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Product Management: What is the job, really? – Christian Idiodi

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The job of a Product person is hard to define. We’re a little of everything, depending on the day and what’s needed. The one thing we can all agree on is that it’s never really done. Christian Idiodi—partner at Silicon Valley Product Group—joins us on the podcast to break down what’s expected of us, what we should actually be doing, how to get better at it, and how to know if we’ve actually got a great job.

Listener Offer: This episode is sponsored by Stream. Stream makes it easy to give your users the perfect experience, right inside your own app. Try Stream for free at getstream.io.

Featured Links: Follow Christian on LinkedIn and TwitterSnagajobDatasiteSilicon Valley Product GroupEvery Problem is a People Problem by Christian Idiodi

Discover more: Visit The Product Experience homepage for more episodes.

Episode transcript

Lily Smith:

Randy, so we’re recording this episode on Friday afternoon, and I am absolutely fried, but I’m also totally buzzing, because of our guest this week.

Randy Silver:

I’m equally fried, Lily. So, tell me who have we got?

Lily Smith:

We have the wonderful Christian Idiodi, partner at Silicon Valley Product Group. And he’s going to tell us all about what a product manager’s job is supposed to be.

Randy Silver:

Oh God, I hate that question. I always used to tell my wife that I go to meetings, so that other people can get work done. And then my friend, Monica Tosca, told me that our job was actually to help other people make better decisions faster. So, I stole that because she’s much smarter than I am.

Lily Smith:

Yeah, she sounds it. But at this point on a Friday, I have no idea what I’m doing or who I am. So, I’m really looking forward to this chat with Christian. And perhaps next week, I’ll be more productive as a result. 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 practise and build products that people love.

Lily Smith:

Visit mindtheproduct.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, AMs, round tables, discounts to our conferences around the world, training opportunities and more.

Lily Smith:

Mind the Product also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there’s probably one near you.

Lily Smith:

Christian, welcome to The Product Experience Podcast. It’s so lovely to have you here for our topic of the day.

Christian Idiodi:

Thank you, Lily. Nice to be here.

Lily Smith:

So, before we get stuck in to our conversation, for anyone who hasn’t met you before, could you give us a real quick intro into who you are and what you’re currently doing, and also just a bit of backstory on how you got into product?

Christian Idiodi:

Sure. Christian Idiodi, I’m one of the partners at the Silicon Valley Product Group. And if you’re not familiar with the Silicon Valley Product Group, founded by Marty Cagan, we curate and really capture the proven techniques and practises for how the most innovative companies build products. And we try to share them with other companies to convince them they can work in a similar manner or even better.

Christian Idiodi:

I started my career, actually, I was going be a medical doctor and I ended up in product management like everybody did, non-deliberately. And I ended up building several products over the years, leading product teams and the product organisation at several SaaS companies in B2C and B2B, and led transformation efforts from companies going from Waterfall, to Agile, from project to product, from to global product teams around the world. And so, I’m fortunate to share my experience and my expertise with many companies around the world.

Lily Smith:

So, you’ve seen a lot of frontline change in attitudes of like, I guess I want to call it the old way to the new way, or maybe a more modern, and up-to-date a way of thinking about products. But what’s the main differences you see when you work with companies on their understanding of product? What do they think it is and what is it actually?

Christian Idiodi:

Well, unfortunately there is a significant difference between the best companies that do product and the rest. I think early on, I thought they may be different flavours of bad or different types of, we used to do products that could be possibly relevant. In some cases there’s just a stack difference between what good product looks like, and companies that don’t do it well.

Christian Idiodi:

I think the discipline over time has been poorly defined and misunderstood. Unfortunately, we are still dealing with many companies who look at the role of technology as serving the business and doing what we want as the business, then solving problems for customers in a meaningful way. And I think foundationally, that’s the shift I still see, is what people expect from technology in the organisations and how they fund the use of technology to solve problems, either by funding people to solve problems for customers or funding projects to get outputs that they want. So, I think that’s core.

Christian Idiodi:

Beyond that, there’s a tremendous amount of people problems, whether it’s skills, product managers and the demand for skilled product managers, whether that’s skilled product leadership and the lack of true product leadership and coaching in the industry. I think overall, it really boils down to this discipline for how far we’ve come. There’s still a whole lot more we have to go.

Randy Silver:

There’s so much I want to follow up from that. So, I’ll start with one. Is product management, specifically a technology discipline or does it span technology operations and a lot of other potential areas?

Christian Idiodi:

Well, in every company, regardless of what we choose to do, there are risks with the choices we have to make in making them real and coming to realise them. And people have to address those risk. In technology or technology driven products, where we are using technology to enable the solution or become the solution, the four risks that you face are value risk, where people choose it or they buy it, usability risks, can we use it? Feasibility risk, can we build it? What’s the best way to build it? And viability risk, does it work for our business?

Christian Idiodi:

The flavours of these risks, regardless of company, regardless of size, will always exist. And somebody has to tackle those risks. A group of people have to tackle those risks. When it comes to deciding, are we walking under most important thing? And will this solve the problem in a meaningful way for our customers? Whether we want to call it product manager or call it something, somebody makes that decision every time. And this discipline is at the core of trying to address that in an organisation.

