The 5 habits of highly effective PMs
About us: Andrew (AM) and Chandrika (CM) met during their MBA program at MIT Sloan and connected over their passion for product, growth and paying forward the help they got transitioning into product management. AM currently works as a Product Manager at Moveworks and CM works as a Product Manager at Plaid.
There is no secret sauce to being a great Product Manager. But there are certainly habits you can develop to be an effective Product Manager. These are the unspoken guidelines that aren’t mentioned in the job description but will help improve your product management craft.
CM: In my experience, sharing strategy, quarterly plans, roadmap etc. with all key stakeholders early goes a long way. Earlier in my career, I used to hesitate in sharing work-in-progress plans. Over time I have learnt that I don’t need to wait for a fully baked plan to share it with others. Instead I need to partner with them to come up with my plan.
At the very least, I make sure to have reviewed the plan with each one in either a smaller group or 1:1 before they all come together for a review in a large group setting. Ideally, nothing in those large group meetings should come as a surprise to any of the key stakeholders.
AM: Stakeholder alignment is increasingly necessary within a growing organization as new employees join and organization changes happen often. One key habit is to share insights and ideas within 1-1s. Although I may repeat the same talk track throughout the week, I obtain direct, critical feedback that helps shape a better, more informed plan. When all the stakeholders come together in a meeting, a lot of individual perspectives have already been baked into the idea, making it easier to align as a whole.
Writing meeting notes
CM: Most people think note-taking is grunt work. For PMs, it serves as a great tool to define the narrative and align the cross-functional groups. In the past, I have used notes to refine my understanding of the conclusions from a meeting, define next steps and assign action items to owners. A small but important consideration that works for me is to invite other attendees to add if I missed or edit if I misstated anything in the notes, leaving room for others to contribute.
AM: Note-taking reinforces the understanding of core concepts that may have been shared quickly during a meeting. After the meeting, I follow-up on any ideas I didn’t understand and share those insights in the notes themselves.
3. Taking accountability
CM: In a growth product team, the speed of execution matters as much as (if not more than) the quality of what my team ships. Most launches start as experiments with a hypothesis that does not always get validated (as is the case with experiments!). Whether the experiment leads to positive or negative results, I have found that what's most important is to own the results, learn from them and share these learnings. It's important to share these learnings with your team in retro or other forums and also other teams that would benefit from them.
AM: One of the biggest challenges is to lead a cross-functional team to deliver a new product or feature to a set of initial customers. In such an environment, some deadlines are going to slip, impacting the rest of the team and the customers, who are waiting. If there is a delay, I communicate outwards the new timeline, work with the developer by asking “Is there any way I can help?”, and leverage the additional time to ensure more testing is done. I found that it’s best to simply own it and keep everyone in a positive state of mind until launch. Once things are settled, then perform a post-mortem of the mistake.
CM: When sending out launch updates or results, I make sure to give credit not only to the teams/members directly building the product (eng, design, etc.) but also share it with teams that are enabling the product (marketing, customer support, etc.). As a PM, one of your many roles is that of a cheerleader for not just your immediate team but also your cross-functional team.
AM: Chat platforms such as Slack provide a lot of opportunities to share quick wins when developers roll out something new. As the PM, you can help by quantifying impact as it relates to the customer and business objectives (engineering will appreciate it!)
CM: After a few 1:1s with some of your coworkers, it's natural to become a little complacent about them as you become more comfortable with each other. It helps to remember that 1:1s are some of the most important meetings on your calendar - they help cement relationships, clear roadblocks and solve problems in low pressure settings. As much as possible, treat the schedule for 1:1s as sacred and try not to cancel or reschedule. Otherwise you’d be sending the message that something else is more important than your recurring meeting with your coworker that you’d known about for a while and could have easily scheduled around.
AM: Each morning, I prepare my talking points within a shared “1-1 document” for each meeting. This format drives accountability between both parties as we review any missed deliverables or any follow-ups from the last meeting. For the content, I strike a balance between talking through tasks to be completed and brainstorming/ideaing future activities, e.g. roadmap planning.