Moving from individual contributor to product leader – Jason Knight on The Product Experience "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs January 01 2022 False Career, Podcasts, Product leadership, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 7148 Product Management 28.592

Moving from individual contributor to product leader – Jason Knight on The Product Experience

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There’s a huge shift that takes place when you move from managing a product (with a team) to leading a product team. It’s not just a change in how you spend your day—it’s a whole new outlook, with a focus on different skills and competencies. Jason Knight, Product Director at DueDil, joined us on the podcast to talk about some of the lessons he’s learned along his journey.

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Featured Links: Follow Jason on LinkedIn and Twitter | Jason’s podcast One Knight in Product | Jason’s ‘Moving from Individual Contributor to Product Leader’ article

Episode transcript

Randy Silver: 

Hey Lily, I’m wondering if you’ve come across this site called Let’s settle this on Niall dot fun this week. It’s supposed to help us all settled the big furious internet debates like, you know if it’s pronounced GIF, or GIF.

Lily Smith: 

Oh, please don’t give anyone ideas that gif might even be a thing we all know it’s a gift.

Randy Silver: 

We should know that I agree. But I’m assuming you also know the story about the guy who invented the Moog synthesiser. Yeah, he went to a conference once and got up on stage and introduced himself and said, Hi, I’m Robert Moog, creator of the movie synthesiser. So this stuff can get all screwed up.

Lily Smith: 

I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. But anyway, what does this have to do with the episode? Randy,

Randy Silver: 

there actually was a point. I’ve always wondered about how a product person you know, who always worked with a team can also really be an individual contributor. And that’s exactly one of the reasons well, then a couple other smart things he talks about is why we got Jason knight to join us to chat about that, and the move from individual contributor up to product leader.

Lily Smith: 

Ah, yes. And you might know Jason from his own podcast one night in product, or from the great talk he gave on this very topic.

Randy Silver: 

And Jason’s definitely got a great voice for podcasting. So let’s get straight to settling this debate.

Lily Smith: 

The product experience is brought to you by mind the product.

Randy Silver: 

Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that people love.

Lily Smith: 

Is it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos,

Randy Silver: 

browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, amas roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities.

Lily Smith: 

mining product also offers free product tanked meetups in more than 200 cities, and less probably one.

Randy Silver: 

Jason, thank you so much for coming on our podcast instead of your own for a change.

Jason Knight: 

It’s a pleasure. I think it’s nice to come and see how the other half live from time to time right now it’s important to come to the vaulted cathedrals of power.

Randy Silver: 

I’m sure. So for anyone who doesn’t know you or your voice already, can you give a little intro? Tell us how did you get into product? Tell us about your podcast? And what are you doing for a day job these days?

Jason Knight: 

Oh, so many questions. So little time? Where should I start? So how did I get into product that’s actually a really interesting, kind of messy story, as I guess, many people’s journeys into product have been, I think it’s been a bit of a process over a number of years, I’ve kind of been working in tech and building tech solutions and tech products and kind of in that space for probably about 20 years. And it’s been a really, really slow segue from developing the solutions into starting to kind of plan out the solutions and work with the stakeholders and start doing some of that product thing. So I’ve actually only had product in the job title for about three years. But before that, it was kind of, as I’ve heard from a number of people, they kind of realised that doing product anyway, just across the rest of their career and building so many of those muscles that’s felt like a really natural kind of journey. But at the same time, it wasn’t really a very linear one, I didn’t go to like product University and just come out of a nice diploma and, and then that was me, it’s like it’s been kind of bouncing around loads of different things, then kind of finding my tribe and, and finding the, the position that really suits me the best. When it comes to my current day job, I’m working for a company called Doodle. So we’re a London based big tech company. We provide API’s and web apps and integrations to help banks and financial service providers acquire onboard retain their business customers. So lots of data in there lots of extraction of intelligence out of the data, and then providing that to big enterprises, and smaller players and fintechs. So it’s a pretty exciting space, very disruptive, and kind of replacing a lot of manual effort, which is something that I personally am really keen on like that whole automation and making things efficient, making people’s lives better. So don’t have all these manual horrible tasks and chase down documents manually. Podcast wise. Yeah. Got me on podcast. It’s obviously massively inspired by your work one night in product it’s been going for about 18 months now. Talk to a bunch of product people. So if people ever run out of episodes of yours, I’m happy to invite them over to mind to to have a listen and see if they like the sound of my voice instead.

Lily Smith: 

And you guys should check it out. It’s fantastic. Do my best. So we were going to chat with you this evening about individual contributors and also getting into product lead. ship, and how to make that move and kind of what that move means as well. But tell me, what was it that inspired you to write about this in the first instance?

Jason Knight: 

Well, you know, content is king and all that, right. So you’ve got to reuse and repurpose your content. And one of the things that actually spurred this off, I did a talk at product elevation, which is the Dublin conference that was at the back end of last year. And you know, I’ll be completely open and honest, like, they said, What things can you talk about, and I gave them a list of things I could talk about, I wasn’t like, super passionate about deliberately talking about that thing, but it is an area that I’m really interested in. So then I did that talk, it went, Okay. And I then decided to start repurposing some of that stuff. Because, you know, not everyone went to that. And at the same time, I think it’s actually a topic that really deserves discussion. Because I think it’s fair to say that there’s a large number of people that are kind of just for want of a better word, and let’s just say to insult people blundering into product leadership, because that’s like the next step in their path, like they’re not getting a lot of support, or training or coaching. And in many ways, they’re not really set up for success. And I just think it’s really important for people to realise some of the things that that actually involves, and how they might actually increase their odds a little bit.

Randy Silver: 

Okay, can we talk a little bit about what an individual contributor in product actually is, because it’s not like we actually do anything. That’s not fair. We do a bunch of things. But we are not responsible for doing things. There’s nothing we can do without other people most of time. So what does it actually mean to be an IC in product? Well, yeah,

Jason Knight: 

I think that’s a fair kind of opening statement. But I’d argue that actually, as product people, we do have individual contribution roles and outputs that we can actually, you know, put out there, you know, we’ve got the output of our service, we’ve got the outputs of the planning, and the initiatives and the user stories, if we’re using user stories, and all of the different artefacts that are the result of the good product work that we do. And I’d say that, whilst it’s true that individual contributors on the product side are very much they’re kind of propped up by the rest of the teams that are actually doing the execution for the most part. I mean, I know that some people end up kind of doing a bit of QA or a bit of development or UX themselves as well. But ultimately, if they’re in a really good well functioning team, then yes, they are very much reliant on the talent of the wider team. And there’s this whole idea of kind of managing by influence and not authority and being cross functional, and empowering the team and collaborating. And these are all great things to do. I think that the difference between being an individual contributor and being a product leader is really the the breadth of the role as in, if I’m an individual contributor, I’m assuming in a small company I’m working on maybe the whole product, fine. If I’m working in a bigger company, I’m working maybe on a bit of the product or one of the lines of the product. And if I’m in some way, like Google or Facebook, I’m working on like the search button or something like that, because it’s that granular, and it needs that much attention. And it’s got that much importance behind it. And I think that where I put the product leader, away from that is that they’re there. But we’re put the lead away from that is not so much that they’re just like a more senior product manager, they’re the person that’s sitting there, trying to enable those teams, as many as there are to actually succeed and, you know, set the stage for their success.