Lily Smith:

So, I feel in my experience of the last 10 years of working in tech and in product companies, that we are making progress and we’re coming on leaps and bounds in our understanding of what the product manager should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing. When you think about the product leadership side of things, what are the main challenge areas in product leadership that are stopping us from really being effective product businesses?

Christian Idiodi:

Yeah. You’re tempting me to jump on a soapbox here. It’s probably the area-

Lily Smith: Go for it.

Christian Idiodi:

…. that really turns my stomach often. I don’t want to be critical about the people in the role, because at the core of it, many product leaders today have not truly been product managers in the true sense, and they haven’t done that job in a meaningful way, and they have not been taught by good product leaders. The best product leaders today have been taught by great product leaders. And we don’t have enough of those.

Christian Idiodi:

At the core of it, the first thing that I see constantly is the poor understanding by leaders and managers that their job is to coach people. I argue all the time, “Look, your product manager’s job is to do the job. Your job as the leader is to get them better at doing the job.” And unfortunately, that’s not as widely adopted as I thought it would be. This idea that your job is the administrative function of ensuring that the deliverables are met and that the needs of the companies for output are managed in some way.

Christian Idiodi:

So, the first thing that truly, I think product leadership needs to understand is the role of product leadership. The role of product leadership is one, context. They need to provide clarity on where we’re going through a product vision, right? They need to provide clarity on how we plan to get there through a product strategy, right? Guiding principles that help a team on organised the team structure. And then they need to empower that team with clear objectives and problems to solve. They also need to create the environment for that team to succeed, right? And that’s the culture for that team to do that.

Christian Idiodi:

As managers, your role is simple. Coaching is the most important thing. They’ve got to get people to competency, and then to their potential. They’ve got to find, recruit, hire talent to the company, to help us accomplish those goals, right? And then you have to point those people to those objectives. Everything else is nice. I cannot stress it.

Christian Idiodi:

We do such a poor job on the things I mentioned, that it truly is probably the driving cause of the biggest challenges that product people face in this discipline, because everything that they are challenged with within the organisation is probably driven by a lack of true product leadership. Either I hired you and I did not equip you to succeed, because I did not onboard you, I didn’t coach you, I didn’t equip you with the knowledge of the customer and the business, the industry, and your product to be able to make good choices. Or I didn’t create the environment for you to solve problems in a meaningful way. Or I didn’t evangelise, why we’re doing things. So, you’re constantly in meetings with stakeholders screaming at you, because they had no idea why we’re doing it in the first place. “Well, I’m not sure about what we’re doing and why it’s still important today. I don’t have clarity. I don’t have alignment.”

Christian Idiodi:

So, in many cases if I could over-index in our world today, will be to equip the world with more true product leaders. Because I know by doing that, we will have a green generation of product managers that will come out of it.

Randy Silver:

So, you’ve hit on one of my favourite topics, which is, I love working about creating the right environment for product people to succeed. And I’m curious, is that appropriate for every company? And the example I’ll give you, is a couple of years ago, I was consulting with somebody, and they were very successful and they’re growing at a decent rate. And they brought me in to help them solve some problems to grow faster. And it turns out that the way the company ran, and this is a very large, very established company, was essentially run as a project management organisation by the CEO. They decided what they want to build. They told everyone what to build and when to build it. And there wasn’t a whole lot of asking the people who are closest to the problem to figure out what it was. It wasn’t about setting goals. It was telling them what to do. Why is he wrong? And why are we right? They were very successful.

Christian Idiodi:

Yeah. I’ll explain that. There are two things to anchor this. First, there’s a difference between a company culture and a product culture, right? I have seen great product cultures and poor company cultures, who be very successful. In many cases, product culture of a culture of learning, a culture of iteration, a culture of innovation, those kinds of things, and company cultures, where there’s command and control top-down decision making.

Christian Idiodi:

If you think about the core, to your specific example, of what makes the great product manager, a great product manager has a deep understanding of the customer. They have a deep understanding of the data, a deep understanding of the business and the industry, and of how things work within the environment.

Christian Idiodi:

In a startup, without a doubt, the CEOs are actually the best product people, because they have the best knowledge of the problems, the best knowledge of the business, the best knowledge. Now, typically when I work with CEOs on this and they tell me, “Yes, that is why I tell the team what to do, because I know best.” I say, “You’re absolutely right. You are the best product manager. But if you’re doing product management, who is doing CEO?” Right? We need to be guided. We need to be led. We need a business strategy. We need to equip our organisation to make tough decisions and play smarter bets on those things. And without those, we won’t scale.

Christian Idiodi:

So, you’re probably meeting a company at a point in which the CEO has realised that they are probably right most of the time about the most important things to do. And they probably have the right ideas about why those things will work for our customers and our business in that way. What’s likely to happen is that the CEO is actually also involved, not just in passing a decision, but telling the team why it’s important and providing context and clarity around those things.

