Josh Goldenberg is the Head of Product for Next Caller, a company that does essential telephony, identification, and fraud validation. He has a background in the public and private sectors and he begins his ProductTank NYC presentation with a quote from Steve Jobs, which underpins the central concept of Servant Leadership
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
Josh takes a brief moment to look at the roadmap of local government. Essentially, everyone answers to the people. However, that means that the people can drastically affect your structure, especially when you have a set budget, rather than being revenue-driven.
To describe the diverse behaviours of work environments where flexible forms of product leadership is essential, Josh also looks at the structures of some big companies, like Amazon and Microsoft. Amazon has one person at the top, with branches coming down and out from them, and Microsoft has a few separate groups with their own leadership trees and one person overseeing all of them. His point with this is that every organization operates differently. Whether it is a government or a company, everyone has different business needs and social interaction methods.
Josh explains that a company’s organizational structure gets even more complicated when it is a start up, because many of the people at the company will be responsible for many different things. We are encouraged to label our organizational structures with terms like “agile” and “lean” but that get’s extremely complicated when your company is constantly going through changes.
Josh points out that working internationally complicates things even further, both in terms of organisational structures and in terms of productivity and coordination.
Even though every company comes up with an organization chart that clearly defines roles and responsibilities and provides a visual structure to their company, the actual structure is never as clean as it appears on paper. Just like with the government’s roadmap, the world moves because of people; the social dynamics within your team are going to end up defining your organizational chart.
Cross Functional Trade-off
The usual cross functional trade-off process involves going through agile scrum, prioritization, measuring KPIs, feedback iterations, balancing resources, coordinating builds, and more. Josh then asks about a product manager’s responsibilities, referencing things like marketing segmentation, customer support, project management, and resource allocation. While these may not technically be considered the product manager’s responsibilities, many product managers do touch on these subjects at some point.
What’s Your Power Base?
Many people are confused, thinking that their power base as a product manager is a position of authority that tells people what to do and how to do it. Josh points out, though, that people rarely report to product managers. Most people report elsewhere, and the product manager is only involved as a person of influence. The product manager must help drive the team in a way that benefits everyone as well as the product, which can prove to be a challenge since most team members have to focus on their own responsibilities and KPIs.
Change the Status Quo
The primary role of the product manager is to change the status quo to the preferred, and to do that as frequently as possible. They are influential in the process, have a perceived lack of direct accountability, and possess ambiguous ownership. With this kind of influence on a team, one can allude that to be a product manager is to be one in a position of privilege.
The Servant Leader
Ultimately, product managers are servant leaders. They excel when their team excels, they understand that their collective team is more capable than individual team members, and they are required to look at both the big and small picture – often in parallel. They need to make decisions that will better the company overall, but they also need to make sure that their team is happy along the way.
Check Your Privilege
First, Josh explains that one way to check yourself is to look at the overall market matrix. When you are developing and evolving a product, it begins on a trajectory. However, at some point your product will approach the end of its current lifespan, so you need to pay attention to product performance so that you know when to start thinking about redirecting your efforts. At that point, you’ll hopefully use disruptive technological innovation to come up with something new, and begin a new healthier trajectory.
Next, Josh references John Maeda, author of Learning Oscillation. At the end of his book, he presents the idea of there being two focal points in learning and knowledge. One is being very stubborn because you think you know everything, and the other is being very cowardly because you think you know nothing. John explains that true learning only occurs in the middle of those two points, when you are willing to take a risk but are still being realistic with yourself. Or, as Josh puts it:
You are not too stubborn, and you are not too cautious.
Being a product manager is about influencing your team and driving your product and company, not taking credit for yourself.