Ep. 4: What Most Surprises New Product Leaders?


Do you dream of moving from being a  product manager to a products leader  well in this episode of fearless product  we're going to learn from five  experienced product leaders what they  found to be the most surprising when  they first started leading product teams  being a product leader is a great role  but the clearer you are on what it is  and what it isn't the more successful  you will be at positioning yourself for  these opportunities these are the  products leaders that we're going to be  speaking with today you can get more  information on their background by  watching their bio videos using the  links below  



I remember the first time I  was a product leader and there were a  ton of surprises I think I took the role  because I wanted to really work on  product strategy I was super excited to  think about the direction of the company  and how we were gonna evolve our  business I of course like everyone else  has a ton of future ideas I wanted to  implement it and thought now that I'm in  charge we get to implement them and then  grim reality set in so I think the  biggest challenge and the surprise  factor for the heads of product is how  much time you spend on people management  no matter how big your team is no matter  how many direct reports you have there  will always be an issue around an  employee who's unhappy someone you're  recruiting someone who is getting a  competitive offer from another company  someone who can't get along with  engineering but is really talented  design you know there's so many  different things like people management  it's just a huge amount of your time so  you have to be passionate about leading  and working through those issues  otherwise you should find another job  the other thing is that I was surprised  by I wasn't the only one with a list of  features that I wanted to get developed  all of the sudden the CEO is that my  desk with his list of features to get  developed and then there were board  members who had ideas and then there  were other people who had ideas and so  what quickly was my product roadmap  really is the company's product roadmap  still so don't get confused that it's  not your chance to drive everything  everybody's driving strategy everybody's  trying  push forward and so now you just are the  one voice who gets to decide and so that  all those voices are coming to you get  ready and then the third thing that also  really surprised me  at one company I worked at we called it  the Star Chamber and so this is the  executive meeting right and everybody  you know knows when the executive  meetings happening and they always  wonder what's happening behind those  doors and so now as head of products you  get to go into that meeting and it's not  nearly a Star Chamber II look like from  outside you know priorities are changing  they're trying to figure it out it's a  working team and things are probably a  lot less organized than they are  presented to the company and I think  that's a function of life every company  creates a plan but that plan has to  react to how users change our  competitors change how the technology  changes how the industry's changing and  so even a plan is only as good as the  number of days ago it was written so  it's constantly evolving and I think  that was always a surprise to me as I  thought will come in will just execute  our plan it's super clear but every week  is a new thing and a new idea and  sometimes that roadmap you just made is  a complete waste because we're going  left instead of right and I think it's a  surprise to see how frequently companies  are working through those things and  always trying to figure it out people  are crazy and people all have their own  desires and people have their missions  they have their own things that propel  them and it's it's like being a  psychologist right and so a lot of  people coming to find it's like I'm cool  I'm going to come up with this new  Polaris and is like no you're not going  to anymore you are essentially a  completely at your people slip C in 



Your  job as head of product is to make your  people happy and so you know the the  key is not your great vision and the key  is not you know whatever it is you think  it's cool I realize that's like being an  R&D person if you want to be a better  person  you  are enabling yourself to be exactly what  you probably want to be if you could  right I want to do this cool products  and do these cool features and I think  that's a beautiful that's what your  character over the circle that's what  your faculty person doing your job as  head apart is not to remove your ability  to scale your ability to scale is to  empower these people they don't work for  you here for them and to the extent that  you think that people are going to work  three of your SNU tear back you've got  it all though so anytime you're leading  affecting you're not you're actually  supporting it 



