Elevating the Hidden, Critical Behaviors of Effective Product Managers
By Troy Thompson, Lead Facilitator
December 2020

Despite the growing importance of the product manager role within modern, technology-enabled organizations, many senior leaders are unsure which skills and capabilities create effective product leaders. Focusing on three behaviors can elevate your product practice.

Products stuck on never-ending roadmaps or falling short of revenue goals. Development costs rising, customer satisfaction dropping. A disconnect between products and the customer.

As a result, organizations rush to establish or repair a product management practice by transferring existing managers, upskilling others, and preparing new hires with minimal onboarding.  These product managers possess vital skills such as problem-solving, communication, or technical knowledge, often in a unique combination that resembles a mini-CEO. But they are hampered by established yet antiquated rules and overlooked behaviors that become systematic gaps in the company’s product practice.

Product Managers have the responsibilities and skills of a mini-CEO.

Because a product manager’s success is closely and simplistically tied to their product’s success, it is often tricky for technical leaders to uncover the behaviors and mindsets that effective product managers are utilizing to succeed. These hidden behaviors are then nearly impossible to articulate or transfer to new product managers.

Fortunately, technical leaders and ambitious organizations can uncover these behaviors and improve them to elevate their existing product teams.

Improving a product management practice can be accomplished by focusing on core, collaborative behaviors.

Based on our experience measuring product manager capabilities in our PRIME training program, we have identified three behaviors that leaders can emphasize to elevate their product managers.

We have found that effective product managers are curious, creative, and consistent. While these behaviors can appear in different ways in different people, product leaders can look for signs of these behaviors within product managers’ actions and approaches (Diagram 1).

Diagram 1 - Executive Leaders can look for signs of curiosity, creativity, and consistency in their product managers.

But, these observations do not mean that effective product managers are limited to these behaviors or actions. Modern product managers are involved in multiple decisions and activities. As mini-CEOs, they need to display a range of capabilities and a tireless drive to improve themselves. Of course, this last point could be interpreted as consistent improvement, another example of effective behavior.

Identifying effective behaviors across three critical product management capabilities.

Theorem’s product management training program, PRIME, helps senior leaders understand and elevate eight capability areas across product organizations. Of those capability areas, communication, user empathy, and UX design score the lowest among most product managers.

As an executive or technical leader, your first step to improving your product management practice is identifying which product managers exhibit effective behaviors of curiosity, creativity, or consistency. This process requires becoming curious yourself as you thoughtfully observe and seek out individual contributors who are naturally acting on these behaviors (Diagram 2).

Diagram 2 - How effective Product Managers apply curiosity, creativity, and consistency in real-world situations.

One global financial services company tackled the challenge of improving User Empathy during and after a PRIME training session by placing product managers in direct and regular contact with customers from multiple business units. While the product teams had utilized user research as a product development component, they often siloed their curiosity to a subset of customers only relevant to their product. Of course, customers did not see themselves as only a customer of a single division, but instead of the entire organization. By encouraging curiosity, product managers began to uncover unseen connections and opportunities within their products. It also helped create a new norm within the organization’s culture—one often missing in poor performing product teams—that anyone can talk to any customer at any time.

The outcome was a product organization that was now curious about the entire user experience, which created new partnerships, innovative ideas, and, ultimately, an improved customer experience.

Effective product managers go beyond the well-known product development skills to exhibit collaborative behaviors of curiosity, creativity, and consistency. For leaders attempting to elevate or repair an ineffective product management practice, looking for and then measuring, rewarding, and replicating these behaviors is a critical first step.

By Troy Thompson, Lead Facilitator
December 2020

Troy has extensive experience leading organizations through periods of significant change. A sought after expert and consultant, he leads PRIME product management & development training for Theorem.


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