April 1

Knowing What it Takes to be a Product Manager

The bi-polar nature of product management. With the difficulties of being a product manager that are so often spoken about, it’s a wonder why any of us are attracted to the job. It’s a confusing role that regularly calls you to do things that seem the antithesis of what you had been doing only a day before. John Vars, Chief Product Officer at Task Rabbit and INDUSTRY 2016 speaker, summarizes several of these contradictions including being vision vs. data driven and strategic vs. execution focused.

A new skill model for product managers. The ideal product manager candidate has traditionally been viewed as one that has a good understanding of three key areas — user experience, technology, and business. But hiring based on what someone knows about these areas as opposed to the skills it takes to be effective could be faulty, according to Matt LeMay. Instead, he proposes that you hire based on a candidate being skilled at these three things — communication, organization, and execution. What’s eye-opening to me is how this perspective could open the job to a whole new group of people — think ex-military, media professionals or even a restaurant maitre d’.

This is why I never hire product managers. Why not go all out, like David Cancel, and never hire someone who has been a product manager before? Perhaps experience doesn’t really matter and hiring from within ensures that the candidate has the “right DNA” to really understand the product that is being sold.

What happens when “product” is food? Many product managers care for digital products that can be measured, tweaked, and modified. For Elana Karp, her product is food. As the Head of Culinary at recipe/ingredient delivery service darling, Plated, she must think of her product differently than most of her classically trained chef counterparts.


Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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