What Product VPs at High-Growth Startups Have in Common
“I think that the number one hiring criterion for a vice president of product management should be someone who’s done it before—who has executive-level product leadership experience”. Do most hiring managers of high-growth startup technology companies feel that way?
When to bring on a product leader in a startup is a tricky question when the CEO herself is the product visionary. The company will benefit hugely from her continuing to direct product strategy, but this will most likely be at the expense of excellence in general management. Thankfully, there are ways the CEO can still drive product without being a bottleneck for the rest of the organization.
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.
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’.
What We Need in a Vice President of Product Management
Hiring a person to lead a product management unit requires many additional capabilities, according to Rich Mironov. The person’s experience should allow them to be an evangelist for product processes internally and be a mentor to product managers below them. Real leadership is required, and the ability to neatly align the activities that they are pursuing with definable business outcomes.
John Vars looks at the contradictory nature of product management square in the face. He has realized that an effective Product Manager will need to think very differently depending on what’s going on at any given time. For instance, she’ll need to be strategic, considering the broader impact of the work she is directing. But she’ll also need to be tactical, with her head down making sure that work is executed correctly.
Julie Babb puts an equal emphasis on both “experience and skill” and “attitude and bias” in terms of importance. The list that her team at Pivotal Labs uses to identify talent includes practical things like “has made data-driven product decisions” but also includes harder-to-identify personality traits like “has strong opinions, loosely held”.
Scaling Product Management at Sendgrid: Growing the Team
Scott Williamson best summarized what he learned scaling SendGrid’s product team himself — “Growing a PM team at a rapidly scaling company is exciting but also full of challenges. You need to unify your team, gain executive support to grow your team and optimize your PM:Design and PM:Engineering ratios, decide on your strategy for “growing” vs. “buying” PMs, and nail the hiring process.
The Intercom team has defined a process that they employed to scale their product team. Although they underline that, although it has worked for them, it may not work for you. A process that works must fit in with your company’s culture. The process involves setting clear guidelines for making decisions (e.g., taking small steps), ensuring that team members are accountable for the responsibilities that they are given, obsessing over a relatively short-term roadmap and being married to the discipline of goal setting.