Why product managers and entrepreneurs need to be more alike

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Whether you’re part of a large, established company or a small, new start-up venture, you need to think like an entrepreneur if you manage products.  Here’s a round-up of some of the presentations and discussions I attended at London’s recent ProductCamp, with links to the slide decks and recommended reading where applicable.

Summary of advice:

  • Know your product, market, company, self: you need to go into your new venture / product management role with your eyes and ears open (via @cathyma)
  • Keep validating your business case: a business case will evolve over time, you need to continue to check your assumptions throughout the process, in parallel with development (via @SaintSal)
  • Learn how to influence others: whether they’re your investors, senior managers or other key stakeholders, convince them your approach is right through hard evidence and diplomacy (via @PaulLomax)

One of the things that struck me… was the significant number of entrepreneurial attendees

One of the things that struck me at ProductCamp, an ‘un-conference’ for product managers and marketers, was the significant number of entrepreneurial attendees from start-ups.  Aside from the great news that these austere times have not discouraged innovation, this got me thinking about how much (or little) in common there would be between product managers carving out their niche at established companies and entrepreneurs taking on the world from a single room with their co-founder.

I was relieved to discover that there is much both groups have in common and equally much they can learn from each other.

Three presentations in particular stood out:

  • Cathy Ma entertained with her experiences of falling into product management uninitiated and having to figure it out from first principles. The seven things she wished she knew prior to taking on her products at IPC Media are hard-earned nuggets of wisdom that any new product manager or entrepreneur would benefit from knowing from the start.
  • Salim Virani led his group through Customer Development, a process aimed at start-ups, which runs in parallel with development and dubbed ‘agile marketing’ by one insightful attendee.   Product managers in established companies will benefit from adopting a similar approach to validate new product ideas prior to and during the creation of the business case.  This slide deck is a more digestible version of Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the EpiphanySalim has compiled a handy list of references.
  • Whether your HiPPO (highest-paid person in the organisation) is an investor or an executive manager, Paul Lomax‘s approach of using evidence and diplomacy to manage and influence them is one that product managers and entrepreneurs alike will need.

Pragmatic Marketing and Product Focus also contributed copies of their most recent publications, which helpfully both offered product management advice for new ventures.  Are you the CEO of your product or just the person that writes up requirements?

In summary, to be a product manager is to be an entrepreneur within your company.

In summary, to be a product manager is to be an entrepreneur within your company.  You need to take ownership and responsibility for all things to do with your product.  Your approach needs to be holistic, evidence-based and diplomatic.  You need the ability to jump between the big picture and the day-to-day detail.  And you need to know your product, market, company and self to be effective.  Good luck!

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