I think what's most  surprising to people when they when I  start to grow in their product career is  the concept that you you now are  responsible for setting the pace and the  tone and it's a maybe it's a fine line  maybe it's a fine switch I'm not sure  but I think about when I was a junior  product manager I had leadership ahead  of me above me that really was the one  thing we're going to go for this we're  going to go do this and I never really  thought about why other than kind of  broad so I like oh there's an  opportunity and market opportunity blah  blah but I never really thought about  the process as to how that person  actually got to that decision to set  that as the direction and so I would get  Direction be like okay we're good order  so bilbies API so I'm going to go build  these API Houston this is roughly what  we need to do and it was you know as I  started growing as I started growing in  my career and as I started taking on  more and more challenges that's been the  biggest switch that I've really had to  learn I really had to internalize and  really had the own in practice where you  get into an environment where malleson  you're not being told this is a  direction you're being asked or expected  to suspect that in direction you know  you're being expected to have a very  strong opinion  and to have an opinion in front of  people that might be market experts when  you're not that might be experts on the  data when you're not there might be  experts on the financials when you're  not and you have to turn around and you  have the space of conviction and you  have to speak with another speak but  really internalized the problem and  articulate the problem with authenticity  right you have to be able to speak from  your heart and your gut and say this is  what we're doing and this is what we're  doing and why and sometimes I'm not  going to have all the information but  here's the market forces here's what I'm  seeing and here's what I'm laying out  and it's a very much a very very very uh  it's you're putting yourself on the line  you're putting yourself you're putting  yourself out there you're putting your  neck out there you're you're basing your  decisions on like this is me this is my  decision-making and I'm owning this I  just I find that switch to be a really  big switch you know I find that switch  to be really big switch with more junior  people or more people potentially  earlier in their careers as they get  later in their careers when you have to  call the shots and again it's one of  those things where you have to call the  shots not just for your area but for  lots of different areas that might  impact a lot of different organizations  and so now all the Sun is not just me  building my cute little API over here  but it's me building a whole suite of  API is me building front and tools me  building an accounting solution me  building all of these things that now  sum together to create a business or to  create a product and and once you start  to have to be responsible for all the  things I think that is it's a very  strong and valuable responsibility but  it's also something I think that comes  with practice and I think it's one of  those things where I see product  managers that really truly own their  product and are willing to make those  calls  I'm willing to go out on on a Ledge and  say no this is what we're doing are the  ones that tend to be the most successful  you know again it's making best - one of  those things as long as you're right 51%  of the time and I can be right all the  time but as long as you're right a good  bit at a time I think really putting  yourself out there and owning your  products  speaking authentically  you know and then really kind of owning  that decision-making  you really confess the making is being a  really great product  