Randy Silver: 

So it means you don’t actually, as a product leader, you might not actually be doing any product work. So why would you want to move away from being and

Jason Knight: 

so I think that there’s at least two reasons to want to move away from being an individual contributor to being a leader in any particular role. But let’s continue to talk just about product managers. I think the first reason is like, there’s a certain type of person, there’s a certain type of career ambition around having prestige, power, key to the executive washroom, being able to boss people around and crack the whip. And I’m pretty sure that we’ve all worked for people like that in our careers. Like that is not an unknown dynamic. And I think it’s fair to say that working for someone like that is not necessarily gonna be the most fun. But most people that have worked in any type of company have probably encountered people either directly managing them, or managing teams that aside, and they’ve had to interact with them. I don’t think you want to work for that type of person. But it is a type of person that exists. And then you’ve got the second type of person who’s like, they’ve worked, say, for example, in product management, they’ve worked in plant management for a bunch of years. They’ve shipped loads of product, they’ve done all the staff, they’ve got all the skills they’ve, they’ve done their time. And now they’re sitting there saying, Hey, I’ve got all these skills, all this experience. I’ve got these ambitions to now take those skills and that experience and actually try and make sure that the next generation like the people that are following me, that they’re set up for success because, hey, when I was doing it, it was hard. I knew did support when I was doing it, and therefore, when I go forward, I want to help other people have the best chance to kind of protect them from all the non product thinking that is out there, make sure that they’re supported in doing all the product, things that they want to do. And giving them the benefit of all my experience to try and help them succeed and have the best time possible while they’re doing it as well. But I also should say that there’s a third type of person that gets into this as well. And those are the people that probably didn’t even really want to be leaders in the first place, they kind of felt that they had to, because they’re in a situation where maybe that’s the next step of the career ladder, they didn’t really see that there was any way to progress other than just keep doing what they’re doing, or going into leadership and kind of, again, not really wanting to do it, they’ll they’ll take it, but it’s not really where they’re passionate, they don’t really have any particular interest in coaching people, they just want to be more senior. And I think one of the good things I’ve seen is this whole idea of having a senior individual contributor role where you can be like a principal product manager, or you can be working on these really big problems really senior level, but not having to deal with that low management, which you thought would have had to come at that.

Randy Silver: 

Yeah, thanks. That’s exactly where I was trying to draw that distinction.

Lily Smith: 

And also, I think, one of the reasons, you know, in that instance, behind kind of taking these more senior roles, or the product leadership roles is because they pay the better salaries. Sure, is often, you know,

Jason Knight: 

well, it’s definitely a motivator.

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, major factor for a lot of people, but might not suit everyone. So like you say, having those kinds of principal roles facilitates more earnings without the need to move into that product leadership, sort of space. Absolutely, absolutely. But I’m curious as well, because we’ve kind of talked about it from the individual’s point of view. But there’s also a huge onus on the business’s point of view, to lay out different career paths for, you know, the individual contributor versus the product leader. And this does seem to be, like you say, moving on a lot from where we were 510 years ago. Do you think it’s working? Like in your experience? Does that work? And also, is there really, I mean, I haven’t myself kind of experienced those very senior individual contributor roles. So I’m curious to know how that really kind of works in practice. And if it does solve the problem.

Jason Knight: 

Yeah, to be fair, I’ve not seen that directly myself, in organisations that I’ve worked with, it’s very much been anecdotal and hearing feedback from other people. I have seen it personally with engineering types, for example. So for example, there are engineers that I know that I’ve worked with that, again, they’re not really either interested or set up for that level of management. And people development is not really their passion, it’s not really their kind of wheelhouse. And for that, you know, they would get forced to do that in a very similar way to product people. Or they kind of just linger around, just doing bits and pieces and not having that path. So I think there’s a big parallel there between engineering and product people. And I think that some of the people that I’ve seen that have been given that path have then gone on to really flourish and be really good senior engineers, helping us solve some of the biggest problems that we have, in ways that their peers maybe can’t because of, you know, their skill sets or the experience that they have. And unencumbered by that leadership burden, let’s call it the the the unnecessary overhead of them having to manage the individual careers of individual people within their teams and coming up with development plans and coming up with coaching plans, like not everyone’s set up for that. And we should be completely okay with that. Like, everyone’s got their own unique skills to bring to the party. That’s in many ways, the whole point of having cross functional teams. And if we imagine some kind of notional cross functional organisation, like everyone’s got their part to play, but you shouldn’t be forcing people to do things that they don’t actually want to do. In a kind of slight tangent, like the same reason that you shouldn’t force engineers to go to discovery if they don’t want to, you certainly want some engineers to go to discovery, but some people aren’t going to be into that. And you should embrace that as much as possible, as long as you do have some people to do that. So again, it’s about having that balance of people and making sure that you use people’s talents in the most effective way. Okay, so

Randy Silver: 

I’ve made it I’ve blundered or, or not 100, hopefully, into a role where I’m the most senior product person, whether it’s in my company, my division, you know, just I have a big I am, by anyone’s definition, a leader in product in in my sphere of influence. What do we need to know, you know, how is my job going to be different than when I was an individual contributor or maybe even a product manager who had some line management responsibility, but not necessarily did what the top CEO

Jason Knight: 

Yeah, so one of the things I’ve tried to describe as it’s like, being a product leader isn’t just like being a product manager, but a bit more legally. Like there’s other responsibilities that you probably didn’t have. When you are more of an individual contributor, that again, you say there could be senior PMS that maybe had some line management responsibility. And obviously, these senior PMS or even non senior PMS are working cross functionally and leading with influence throughout their teams all the time. So I think it’s a fair point to say that there’s some level of leadership in all product managers to some degree, I think when you get to this whole top level, product leadership position, you’re really there to be the advocate for product and even the existence of product within the company. And to defend product as a practice, to be that kind of exec whisper that can sit between product and the executive team and make sure that the executive team understand the benefit and the reasons and the justifications for the things you’re doing. And if you’re working in a bigger company that has a bunch of product lines, or different teams, then you’re kind of responsible for all of those things. And you said earlier, like, are these people doing actual product management, it’s like, well, kind of not like they need to be grounded in product management, they need to understand product management, they need to understand how product managers work, they need to understand how products are built. But I think so much of their role becomes softer, even then product managers like they’re having to work on cross functional cross team upwards and downwards communication, having to work on coaching. So having to work on coaching, they have to work on ideal team and organisational setup to make sure that the company’s able to succeed in whatever initiatives that it’s got on its plate. Those who got to hire, they got to fire, you got to inspire. It’s like, all these different things that they have to do that, was it doing a bit of it that individual contributor level, it’s just wider. And I guess I’d classify it almost as like a zoom level where you’re kind of zooming out so that you can see more of the picture. And you’re responsible for more of the picture.

Lily Smith: 

And those different areas that you just mentioned there and kind of communication coaching, team structure, hiring, firing, inspiration, and I know you mentioned strategy as well. Yeah, they’re actually like you say they’re all things that are very different from what you’re doing in a day to day product manager role. Well, not very different, but potentially quite different. So how do you then like, what’s your kind of experience of gaining experience or like gaining the skills that you need in each of these different areas? And I think, you know, they’re all very different.

