Breakthrough In Solving The Problem Of How To Evaluate A Product Manager

Oh do I have a tasty dilemma for you this time around! I’ve been working with one of my clients who is setting up a brand new product management department. He’s faced with a challenge that you’d think would be more common than it appears to be: just how should you evaluate the job that a product manager is doing?Product Managers Are Not Project ManagersThe newly minted manager of product managers was struggling. It was the beginning of the year and one of the things that he had to do on his list of tasks was to set up annual goals for his team.This manager was coming from a project management background. In his first pass at creating goals for his team this training really came across: all of the goals had to do with meeting dates. Clearly there’s more to being a product manager than this.He was facing a revolt from his p-management team when I was brought in to see if I could broker a solution to this problem. The manager had a valid need to be able to manage his p-managers, but they also had a reasonable expectation that they would be measured based on what a product manager does, not on what a project manager does.Say Hello To The Puppet MasterI stated out by having a talk with the manager who was trying to come up with the goals. It turned out that he really didn’t have a clear understanding of what product managers do. In a nutshell, he viewed p-managers as sort of a “super project manager”. The only problem with this is that the company had project managers who worked on every product’s team. Clearly there had to be something different in what these two groups of employees were doing.I then took some time and met with the p-managers themselves. It turns out that they were all busy doing exactly what you would expect a product manager to be doing: studying markets, guiding product developers, and putting out fires.After having collected all of the available information, I brought the manager and his team back together. I started this meeting out by taking the time to explain to the manager the role that product managers played in his company.Right or wrong, I used the analogy of a puppet master (you know, those old-time puppeteers who controlled the puppets by pulling on strings connected to their hands and feet). I pointed out to him that the role of the p-manager was not so much to do things, but rather to make sure that things got done. P-managers are like information hubs. They ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time so that they can accomplish a task.The difference between a p-manager and a project manager can be murky at times. However, I pointed out that if the p-manager told the project manager to build a 3-wheeled car, the project manager would make sure that the car got built on time and on budget. However, when the car flopped in the marketplace, it would be the p-manager’s fault because he had said that a 3-wheeled car was what the world needed.A New Way To Evaluate Product ManagersWhat was needed here was a new way to evaluate product managers. Others have discussed this topic and they’ve focused on getting the product’s requirements correct. I think that this is important; however, the p-manager’s job does not end there.What I told the manager and his team was that a much better way to evaluate product managers is to focus on the four areas that a product manager actually controls. These all have to do with the up-front work of determining what product to create, creating the product, and then ensuring that the product is a success once it’s been made.The four areas include: knowledge of the market, providing a well understood business strategy, empowering the company with product tactics, and directing the creation of product related content. Each one of these areas has plenty of room for individual performance metrics to be created that can be used to evaluate how well a p-manager is doing his / her job.What All Of This Means For YouP-managers, just like every other employee in a company, need to be evaluated in order to determine if they are doing a good job. The problem is that nobody really seems to have come up with a good way of doing this.P-managers are not project managers. This means that the traditional management metrics of delivering a product on a given date and keeping it on budget, don’t really seem to apply to p-managers.What a p-manager does is pretty much all “behind the scenes”. We deal in relationships as we get people to do different things at different times. We are an information hub that provides the right information to the right people at the right time.A much better way to evaluate product managers is to focus on the four areas that a p-manager actually controls: knowledge of the market, providing a well understood business strategy, empowering the company with product tactics, and directing the creation of product related content.The performance of a p-manager can be measured. However, you need to be very careful to do it in terms of what a product manager does, not what a project manager does. Once you establish the proper metrics to measure your p-manager by, you’ll be able to determine just how successful your products are going to be.

Art of Management in the 21st Century

Merely doing year-end PMR and overseeing employee output or input is not enough to create a healthy manager-employee relationship, and hence for longevity and stability in 21st century organizational setup. Managers need to be aware that employees are the reason for their existence. In other words, if there are no employees, there will be no need for managers. However, carefully knit and intellectually organized employees need not require managers. Consequently, managers have to play an extra-ordinary role to prove their existence in the 21st century management. They need to produce and deliver a unique set of skills that would create a fine line, if not substantial demarcation between their role and those of employees.Needless to say, 21st century organizations are creating these hybrid set of employees, who are becoming equipped to assume dual roles – the manager-employee role, with confidence to manage their (work) as well as organizational values simultaneously (if I am not too far sighted!).Where does the manager-only role fits in then? What this means is that managers need to be three-pronged value management experts. Managers need to learn and practice the art of managing more vigilantly. They need to consider (a) the employee-value management concept with significant degree of accuracy, (b) organizational-value management and, (c) manager (their own)-interest management, with greater prudence and analysis. They need to come up with an optimum mix of these three aspects to remain a distinguished icon in the 21st century management realm.As far as employee-value management is concerned, managers need to adhere to the following aspects:

Listen: Most of the times managers are clouded by the perception of their experience, or lack of it, in an attempt to push their way in, justifying, accusing, or not listening to the employees grievances, or perhaps the reverse – the dynamic works in either ways depending on circumstances and management environment. Managers, in their active and proactive role should be good listeners. They need to value lateral and open conversation. As much as managers are required to voice out imperfections of employees (or conceal it for reverse dynamic to act in force), they must listen – be attentive and concerned with – employee voices.

Appreciate: Managers need to appreciate the issues and concerns raised by the employees in order to deal with both sides – management and employee issues – in a harmless, and win-win manner.

Contribute: as much as employees want the managers to play the big daddy, they not only want managers to be a sounding board, but also contributors to solutions of their problem(s). Employees need to be confident that a manager will always act in their best and fair interest, to build mutual trust and free-flow conversation. Managers need to play a vigilant role in breaching the gap between organizational values and employee values. They must be in a position to bring in synergy to this aspect as part of their management role.

Motivate: One of the arts of a manager and leader is her ability to motivate. To do that, a manager needs to identify what factors motivate or tick a particular subordinate (or employees in situations where manager-subordinate line is very thin). There may be certain features that may apply to all employees, however, there are some unique qualities (knowing that all humans are unique) and factors (regarding an employee) that a manager should be aware of in order to use it for the advantage of the employee and the organization, promoting a win-win deal.
Understanding human behaviour and mastering the art of molding a given set character, in an increasingly beneficial way, rather than imposing ways and means of changing them, requires, if nothing else, at least an understanding that people are different in various ways. Managers should be aware of the fact that 21st generation working environment creates a hybrid set of employees – intellectually capable and effective to assume operational and managerial role per se. In other words, managers do not need to manage employees work, however hone and apply the art of managing these hybrid groups from a value-management perspective – a tremendous challenge for managers, changing the dimension and dynamic of soft-skill set.The above required traits of a manager can be applied to organizational value management as well as those managers own. Managing and balancing these three aspects (though these three can be ferned and spanned further when one looks at the micro-level – my next topic of discussion) will make a tremendous development in a positive way, from the role of traditional management (theory X, Y, or Z) to 21st generation management (I call it HuTech-theory, Hu stands for human and Tech refers to technology in this case). Finally, as employees change or upgrade their role from conventionally operational-specialized to operational-specialized-diversified-knowledge workers, managers have to decide swiftly where and how they can fit in this dynamic broad-based organizational equation. There are multiple factors at play, nevertheless, all can be grouped, at least at a macro-level, assuming humans are creator of and above the technology (for obvious reasons at this point in time), into employee-value, organizational-value and manager-value streams.