To address  the question of what I found more  surprising you know as I started up my  product management leadership career as  against being a individual contributor  many things I think but the one PL  definitely call out is how much time is  spent in doing non product stuff you  know I think it's not unimportant to be  very clear it's they're all important  things they're things like you know  building cross-functional relationships  getting to know folks in the executive  team you know career development for  your team performance management  compensation management you know  managing a budget you know there's all  sorts of things which are so crucial to  being an effective product leader but if  you notice each of those things and you  know you might say career developers a  little different but many of those  things are not exactly directly working  on a specific product you know and if  you're not careful I think the thing you  have to actually watch out for is that  those other things while important can  end up something earlier and you sort of  lose connection with the product and I  think that's the one thing that I found  it shouldn't be that surprising of that  probably found it to be so that's  probably learning for me then don't be  surprised by the things like that but it  was initially and what I describe it  very soon was that not that you know you  don't do the thing but but you do  absolutely have to do is to structure  and cover time for product and if you  don't do that then those other things  will take up all your life you know I  mean I mentioned a few of the things but  there are other things too you're  opening a new office she's doing hiring  you're doing succession planning all  these things matter and they will take  up a hundred percent one hundred twenty  percent of your time if you'd give if  you allow them to and the key is to you  know we focused on those things but time  box them and and it's not this question  of time box in them it's also I think  you do have to be very thoughtful in  structuring product time and you know my  own case the way I've tried to structure  product time  I'll set up product reviews I try to do  you know wherever I've gone I try to  introduce a product review process where  I sit down with the product and design  teams we talk product and product  features and the things that they're  building we try to do that at least once  a week and that keeps me very close to  what is it that people are working on  and it also gives a chance for product  people and designers to shine and it's  not just me but if we invite other  product executives I'll invite other  folks from across the company for those  sessions and it gives them a chance to  sort of show off their you know their  their skills and abilities to a broader  audience but it gives me a chance and  the broader exec team a chance role to  provide input early into the process so  you're very very close to the product  which you otherwise wouldn't be but in  addition to that you know trying to hold  regular all-hands meetings trying to do  your one-on-ones religiously with your  direct reports I think it's going to be  a minute on that you know one-on-ones  tend to be you know you look at your  calendar and your calendar starts  filling up and the one-on-ones become  the most obvious things that shirt risk  and without a doubt the thing I've  learned through you know you know deep  and sometimes bitter experiences it's  don't jettison the one-on-ones  make sure you cover our time for them  I've come to an acceptance that you know  I do one my 101 once every two weeks but  I spend an hour for them you know I  found are doing the shorter ones you end  up in a 30-minute session you end up  with just 20 minutes worth of real  content with an hour and get at least 50  minutes you can go really deep anyway  those are examples of something that we  were there multiple things like that  doing design reviews do the doing  product reviews doing your 101 regularly  doing skip level meetings with your team  members and also you know doing things  like you know in my last role I would  invite people I'd work with before  coming top product management with my  product team and it was it was really  opportunity you know many people are  looking for ways to expand their  repertoire so they are happy to come but  it's interesting for your team to see  somebody doing forex management in a  very different way that then you are and  you know how the most interesting  takeaway for me for those meetings was  but people Trumpy will come here is  greatly hosted what you love the session  but it was the next day when you will  come back and say you know what you know  so-and-so came to speak I really enjoy  the conversation but I didn't agree with  them on these topics I'm like that's  awesome I love that in fact I would if  you came back and said always great I  enjoyed everything and nothing my life  has changed because of it well there's  not that were worthy but if you came  back and said I passionately disagree  with this element or I've actually  agreed with that element that to me is  your internal internalized again and so  you know I find that those kinds of  session being useful but nonetheless I  think you know long story short keeping  close to the product while in a you know  managing a bigger team I think is a  balancing act the one that we have to do 



First off in terms of something I don't  think most people realize when they go  from being a individual contributor of  product manager to being a product  leader is similar to what happens to  most folks when they go into management  or leadership roles that they don't  realize that the skills that they  developed as an individual contributor  do not necessarily equate to the skills  they have to learn as a leader there  they're always connected of course and  you can't manage product managers if you  don't know what a product manager does  but I think there's a tendency for new  leaders to try to brute force success  for their teams by kind of just doing it  themselves like the homes can't stop  yourself you want to reach out and just  show them what to do manually yourself  and in some cases especially with  high-performing product managers that  works for a little while you can brute  force a couple of teams you can force  them to learn their strategy to set a  strategy you can fix their stories but  it's not sustainable I think that's one  of the things that that was the hardest  to learn for myself as someone who was a  strong premanande before that a strong  developer a strong designer actually I  was in mediocre design but a strong  product manager stepping into that  leadership role you just you just want  to just do it yourself and you can't you  have to you have to delegate you have to  coach you have to jump over that gap  between being the strongest I see and  being a a strong leader and manager  there's a lot of nuance to learn very  quickly as you step into that space and  quicker you can kind of say admit to  yourself I don't know how to do this ask  for help ask for help from your cohorts  ask for help from experts and learn that  quickly that these are these new skills  you have to develop the better in terms  of your ability to deliver great product  teams



The new product leaders that I  coach are often surprised to find out  how much of their time is pulled inward  towards the leadership team at the  expense of spending time with customers  and on product development. Fearless  product leaders know that they must  rigorously prioritize their time because  it is their most valuable resource. They  enable their product teams to achieve  meaningful goals and create value for  their customers and their companies by  aligning the leadership team and  removing blockers for their team. What  did you find most useful in this episode?  Please tell me by leaving a message in  the comments below 



Hope Gurion