Jason Knight: 

So yeah, I think that you’re right, that’s a very wide portfolio of skills. And as per the earlier point, there’s like this unspoken truth that many leaders just end up in leadership with very little support or coaching. And I was actually speaking to a guy on my podcast a few weeks back around leadership, and this idea that people don’t really like to introspect themselves as much as possible, like people don’t want to look at themselves and start to identify their own weaknesses and see what they’re not very good at. And they kind of just try and get on with it, to some extent. And I think that this concept that I’ve come up with is this idea that, for example, if I get a job, my first job as a leader, product or otherwise, and I don’t have that coaching, and I don’t have that training and that support, all I have to do is look at maybe my boss, and what they’re doing, or bosses that I’ve had in the past and what they’ve done. And as this also uncomfortable truths that they’re probably blundering along themselves, because they probably even get any support themselves, when they were coming into leadership. So they kind of worked out from their bosses, who similarly didn’t have any support. And so like, you’ve just got this entire chain of people who are learning from people that never really learned how to do this stuff. So for me, it’s all about, I mean, there’s a few things you can do, obviously, I mean, I’m a big reader, I like to read, I like to read books about this stuff. I’m very boring. Therefore, I can use that to help to challenge my own thinking. Obviously, things like we review, YouTube and the podcast and me and my podcast, you know, we get to talk to a bunch of people about this stuff all the time. And that helps to challenge my thinking, going to talks and going to seminars, and watching webinars that helps to challenge our thinking as well. But more than all of this, I think there’s just an absolute requirement for there to be some investment in coaching by the people that are promoting these people into that position, and some investment in them. Either leadership coaching, you know, just leadership coaching of any sort would still be more beneficial than none. Obviously, product leadership would be an even better course to put them on, but any kind of leadership to kind of give them some of the inspiration that they need to become the coaches and the organisers and the hires and the fires and the strategic people that they need to be. I think it’s absolutely critical. To get that coaching and that teaching early, because otherwise people just lapse into bad habits.

Randy Silver: 

So just now just need to give you a piece of advice, because we’re the podcasting veterans now. And I know you’re just being self deprecating, but if you want people to listen to your podcast, and don’t tell them how boring you are,

Jason Knight: 

oh, no, I’m gonna burn books. I am fascinating when I’m talking on my podcast. Absolutely. 100%.

Randy Silver: 

Okay, much better. Thank you. So going back to the skills you’re talking about, these are things that we’ve probably done a piece of in the past, we’ve, you know, had to do it at the individual team level. But when I’m an individual contributor, I have Northstars, I have OKRs, I have KPIs that I can measure, it tells me if I’m doing my job, well, if my job is around communication and inspiration and strategy, how do I measure these? What? What do we do? How do I grade myself on these things? Yeah,

Jason Knight: 

I mean, it’s obviously very difficult to measure inspiration. It’s something but I’m sure people have tried, I’m sure there’s some framework somewhere where people can try to measure how inspiring they are. And maybe if there’s not, then I’m going to try and write a book about that. So we can all we can all take some finder’s fees on that one. I think, in many ways, as with product as a whole, like, the biggest overall success is the success of the product in however that’s measured. So for example, well, actually no, rewind slightly, it’s not even just that it’s obviously the growth of the company. It’s the performance of the company, and the revenue that that product drives and the number of users and the satisfaction with that product. And the scale that that drives like, these are the ultimate goals of any company, right? Unless it’s a charity, or a company that wants to go bankrupt, like everyone wants to grow and get better and do good things off of the back of that product. So I know it sounds kind of silly, but things like Have I got a good strategy. Well, okay, how is the product performing? How, if you can come up with some kind of overall KPI for the overall like a North Star? Basically, not everyone’s got their North Stars or their southern crosses, if they’re down south. And they’re all sitting there, trying to optimise for that in whatever bit of the product that they’re responsible for. But what’s the North Star or Southern Cross for the entire product? What’s the overall KPI? What’s overall success look like? Is it just revenue for the company? Or is there something a bit more product focused that you can focus on? And if you can identify that, then you can try and hopefully use all of your supporting efforts to drive that metric up? But yeah, inspiration. It’s, it’s tricky, I guess. Ultimately, there are things like staff surveys and things like that you can do to try and work out how people feel about you. But that’s not always gonna be 100% accurate, because people might be scared because you’re terrifying leader. So these are things that you have to bear in mind as well.

Randy Silver: 

That’s it. That’s actually something I’m curious about. Because that terrifying leader that autocrat? They can be incredibly successful. Oh, yeah. And we’ve seen it time and time again. Probably usually, you know, they’ll drive other people at the business, things like that. But the overall business success, at least in the short term can be tremendous. Yeah. So is that the right way of measuring it? Is it the success? Is that enough to just say it’s the success of the business in the product?

Jason Knight: 

Well, I mean, I think success of the business and the product is obviously an important metric. But you’ve got to understand how you get there as well, right? So there have to be ways to measure people’s satisfaction with that leader. If everyone’s terrified or hates that leader, there’s going to be ways to find that out even if that person is a dictator, and makes it very hard to like they punish people for saying bad things about them. There are ways to find that out if you’ve got a sensitive overall leadership if people talk to each other and communicate to each other within the company. And if you don’t have those things, then actually, that in itself represents something about the company that you’re going to need to fix anyway, like you need to be able to have those open communications. Now, is it fair to say that there were some leaders all the way up to CEO level that probably wouldn’t give a monkey’s if that was the case, as long as those results were coming in 100%. There are people out there that will accept that kind of behaviour, because all by God, they get results. It’s like, well, brilliant, they will get results, but they’re not you say everyone will end up leaving, and I’ll end up with a team totally different, or maybe no team at all, having to offshore everything because I can’t get people to come in the glass door goes through the floor. Like there’s gonna be repercussions of that. But at the same time, I think it is fair to say that that’s going to take a bit of time, and it might not save the people that are working there at the beginning of that process.

Lily Smith: 

And just thinking back as well into the kind of the initial like core of the topic which is moving from IC into product leadership. As an individual contributor, or, you know, just general product manager, you know, is there a moment in time when you feel or know that you’re ready to move into that product leadership role, because I know a few people who are just like, I just need to, like learn this, and then I can apply for more senior roles, or I just need to do this, and then I can do it. And they feel like they actually already very capable of doing the role, they just haven’t done it yet. So it’s kind of holding them back. So is there you know, at that stage of making, you know, applying for that initial promotion, or kind of pushing for that initial promotion, or applying for that senior position, like that they should be thinking about or considering?

