My first year at Spotify was one of the happiest years of my life. I had joined the Infrastructure and Operations ‘tribe’ as an Agile Coach and some of my fondest memories (both personally and professionally) were from working in my Agile Coach ‘chapter’. As a chapter of six coaches, over time, we understood our individual strengths and weaknesses. It allowed us to learn from each other, lean on each other for advice, and grow together as a group, despite having little to do with each other’s work in our day to day.
Growing as a Product Manager
One such tool that helped us grow together as a team was the simple “Agile Coaching Competency Framework”, created by Lyssa Adkins at the Agile Coaching Institute. We’d assess ourselves and each other, then use this visualisation to hold conversations about how to help, support and grow our competencies.
A few years later, I made the big decision to switch roles to being a Product Manager. I started out as a Product Manager for the Infrastructure layer of Spotify’s Desktop app and went on to eventually own the Desktop app strategy in general. My customers went from being Spotify’s software engineers to a third of Spotify’s customers who were using the Desktop app. My growth as a Product Manager was pretty important.
When I switched roles, the culture I found in the Product Organisation was quite different to the Technology organisation I had just left. Whilst the Tech side was known for its culture of sustainability, professional growth, and continuous improvement, the Product organisation was more focused on delivery and results. My naive ambition was to bring the culture of collective professional growth from the Technology organisation into the Product organisation. For various reasons, this proved difficult, but I never lost interest in achieving that goal — PM’s growing and supporting each other.
I’ve longed for a competency framework that not only articulates the complexity of Product Management in a simple way, but also attempts to make growth a team effort. This has been my goal ever since beginning my journey as a Product Manager.
Many years, books, and experiences later, my colleague Sandra Davey and I have attempted to do just that. We created a tool for Product Managers to assess their own and each other’s competencies, align these with the needs of the business, and choose a few areas of growth that align somewhere in the intersection between business need and personal interest.
We call it the Product Management Competency Framework, geared towards holding individual and collective conversations about Product Manager growth.
- Downloadable / printable PDF
- Google Slides (if you’d like to give feedback / suggest changes, do it here!)
How to use it
First, print off two copies of the document. Hand one copy to a product peer and ask them to assess your skills in the “product peer assessment” category. Then with your copy, for each competency category. Carefully read the examples we give for each competency level and self-assess your own skills, along with marking how interesting this skill-set is to you.
Determine the biggest deltas between your self-assessment and your interests. Write down the top three most interesting learning opportunities on the Results page. Now meet with your peer and compare your own self-assessment to how they assessed you. It should make for an interesting discussion! Update your copy with their assessment and be sure to thank them.
Finally, take the document and sit down with your manager or a stakeholder to determine the importance of these categories to your team and your business by marking the “Importance to company” grid. Together, determine the biggest delta between your self-assessment and importance to the company. You now have a number of inputs from which you can hold a meaningful conversation around your growth as a Product Manager. You can do this either with your manager or product peers.
For each ‘quadrant’, we ask you to get feedback from your product peer(s). The value in this is not only can you get valuable insights into your own (perceived) skills, you’ll have a foundational understanding of the competencies of your peers. Doing so opens the door to growth conversations through learning from one another.
One of the last slides gets you to visualise your self-assessment and pick the top areas of growth by interest and business need. This slide could be printed and displayed on a wall alongside other Product Manager to facilitate meaningful discussions around individual and collective growth.
How it’s beneficial for Product Managers
It ultimately doesn’t matter how invested your manager is in your product team’s growth, you will still have the tools needed to assess and discuss your collective competencies. A common problem I see a lot in product teams is that the manager of Product Managers either don’t have the competency understanding (e.g. a founder) or the time (a business product director) to facilitate this process. This tool attempts to make this process easy, without needing a manager to hold your hand through it.
I should caveat this by saying that ideally, you have your manager’s involvement, as you might be overstepping their role/desire to do this kind of process with you.
We’ve been using it for some of our clients and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that a major media broadcaster in Australia, SBS, recently decided to use it for their PMs. I recently had the chance to catch up with Abigail Thomas, the head of Product Strategy for SBS who used the framework.
They decided to choose it due to the simple and structured way that it covers key areas of product management skill sets. “We had looked at other frameworks and also tried to create our own but this was the simplest, clearest and easiest to use,” she said.
The product managers found the self-assessment easy to fill in and the peer product assessment helpful.
To utilise the service further, SBS incorporated the competency framework into its Product Academy. “We did this so when we have targeted guest speakers and workshops, we can tie them into particular segments of this competency framework.”
I was also delighted to hear that one of their UX designers had used the framework to prepare for a job interview to become a Product Manager.
What makes it unique?
We believe that the best growth plans come from the intersection between your interests and the needs of the business, not simply one or the other. Thus we’ve made this an explicit part of the assessment process. Most tools are either bespoke based on business need, or generic based on competency need.
We also believe that leadership and self-awareness is crucial to succeeding in any Product role. You likely hold no positional power, so your influencing and collaboration skills are essential in succeeding. Many frameworks are focused almost solely on the practical product management skills of defining a product-market fit, rather than how you go about it through inspiring and leading people.
It’s open-source and open to iteration and evolution. Our understanding of Product Management continues to evolve over time, so we fully expect this framework to change as well — hopefully with your help! We hope that by making it open source, it will benefit from new thinking around the Product Management discipline.
It’s designed to be printable and practical. Not quite suited to your organisation? Make a copy of the slide deck and tweak it to suit. Just make sure to be a good open-source citizen and follow the license rules.
My question to you
- What did you like/appreciate?
- What have we missed?
- And most importantly, would you help us improve it?
If you end up using it and get value from it, we’d love to hear your experience. If you tried it and it failed, please tell us about that experience also.
A big shout-out and thank you to some of our product heroes — Marty Cagan and Melissa Perri, and to my old Spotify colleagues Daisy Pilbrow, Javier Ubillos and Viktor Cessan for producing their Product Ownership framework, which was one of the inspirations for doing this and using the radar style of visualisation.
If you have questions, feedback, comments or would just like to say hi, here’s how you can contact me:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bamarsh/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/brendanmarsh
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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