will value and appreciate.
  2. Exploration and discovery – Is a way of life in product management. Steve Blank shared in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, “You need to leave guesswork behind and get outside the building in order to learn what high-value customer problems are.” Are you planning to explore and discover outside the office this year or just mine the same old internal information and support it with gut instinct? Create a simple exploration and discovery plan for the first quarter, socialize it, justify the expense and then pack. Don’t forget the information you’ll discover needs to be communicated when you return. Your executive team will find the fresh prospective and outside views enlightening if communicated in the language they know and understand.
  3. Innovative mentality – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or your own,” shared Jeffrey Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton Christensen in The Innovators DNA. Having the mentality, desire and drive is one thing, but knowing where and how to build intersections is another. While innovation may originate from many sources, it best flourishes when you’re “sparking ideas within others and intersecting with others who can spark the same in you. Plan on introducing yourself to a local startup, give some time to a new entrepreneur and definitely plan to attend and participate in groups such as product management camps at least quarterly. The sparks and ideas that will surface will make you more valuable and diverse.
  4. Product starter/finisher – Product management isn’t a place for procrastination. If you are leading or will lead a new product, service or offering this year or have ideas that need market discovery or validation, create a simple plan, ask for help and  stick too it. Starting is easy, finishing is painful. Before you start, review your skills, the talents around you, your goals and requirements and what you need. Look for ways to involve others in the team or organization, then get busy, delegate frequently and take criticism with a smile. Remember, executives recognize and reward finishers.
  5. Communicator and collaborator – It goes without saying that collaboration and communication are product managements left and right arms. The two are analogous to a traffic policeman stopping, starting, guiding and directing traffic in multiple directions at the same time. Improving your communications upward (executives) and horizontally (with product team collaborators) builds cadence that leads to successful requirements, development, user experience and launch. Take some time to review how you communicate. Do you use all the organizational and personal assets you have access to? If you are directing traffic and communicating from all directions, the organization will recognize your capabilities and leadership.

It’s great to have the recognition of being in the Top 5. Let’s prove we deserve it by earning it and exceeding expectations. If you like the post, feel free to comment and share it. New post, “Congratulations, You’re in the Top 5, Now What?” by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

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  • The Dude  On December 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm


    Great, and thought provoking post as always. I did read the link, and the comments are worth the scan as well. There are a lot of reasons why it is good to attract (or even find) decent product management or product marketing people.

    One comment from the link hit home. First, companies have become remarkably stingy. They seem to think that because of the economic conditions that they can greatly lower their expectations for salary for senior product management staff. I have seen job postings that are an embarrassment, and it is little wonder why they have problems finding any candidates at all. Additionally, since there is a lot of variability in how to define the roles, this in turn leads to a tendency to bucket it with a project manager title and pay scale. As much of the dialog on twitter lately, it is clear that project management != product management, but any half decent product manager can go the other way quite easily (and many have to survive). Second, it is a lot easier to hire product managers if you are in a tech center (SF Bay Area, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Boston come to mind, but there are others). I am in a much sparser location, and while I love living here, the pool of qualified candidates sucks, and since companies seem to have become allergic to relocation packages, many great candidates pass after a phone screen.

    Seasoned product managers are adaptable. They can go from cutting edge, to mundane, and quickly assimilate the knowledge required to be successful, and to live the passion. I have worked in semiconductor capital equipment, networking gear, measurement and test instrumentation, and now in enterprise communication products. Each one has its own challenges, and I have quickly slipped into my new skin, assuming the role convincingly, and forcefully. People around me have always been amazed at how I ramp to be the guy (even to the point of being asked to panel discussions at standards meetings in less than 2 years).

    As to your direct list, they are all excellent points, and quite salient to keep in mind. Even if you find yourself managing a mainstream product with a long legacy, and a solid market segment, balancing your availability, and for the love of God, get out on the road. Telephone calls, web-casts, and emails really don’t cut it. If you are in an organization where you have to fight to get out the door (or you are too essential to the tactical morass to leave the office a week a month), you really need to consider searching elsewhere.

    Glad to see the post, and look forward to more in 2012! Time for a Caucasian, and to roll my league game.

  • Michael Ray Hopkin  On February 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Jim, excellent post. I love your focus on being grounded in sound principles. I agree that if we master the tried and true principles of product management we will succeed regardless of the products or the industry. Knowing the products and industry/markets is very important to PM success, but that can be learned relatively quickly if the PM has a sound base. I’ve seen this happen many times, and inevitably the knowledge of sound product management principles makes all the difference.


  • Vetrivel  On March 9, 2012 at 3:35 am

    It is simply excellent, first time I read something about product management which is very usefull and it is very simpe to follow. Great.

    Keep writing


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