Jason Knight: 

Well, I think imposter syndrome is rife throughout product management, right. So lots of people are going to sit there and judge themselves and think that they’re not any good or that they aren’t good enough, or that they can’t make that step. And then you’ve got this kind of chasm, if we go back to Crossing the Chasm type imagery, like there’s a gap probably to jump between thinking that you’re decent pm and thinking that you’re a good product leader, because there is a jump, and there are a bunch of things that you’re gonna have to be good at that you might not have been as good at before or as consistently good across all of them, as you will probably need to be to be an effective leader, I think there’s a couple of ways to look at it, right. So on the one hand, you could look at people and say, Look, this person, maybe they’re a senior PM, and they’ve already got a couple of reports, or maybe they’re just punching way above their weight, because they’re already doing some leadership type stuff. And they’re demonstrating those skills on a daily basis, they maybe just don’t see it, I think that’s the job of the leadership of that company, or the leadership of the product organisation, depending on the size of both of those things, to identify that and nurture it and coach that and coach those people up. I think the alternative way to look at it is when you look at a product leadership position, like a job spec, now, we have to own up to the fact that many of those job specs are going to be completely trash, dumpster fire job specs, because many, many, many product jobs of all descriptions have dumpster fire job specs. But if you look at that job specification, does it excite you, like Does doing those things? Whether you think that you’re any good at them or not yet? Does the fundamental concept of doing those things resonate with you? Or does it fill you with absolute horror? Because if it fills you with hollow, you probably shouldn’t even go near it. If you’re just not sure if you’d be quite good enough at it yet, but you really want to do it. I think you should push yourself in that direction, to be honest.

Randy Silver: 

So here’s one other thing on that, Jason. When we manage a product team, you know, we were not expecting ourselves to do everything in terms of all the development, all the QA, all the design, etc. So when you are in that leadership position, should you make sure that you are doing all of those things around communication, coaching strategy, everything else? Or is it something that you need to make sure it’s covered that other people can take parts of it somewhere, all that

Jason Knight: 

I think we want to empower teams. So cliche, obviously, is from all the different good books about products. So it’s not a controversial thing to say that we should empower our teams. But I think we should empower teams, we need to give our team’s areas of control or areas of responsibility, and they should have as much possibility to affect change and hit the goals and hit the targets that those particular areas have. Absolutely, I don’t think there’s any controversy over wanting to or there shouldn’t be any controversy. I know there probably isn’t some companies, but there shouldn’t be any controversy over trying to bring these people up and making sure that they can contribute as much as they can. I think from a leadership perspective, you absolutely need to understand that it’s your job to make sure that these things get done in some way, shape or form. So if the company is having problems, communicate or have other if the product team is having communication problems, or if there are problems with the people within the teams that they’re not able to perform for whatever reason, like they’re missing some skills, or they’re missing some context, or any of the things that can impact on their job. So if the teams aren’t set up, right, if you’ve not got enough PMS or if the PMs aren’t performing, and they need to be potentially moved on, if you don’t have a strategy, if the team don’t know what they’re coming to work for, and why they should be even excited about their product. It is definitely your responsibility to make sure all of those things happen. But I aren’t 100% thing that is the responsibility of everyone. But I definitely think it’s 100% responsibility of everyone within those teams to contribute to that mission. And you’re there then to help draw that out of them and support them when they have trouble doing that.

Lily Smith: 

And I think there’s one of the interesting thing that I’m just gonna circle back to you, like you mentioned earlier, a lot of us, you know, we don’t get taught this stuff, but we have the product leaders that we work for, as, as example. pools of how to do it. But in many cases, it may also be examples of how not to do it.

Jason Knight: 

Yes, yes, that does happen.

Lily Smith: 

And, and I kind of I just want to give those people who are in that situation, some hope, in that actually, if you are working in that situation, it is still really valuable to learn how not to do something. And to be able to see how things aren’t, you know, don’t work for people and identify how you would do it differently. If you were in that leadership role.

Randy Silver: 

You know, we can before you answer that, and just just go give a shout out to a former guest of ours clear glue, who had the green line of make sure you’re not somebody else’s worst boss, because you will definitely you, we all know what that looks like. And keep in mind is a really good thing.

Jason Knight: 

I’m gonna quote someone you may have heard of Emily Tate, who said on my podcast that even if you’ve worked for a really bad company, or if you’ve worked in a really suboptimal way, or if you’ve worked with bad people, I mean, I’m probably paraphrasing, but the basic point is, if you’ve worked somewhere, that’s not ideal. The most important thing when you move to say your next job is to understand all of the things that went wrong with that, and how you would have done things differently. Had you had the chance. Now, apologies to Emily, if I’ve misquoted that, but that’s the basic thrust of that argument. And I think it’s completely valid, like, I’ve worked in the past for less than ideal product organisations or product teams, because of whatever reasons, and there are always reasons and to be honest, I’m not even going to blame some of the people that were responsible for that because everyone, I genuinely believe everyone’s trying to do their best job. Just not everyone necessarily set up for it. We shouldn’t kind of transmit our own disappointment with them on to their motives like they’re trying. It’s just they don’t know how to do things the way that maybe they should have done them. And that’s completely fair enough. We’ve all been in that situation ourselves. So I think back to the point, or back to the question, yes, it’s 100% valid to sit there and learn what you can about how products are made, even if they’re not made in the best way. Like there’s still valuable lessons to learn. And you can take something from what you’re doing, there’s always something that you can get even in a suboptimal organisation, right. Like, maybe they’re not very good at doing the strategy stuff. Or maybe they’re a bit micromanaging, but you can work out how to run sprints, and you didn’t do that before. Now you know how to run sprints, or some version of sprints. Or, you know, maybe they’re really good at research, but they’ve got a very low performing engineering team because of reasons. And that’s something that you struggling to get work out and actually delivering features, but you’re really getting to grips with the use of research and some of the other stuff. Like there’s always something that you can learn. But you do have to really own up to what you’re learning wrongly based on our definition of what’s wrong and right. And then try to use that to your advantage, as per Emily’s point that you go forward and you say, Okay, now, in my next job, I want to do it differently. I don’t want to work for a company like that anymore. I want to go and work for a company that, well, I can use my experience to identify some of the maybe bad smells, that that that kind of company has, and work for a different company do things a different way and then kind of continue that learning journey, hopefully with a better outcome.

Lily Smith: 

Jason, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I think that was an excellent last point. And

Jason Knight: 

mainly Emily’s so you can for that one, I guess.

Lily Smith: 

Well, it was very well. I was gonna say regurgitated. But that’s not a great word. Is it?

Jason Knight: 

A mommy bird.

Randy Silver: 

None of us are all that original. We don’t get it. We get points for knowing when to use the Smart

Jason Knight: 

banker quotes in my back pocket 104 episodes long, so I’m happy to use them whenever needed.

Lily Smith: 

Jason, thanks very much. No problem. Thanks for having me. So, after we had that fantastic chat with Jason, we then stopped recording and went on to have another fantastic chat about who the best Batman is. So I think we’re gonna have to set up another Let’s settle this debate thing on Neil fun about who the best Batman is. But who would it be between Randy because you can only have two options.

Randy Silver: 

Um, let’s see. That can’t be George Clooney. It might be Adam West and Michael Keaton.

Lily Smith: 

Oh, I see. I would have gone Michael Keaton or Lego Batman. Yeah, well,

Randy Silver: 

we did kind of agree on who the best Batman and second best Batman were and it was the two of them. But Joker Joker’s we had a bigger debate on but that’s fine. Another episode.

Lily Smith: 

And as usual, if you are enjoying all of our shenanigans over here on the production experience, please like us, follow us subscribe and let us know chat to us on Twitter or whatever. We love getting feedback from you.

Randy Silver: 

And if you have opinions on best Batman, best Joker’s best Catwoman best any of that, please do let us know because we definitely have opinions on the topic.

Lily Smith: 

Take care and see you next time.

Randy Silver: 

See you next time.

Lily Smith: 

Haste, me, Lily Smith

Randy Silver: 

and me Randy silver.

Lily Smith: 

Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver: 

Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that’s pa you thanks to Ana killer who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and plays bass in the band for willingness to use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tank or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide.

Lily Smith: 

If there’s not one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank.

Randy Silver: 

Product Tech is a global community of meetups during buy in for product people. We offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share greetings and tips.

There's a huge shift that takes place when you move from managing a product (with a team) to leading a product team. It's not just a change in how you spend your day—it's a whole new outlook, with a focus on different skills and competencies. Jason Knight, Product Director at DueDil, joined us on the podcast to talk about some of the lessons he's learned along his journey. Listen to more episodes…
Featured Links: Follow Jason on LinkedIn and Twitter | Jason's podcast One Knight in Product | Jason's 'Moving from Individual Contributor to Product Leader' article

Episode transcript

Randy Silver:  Hey Lily, I'm wondering if you've come across this site called Let's settle this on Niall dot fun this week. It's supposed to help us all settled the big furious internet debates like, you know if it's pronounced GIF, or GIF. Lily Smith:  Oh, please don't give anyone ideas that gif might even be a thing we all know it's a gift. Randy Silver:  We should know that I agree. But I'm assuming you also know the story about the guy who invented the Moog synthesiser. Yeah, he went to a conference once and got up on stage and introduced himself and said, Hi, I'm Robert Moog, creator of the movie synthesiser. So this stuff can get all screwed up. Lily Smith:  I literally have no idea what you're talking about. But anyway, what does this have to do with the episode? Randy, Randy Silver:  there actually was a point. I've always wondered about how a product person you know, who always worked with a team can also really be an individual contributor. And that's exactly one of the reasons well, then a couple other smart things he talks about is why we got Jason knight to join us to chat about that, and the move from individual contributor up to product leader. Lily Smith:  Ah, yes. And you might know Jason from his own podcast one night in product, or from the great talk he gave on this very topic. Randy Silver:  And Jason's definitely got a great voice for podcasting. So let's get straight to settling this debate. Lily Smith:  The product experience is brought to you by mind the product. Randy Silver:  Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that people love. Lily Smith:  Is it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos, Randy Silver:  browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, amas roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities. Lily Smith:  mining product also offers free product tanked meetups in more than 200 cities, and less probably one. Randy Silver:  Jason, thank you so much for coming on our podcast instead of your own for a change. Jason Knight:  It's a pleasure. I think it's nice to come and see how the other half live from time to time right now it's important to come to the vaulted cathedrals of power. Randy Silver:  I'm sure. So for anyone who doesn't know you or your voice already, can you give a little intro? Tell us how did you get into product? Tell us about your podcast? And what are you doing for a day job these days? Jason Knight:  Oh, so many questions. So little time? Where should I start? So how did I get into product that's actually a really interesting, kind of messy story, as I guess, many people's journeys into product have been, I think it's been a bit of a process over a number of years, I've kind of been working in tech and building tech solutions and tech products and kind of in that space for probably about 20 years. And it's been a really, really slow segue from developing the solutions into starting to kind of plan out the solutions and work with the stakeholders and start doing some of that product thing. So I've actually only had product in the job title for about three years. But before that, it was kind of, as I've heard from a number of people, they kind of realised that doing product anyway, just across the rest of their career and building so many of those muscles that's felt like a really natural kind of journey. But at the same time, it wasn't really a very linear one, I didn't go to like product University and just come out of a nice diploma and, and then that was me, it's like it's been kind of bouncing around loads of different things, then kind of finding my tribe and, and finding the, the position that really suits me the best. When it comes to my current day job, I'm working for a company called Doodle. So we're a London based big tech company. We provide API's and web apps and integrations to help banks and financial service providers acquire onboard retain their business customers. So lots of data in there lots of extraction of intelligence out of the data, and then providing that to big enterprises, and smaller players and fintechs. So it's a pretty exciting space, very disruptive, and kind of replacing a lot of manual effort, which is something that I personally am really keen on like that whole automation and making things efficient, making people's lives better. So don't have all these manual horrible tasks and chase down documents manually. Podcast wise. Yeah. Got me on podcast. It's obviously massively inspired by your work one night in product it's been going for about 18 months now. Talk to a bunch of product people. So if people ever run out of episodes of yours, I'm happy to invite them over to mind to to have a listen and see if they like the sound of my voice instead. Lily Smith:  And you guys should check it out. It's fantastic. Do my best. So we were going to chat with you this evening about individual contributors and also getting into product lead. ship, and how to make that move and kind of what that move means as well. But tell me, what was it that inspired you to write about this in the first instance? Jason Knight:  Well, you know, content is king and all that, right. So you've got to reuse and repurpose your content. And one of the things that actually spurred this off, I did a talk at product elevation, which is the Dublin conference that was at the back end of last year. And you know, I'll be completely open and honest, like, they said, What things can you talk about, and I gave them a list of things I could talk about, I wasn't like, super passionate about deliberately talking about that thing, but it is an area that I'm really interested in. So then I did that talk, it went, Okay. And I then decided to start repurposing some of that stuff. Because, you know, not everyone went to that. And at the same time, I think it's actually a topic that really deserves discussion. Because I think it's fair to say that there's a large number of people that are kind of just for want of a better word, and let's just say to insult people blundering into product leadership, because that's like the next step in their path, like they're not getting a lot of support, or training or coaching. And in many ways, they're not really set up for success. And I just think it's really important for people to realise some of the things that that actually involves, and how they might actually increase their odds a little bit. Randy Silver:  Okay, can we talk a little bit about what an individual contributor in product actually is, because it's not like we actually do anything. That's not fair. We do a bunch of things. But we are not responsible for doing things. There's nothing we can do without other people most of time. So what does it actually mean to be an IC in product? Well, yeah, Jason Knight:  I think that's a fair kind of opening statement. But I'd argue that actually, as product people, we do have individual contribution roles and outputs that we can actually, you know, put out there, you know, we've got the output of our service, we've got the outputs of the planning, and the initiatives and the user stories, if we're using user stories, and all of the different artefacts that are the result of the good product work that we do. And I'd say that, whilst it's true that individual contributors on the product side are very much they're kind of propped up by the rest of the teams that are actually doing the execution for the most part. I mean, I know that some people end up kind of doing a bit of QA or a bit of development or UX themselves as well. But ultimately, if they're in a really good well functioning team, then yes, they are very much reliant on the talent of the wider team. And there's this whole idea of kind of managing by influence and not authority and being cross functional, and empowering the team and collaborating. And these are all great things to do. I think that the difference between being an individual contributor and being a product leader is really the the breadth of the role as in, if I'm an individual contributor, I'm assuming in a small company I'm working on maybe the whole product, fine. If I'm working in a bigger company, I'm working maybe on a bit of the product or one of the lines of the product. And if I'm in some way, like Google or Facebook, I'm working on like the search button or something like that, because it's that granular, and it needs that much attention. And it's got that much importance behind it. And I think that where I put the product leader, away from that is that they're there. But we're put the lead away from that is not so much that they're just like a more senior product manager, they're the person that's sitting there, trying to enable those teams, as many as there are to actually succeed and, you know, set the stage for their success. Randy Silver:  So it means you don't actually, as a product leader, you might not actually be doing any product work. So why would you want to move away from being and Jason Knight:  so I think that there's at least two reasons to want to move away from being an individual contributor to being a leader in any particular role. But let's continue to talk just about product managers. I think the first reason is like, there's a certain type of person, there's a certain type of career ambition around having prestige, power, key to the executive washroom, being able to boss people around and crack the whip. And I'm pretty sure that we've all worked for people like that in our careers. Like that is not an unknown dynamic. And I think it's fair to say that working for someone like that is not necessarily gonna be the most fun. But most people that have worked in any type of company have probably encountered people either directly managing them, or managing teams that aside, and they've had to interact with them. I don't think you want to work for that type of person. But it is a type of person that exists. And then you've got the second type of person who's like, they've worked, say, for example, in product management, they've worked in plant management for a bunch of years. They've shipped loads of product, they've done all the staff, they've got all the skills they've, they've done their time. And now they're sitting there saying, Hey, I've got all these skills, all this experience. I've got these ambitions to now take those skills and that experience and actually try and make sure that the next generation like the people that are following me, that they're set up for success because, hey, when I was doing it, it was hard. I knew did support when I was doing it, and therefore, when I go forward, I want to help other people have the best chance to kind of protect them from all the non product thinking that is out there, make sure that they're supported in doing all the product, things that they want to do. And giving them the benefit of all my experience to try and help them succeed and have the best time possible while they're doing it as well. But I also should say that there's a third type of person that gets into this as well. And those are the people that probably didn't even really want to be leaders in the first place, they kind of felt that they had to, because they're in a situation where maybe that's the next step of the career ladder, they didn't really see that there was any way to progress other than just keep doing what they're doing, or going into leadership and kind of, again, not really wanting to do it, they'll they'll take it, but it's not really where they're passionate, they don't really have any particular interest in coaching people, they just want to be more senior. And I think one of the good things I've seen is this whole idea of having a senior individual contributor role where you can be like a principal product manager, or you can be working on these really big problems really senior level, but not having to deal with that low management, which you thought would have had to come at that. Randy Silver:  Yeah, thanks. That's exactly where I was trying to draw that distinction. Lily Smith:  And also, I think, one of the reasons, you know, in that instance, behind kind of taking these more senior roles, or the product leadership roles is because they pay the better salaries. Sure, is often, you know, Jason Knight:  well, it's definitely a motivator. Lily Smith:  Yeah, major factor for a lot of people, but might not suit everyone. So like you say, having those kinds of principal roles facilitates more earnings without the need to move into that product leadership, sort of space. Absolutely, absolutely. But I'm curious as well, because we've kind of talked about it from the individual's point of view. But there's also a huge onus on the business's point of view, to lay out different career paths for, you know, the individual contributor versus the product leader. And this does seem to be, like you say, moving on a lot from where we were 510 years ago. Do you think it's working? Like in your experience? Does that work? And also, is there really, I mean, I haven't myself kind of experienced those very senior individual contributor roles. So I'm curious to know how that really kind of works in practice. And if it does solve the problem. Jason Knight:  Yeah, to be fair, I've not seen that directly myself, in organisations that I've worked with, it's very much been anecdotal and hearing feedback from other people. I have seen it personally with engineering types, for example. So for example, there are engineers that I know that I've worked with that, again, they're not really either interested or set up for that level of management. And people development is not really their passion, it's not really their kind of wheelhouse. And for that, you know, they would get forced to do that in a very similar way to product people. Or they kind of just linger around, just doing bits and pieces and not having that path. So I think there's a big parallel there between engineering and product people. And I think that some of the people that I've seen that have been given that path have then gone on to really flourish and be really good senior engineers, helping us solve some of the biggest problems that we have, in ways that their peers maybe can't because of, you know, their skill sets or the experience that they have. And unencumbered by that leadership burden, let's call it the the the unnecessary overhead of them having to manage the individual careers of individual people within their teams and coming up with development plans and coming up with coaching plans, like not everyone's set up for that. And we should be completely okay with that. Like, everyone's got their own unique skills to bring to the party. That's in many ways, the whole point of having cross functional teams. And if we imagine some kind of notional cross functional organisation, like everyone's got their part to play, but you shouldn't be forcing people to do things that they don't actually want to do. In a kind of slight tangent, like the same reason that you shouldn't force engineers to go to discovery if they don't want to, you certainly want some engineers to go to discovery, but some people aren't going to be into that. And you should embrace that as much as possible, as long as you do have some people to do that. So again, it's about having that balance of people and making sure that you use people's talents in the most effective way. Okay, so Randy Silver:  I've made it I've blundered or, or not 100, hopefully, into a role where I'm the most senior product person, whether it's in my company, my division, you know, just I have a big I am, by anyone's definition, a leader in product in in my sphere of influence. What do we need to know, you know, how is my job going to be different than when I was an individual contributor or maybe even a product manager who had some line management responsibility, but not necessarily did what the top CEO Jason Knight:  Yeah, so one of the things I've tried to describe as it's like, being a product leader isn't just like being a product manager, but a bit more legally. Like there's other responsibilities that you probably didn't have. When you are more of an individual contributor, that again, you say there could be senior PMS that maybe had some line management responsibility. And obviously, these senior PMS or even non senior PMS are working cross functionally and leading with influence throughout their teams all the time. So I think it's a fair point to say that there's some level of leadership in all product managers to some degree, I think when you get to this whole top level, product leadership position, you're really there to be the advocate for product and even the existence of product within the company. And to defend product as a practice, to be that kind of exec whisper that can sit between product and the executive team and make sure that the executive team understand the benefit and the reasons and the justifications for the things you're doing. And if you're working in a bigger company that has a bunch of product lines, or different teams, then you're kind of responsible for all of those things. And you said earlier, like, are these people doing actual product management, it's like, well, kind of not like they need to be grounded in product management, they need to understand product management, they need to understand how product managers work, they need to understand how products are built. But I think so much of their role becomes softer, even then product managers like they're having to work on cross functional cross team upwards and downwards communication, having to work on coaching. So having to work on coaching, they have to work on ideal team and organisational setup to make sure that the company's able to succeed in whatever initiatives that it's got on its plate. Those who got to hire, they got to fire, you got to inspire. It's like, all these different things that they have to do that, was it doing a bit of it that individual contributor level, it's just wider. And I guess I'd classify it almost as like a zoom level where you're kind of zooming out so that you can see more of the picture. And you're responsible for more of the picture. Lily Smith:  And those different areas that you just mentioned there and kind of communication coaching, team structure, hiring, firing, inspiration, and I know you mentioned strategy as well. Yeah, they're actually like you say they're all things that are very different from what you're doing in a day to day product manager role. Well, not very different, but potentially quite different. So how do you then like, what's your kind of experience of gaining experience or like gaining the skills that you need in each of these different areas? And I think, you know, they're all very different. Jason Knight:  So yeah, I think that you're right, that's a very wide portfolio of skills. And as per the earlier point, there's like this unspoken truth that many leaders just end up in leadership with very little support or coaching. And I was actually speaking to a guy on my podcast a few weeks back around leadership, and this idea that people don't really like to introspect themselves as much as possible, like people don't want to look at themselves and start to identify their own weaknesses and see what they're not very good at. And they kind of just try and get on with it, to some extent. And I think that this concept that I've come up with is this idea that, for example, if I get a job, my first job as a leader, product or otherwise, and I don't have that coaching, and I don't have that training and that support, all I have to do is look at maybe my boss, and what they're doing, or bosses that I've had in the past and what they've done. And as this also uncomfortable truths that they're probably blundering along themselves, because they probably even get any support themselves, when they were coming into leadership. So they kind of worked out from their bosses, who similarly didn't have any support. And so like, you've just got this entire chain of people who are learning from people that never really learned how to do this stuff. So for me, it's all about, I mean, there's a few things you can do, obviously, I mean, I'm a big reader, I like to read, I like to read books about this stuff. I'm very boring. Therefore, I can use that to help to challenge my own thinking. Obviously, things like we review, YouTube and the podcast and me and my podcast, you know, we get to talk to a bunch of people about this stuff all the time. And that helps to challenge my thinking, going to talks and going to seminars, and watching webinars that helps to challenge our thinking as well. But more than all of this, I think there's just an absolute requirement for there to be some investment in coaching by the people that are promoting these people into that position, and some investment in them. Either leadership coaching, you know, just leadership coaching of any sort would still be more beneficial than none. Obviously, product leadership would be an even better course to put them on, but any kind of leadership to kind of give them some of the inspiration that they need to become the coaches and the organisers and the hires and the fires and the strategic people that they need to be. I think it's absolutely critical. To get that coaching and that teaching early, because otherwise people just lapse into bad habits. Randy Silver:  So just now just need to give you a piece of advice, because we're the podcasting veterans now. And I know you're just being self deprecating, but if you want people to listen to your podcast, and don't tell them how boring you are, Jason Knight:  oh, no, I'm gonna burn books. I am fascinating when I'm talking on my podcast. Absolutely. 100%. Randy Silver:  Okay, much better. Thank you. So going back to the skills you're talking about, these are things that we've probably done a piece of in the past, we've, you know, had to do it at the individual team level. But when I'm an individual contributor, I have Northstars, I have OKRs, I have KPIs that I can measure, it tells me if I'm doing my job, well, if my job is around communication and inspiration and strategy, how do I measure these? What? What do we do? How do I grade myself on these things? Yeah, Jason Knight:  I mean, it's obviously very difficult to measure inspiration. It's something but I'm sure people have tried, I'm sure there's some framework somewhere where people can try to measure how inspiring they are. And maybe if there's not, then I'm going to try and write a book about that. So we can all we can all take some finder's fees on that one. I think, in many ways, as with product as a whole, like, the biggest overall success is the success of the product in however that's measured. So for example, well, actually no, rewind slightly, it's not even just that it's obviously the growth of the company. It's the performance of the company, and the revenue that that product drives and the number of users and the satisfaction with that product. And the scale that that drives like, these are the ultimate goals of any company, right? Unless it's a charity, or a company that wants to go bankrupt, like everyone wants to grow and get better and do good things off of the back of that product. So I know it sounds kind of silly, but things like Have I got a good strategy. Well, okay, how is the product performing? How, if you can come up with some kind of overall KPI for the overall like a North Star? Basically, not everyone's got their North Stars or their southern crosses, if they're down south. And they're all sitting there, trying to optimise for that in whatever bit of the product that they're responsible for. But what's the North Star or Southern Cross for the entire product? What's the overall KPI? What's overall success look like? Is it just revenue for the company? Or is there something a bit more product focused that you can focus on? And if you can identify that, then you can try and hopefully use all of your supporting efforts to drive that metric up? But yeah, inspiration. It's, it's tricky, I guess. Ultimately, there are things like staff surveys and things like that you can do to try and work out how people feel about you. But that's not always gonna be 100% accurate, because people might be scared because you're terrifying leader. So these are things that you have to bear in mind as well. Randy Silver:  That's it. That's actually something I'm curious about. Because that terrifying leader that autocrat? They can be incredibly successful. Oh, yeah. And we've seen it time and time again. Probably usually, you know, they'll drive other people at the business, things like that. But the overall business success, at least in the short term can be tremendous. Yeah. So is that the right way of measuring it? Is it the success? Is that enough to just say it's the success of the business in the product? Jason Knight:  Well, I mean, I think success of the business and the product is obviously an important metric. But you've got to understand how you get there as well, right? So there have to be ways to measure people's satisfaction with that leader. If everyone's terrified or hates that leader, there's going to be ways to find that out even if that person is a dictator, and makes it very hard to like they punish people for saying bad things about them. There are ways to find that out if you've got a sensitive overall leadership if people talk to each other and communicate to each other within the company. And if you don't have those things, then actually, that in itself represents something about the company that you're going to need to fix anyway, like you need to be able to have those open communications. Now, is it fair to say that there were some leaders all the way up to CEO level that probably wouldn't give a monkey's if that was the case, as long as those results were coming in 100%. There are people out there that will accept that kind of behaviour, because all by God, they get results. It's like, well, brilliant, they will get results, but they're not you say everyone will end up leaving, and I'll end up with a team totally different, or maybe no team at all, having to offshore everything because I can't get people to come in the glass door goes through the floor. Like there's gonna be repercussions of that. But at the same time, I think it is fair to say that that's going to take a bit of time, and it might not save the people that are working there at the beginning of that process. Lily Smith:  And just thinking back as well into the kind of the initial like core of the topic which is moving from IC into product leadership. As an individual contributor, or, you know, just general product manager, you know, is there a moment in time when you feel or know that you're ready to move into that product leadership role, because I know a few people who are just like, I just need to, like learn this, and then I can apply for more senior roles, or I just need to do this, and then I can do it. And they feel like they actually already very capable of doing the role, they just haven't done it yet. So it's kind of holding them back. So is there you know, at that stage of making, you know, applying for that initial promotion, or kind of pushing for that initial promotion, or applying for that senior position, like that they should be thinking about or considering? Jason Knight:  Well, I think imposter syndrome is rife throughout product management, right. So lots of people are going to sit there and judge themselves and think that they're not any good or that they aren't good enough, or that they can't make that step. And then you've got this kind of chasm, if we go back to Crossing the Chasm type imagery, like there's a gap probably to jump between thinking that you're decent pm and thinking that you're a good product leader, because there is a jump, and there are a bunch of things that you're gonna have to be good at that you might not have been as good at before or as consistently good across all of them, as you will probably need to be to be an effective leader, I think there's a couple of ways to look at it, right. So on the one hand, you could look at people and say, Look, this person, maybe they're a senior PM, and they've already got a couple of reports, or maybe they're just punching way above their weight, because they're already doing some leadership type stuff. And they're demonstrating those skills on a daily basis, they maybe just don't see it, I think that's the job of the leadership of that company, or the leadership of the product organisation, depending on the size of both of those things, to identify that and nurture it and coach that and coach those people up. I think the alternative way to look at it is when you look at a product leadership position, like a job spec, now, we have to own up to the fact that many of those job specs are going to be completely trash, dumpster fire job specs, because many, many, many product jobs of all descriptions have dumpster fire job specs. But if you look at that job specification, does it excite you, like Does doing those things? Whether you think that you're any good at them or not yet? Does the fundamental concept of doing those things resonate with you? Or does it fill you with absolute horror? Because if it fills you with hollow, you probably shouldn't even go near it. If you're just not sure if you'd be quite good enough at it yet, but you really want to do it. I think you should push yourself in that direction, to be honest. Randy Silver:  So here's one other thing on that, Jason. When we manage a product team, you know, we were not expecting ourselves to do everything in terms of all the development, all the QA, all the design, etc. So when you are in that leadership position, should you make sure that you are doing all of those things around communication, coaching strategy, everything else? Or is it something that you need to make sure it's covered that other people can take parts of it somewhere, all that Jason Knight:  I think we want to empower teams. So cliche, obviously, is from all the different good books about products. So it's not a controversial thing to say that we should empower our teams. But I think we should empower teams, we need to give our team's areas of control or areas of responsibility, and they should have as much possibility to affect change and hit the goals and hit the targets that those particular areas have. Absolutely, I don't think there's any controversy over wanting to or there shouldn't be any controversy. I know there probably isn't some companies, but there shouldn't be any controversy over trying to bring these people up and making sure that they can contribute as much as they can. I think from a leadership perspective, you absolutely need to understand that it's your job to make sure that these things get done in some way, shape or form. So if the company is having problems, communicate or have other if the product team is having communication problems, or if there are problems with the people within the teams that they're not able to perform for whatever reason, like they're missing some skills, or they're missing some context, or any of the things that can impact on their job. So if the teams aren't set up, right, if you've not got enough PMS or if the PMs aren't performing, and they need to be potentially moved on, if you don't have a strategy, if the team don't know what they're coming to work for, and why they should be even excited about their product. It is definitely your responsibility to make sure all of those things happen. But I aren't 100% thing that is the responsibility of everyone. But I definitely think it's 100% responsibility of everyone within those teams to contribute to that mission. And you're there then to help draw that out of them and support them when they have trouble doing that. Lily Smith:  And I think there's one of the interesting thing that I'm just gonna circle back to you, like you mentioned earlier, a lot of us, you know, we don't get taught this stuff, but we have the product leaders that we work for, as, as example. pools of how to do it. But in many cases, it may also be examples of how not to do it. Jason Knight:  Yes, yes, that does happen. Lily Smith:  And, and I kind of I just want to give those people who are in that situation, some hope, in that actually, if you are working in that situation, it is still really valuable to learn how not to do something. And to be able to see how things aren't, you know, don't work for people and identify how you would do it differently. If you were in that leadership role. Randy Silver:  You know, we can before you answer that, and just just go give a shout out to a former guest of ours clear glue, who had the green line of make sure you're not somebody else's worst boss, because you will definitely you, we all know what that looks like. And keep in mind is a really good thing. Jason Knight:  I'm gonna quote someone you may have heard of Emily Tate, who said on my podcast that even if you've worked for a really bad company, or if you've worked in a really suboptimal way, or if you've worked with bad people, I mean, I'm probably paraphrasing, but the basic point is, if you've worked somewhere, that's not ideal. The most important thing when you move to say your next job is to understand all of the things that went wrong with that, and how you would have done things differently. Had you had the chance. Now, apologies to Emily, if I've misquoted that, but that's the basic thrust of that argument. And I think it's completely valid, like, I've worked in the past for less than ideal product organisations or product teams, because of whatever reasons, and there are always reasons and to be honest, I'm not even going to blame some of the people that were responsible for that because everyone, I genuinely believe everyone's trying to do their best job. Just not everyone necessarily set up for it. We shouldn't kind of transmit our own disappointment with them on to their motives like they're trying. It's just they don't know how to do things the way that maybe they should have done them. And that's completely fair enough. We've all been in that situation ourselves. So I think back to the point, or back to the question, yes, it's 100% valid to sit there and learn what you can about how products are made, even if they're not made in the best way. Like there's still valuable lessons to learn. And you can take something from what you're doing, there's always something that you can get even in a suboptimal organisation, right. Like, maybe they're not very good at doing the strategy stuff. Or maybe they're a bit micromanaging, but you can work out how to run sprints, and you didn't do that before. Now you know how to run sprints, or some version of sprints. Or, you know, maybe they're really good at research, but they've got a very low performing engineering team because of reasons. And that's something that you struggling to get work out and actually delivering features, but you're really getting to grips with the use of research and some of the other stuff. Like there's always something that you can learn. But you do have to really own up to what you're learning wrongly based on our definition of what's wrong and right. And then try to use that to your advantage, as per Emily's point that you go forward and you say, Okay, now, in my next job, I want to do it differently. I don't want to work for a company like that anymore. I want to go and work for a company that, well, I can use my experience to identify some of the maybe bad smells, that that that kind of company has, and work for a different company do things a different way and then kind of continue that learning journey, hopefully with a better outcome. Lily Smith:  Jason, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I think that was an excellent last point. And Jason Knight:  mainly Emily's so you can for that one, I guess. Lily Smith:  Well, it was very well. I was gonna say regurgitated. But that's not a great word. Is it? Jason Knight:  A mommy bird. Randy Silver:  None of us are all that original. We don't get it. We get points for knowing when to use the Smart Jason Knight:  banker quotes in my back pocket 104 episodes long, so I'm happy to use them whenever needed. Lily Smith:  Jason, thanks very much. No problem. Thanks for having me. So, after we had that fantastic chat with Jason, we then stopped recording and went on to have another fantastic chat about who the best Batman is. So I think we're gonna have to set up another Let's settle this debate thing on Neil fun about who the best Batman is. But who would it be between Randy because you can only have two options. Randy Silver:  Um, let's see. That can't be George Clooney. It might be Adam West and Michael Keaton. Lily Smith:  Oh, I see. I would have gone Michael Keaton or Lego Batman. Yeah, well, Randy Silver:  we did kind of agree on who the best Batman and second best Batman were and it was the two of them. But Joker Joker's we had a bigger debate on but that's fine. Another episode. Lily Smith:  And as usual, if you are enjoying all of our shenanigans over here on the production experience, please like us, follow us subscribe and let us know chat to us on Twitter or whatever. We love getting feedback from you. Randy Silver:  And if you have opinions on best Batman, best Joker's best Catwoman best any of that, please do let us know because we definitely have opinions on the topic. Lily Smith:  Take care and see you next time. Randy Silver:  See you next time. Lily Smith:  Haste, me, Lily Smith Randy Silver:  and me Randy silver. Lily Smith:  Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor. Randy Silver:  Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that's pa you thanks to Ana killer who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and plays bass in the band for willingness to use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tank or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide. Lily Smith:  If there's not one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank. Randy Silver:  Product Tech is a global community of meetups during buy in for product people. We offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share greetings and tips.

2 thoughts on “Moving from individual contributor to product leader – Jason Knight on The Product Experience

  1. Wow.. that was the most useless discussion I have ever read.. no real content at all.. so glad I just skim through the text and didnt wasted time listening to it..

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