Christian Idiodi:

So, in one way here, what I’m suggesting is that our discipline is actually working in that environment, it’s just that the person called CEO is product manager, and the person called product manager is probably just the project manager, a delivery manager for what the CEO wants, taking the CEO’s requirements and stuff. But when we think about scaling, somebody is deciding what we do.

Christian Idiodi:

The challenge with this is, as companies scale, the CEO starts to become more and more removed from those things. They start to have more and more layers of people. He’s trying to communicate the same kind of vision, the same kind of strategy, the same kind of parities down, and they get diluted. And so, people use it as a command and control, “Our CEO wants to build this, go make it happen.” But what they don’t have anymore is the same context, background, insights the CEO had to make those decisions. And so, the product team, now you have a culture where they just gather requirements than solve problems, right?

Christian Idiodi:

And so, I tell people, I don’t tell CEOs, no, my job is to turn around whatever they’ve told me, to understand the problem they want to solve in the first place. No matter what they tell me, I’m always like, “That’s a great idea. What problem are you trying to solve?” Right? Because the whole point, there is the reason they think this is worth doing. And I want to understand what problem they believe it will solve, because you should hold me accountable to solving that problem, not delivering what you want.

Lily Smith:

So, you mentioned earlier that we need to cultivate all of these product leaders across the world in order to move product forward. How do we do that? What’s the strategy for having [inaudible 00:15:39]?

Christian Idiodi:

Look, I was reading some article that said 80% or 70% of product managers are self-taught. Sounds cool on its own, but that’s ridiculously scary. It’s like, who goes to a self-taught dentist or a self-taught doctor? In some ways. And these are a lot of crap about what they should be.

Christian Idiodi:

What we do know is that organisations have problems that they want to solve, and they will find a path to getting it done. And so, because of the poor understanding of discipline, poor definition of discipline, different organisations define it in one way, under-utilise it, abuse the position. What I think we need to invest in is helping these leaders, one, understand what the job is and the expectations in the job, and then equipping them to doing the job.

Christian Idiodi:

A consistent pattern I see, for instances around strategic contexts, creating a vision and a strategy for your organisation, right? A leader comes in, they say, “That is your job, create a vision and the strategy.” Now, you’ve never created a vision on a strategy before in your life, but now it’s expected of you to do it. Truly enough, even people that have been at a company a long time, you’re under pressure. Somebody at the executive level, at the board level says, “Oh, I used one of those big companies, the big names to do it, an outside firm. And I think they’ll be good.”

Christian Idiodi:

Now, you’re like, “Oh, that’s a great idea. I am going to outsource the creation of a vision and our strategy to some big organisation.” Now, it makes practical sense, because if it sucks, you can blame them. And you can also say, “Well, it was a recommendation from that senior executive or that board member.” So, on the other hand, if it succeeds, you can say, “Look at my wisdom in bringing in this company to help us with this problem.”

Christian Idiodi:

The reality here is, you are outsourcing your secret sauce. You probably know more about your business and the inner workings than anybody else, but you’re outsourcing another firm to come in, learn about your business, and then tell you what to do. This pattern of course, cascades down to your team. You are now communicating something without context or background. You are reading the insights like your own team. And then you’re trying to champion it internally within the company. Because this cycle repeats itself, you never learn the competency of how to actually do it yourself. What you now get good at is how to find the vendor that can do it for you.

Christian Idiodi:

 

Think about that in every aspect of leadership, coaching people, hiring people, interviewing people. I tell leaders, you don’t get mastery by avoidance. You have to do it. The only way for them to get better at this is to do this under good coaching. Find a leader that has done well, that has built great product teams. Right?

Christian Idiodi:

I tell people, great products come from great product teams, great product teams are made up of ordinary people. What they are doing is they’re working on the environment with the coach or a leader that empowers them to go create meaningful results. Find those leaders. Right? And what you’re doing there is you’re saying, “I have never written a strategy. I’m going to write one. It’s going to be terrible, but you’re going to help me get better.” Right? “I have never interviewed people like this.” You’re going to try it. You’re going to get coaching. You’re going to get better.

Christian Idiodi:

I see way too many leaders that avoided, they outsourced staffing to their HR departments. They go for, “Find a mentor.” I mean, the biggest stuff I get is like, they just complain about your employees to me, “Lily is terrible and distracting the customers.” I say, “Oh, who’s Lily’s manager? You?” “Oh, I didn’t hire Lily. I inherited her.” “Well, whose job is it to get her better?” You are only as good as your weakest team member. They’ve got to change that mindset.

Christian Idiodi:

So, we only get better at this by doing it and by getting coaching at it. Leaders, I will call out to you, go get coaching at the job. Practise and build the muscle.

Randy Silver:

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Lily Smith:

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Randy Silver:

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Randy Silver:

Let’s dig into one of those things a little bit more right now. You had said, a leader gets hired or someone gets promoted into a job, and it’s your job now to write a strategy for the first time, you’ve never done it before. This is one of those things that folks be to no end, because I don’t believe that that’s the case at all. I don’t believe it’s my job as a product leader to write the strategy. I believe it’s my job to ensure that the strategy is written and to facilitate that with the other members, the other members of leadership, other people throughout the business. I’m not always the person who has the best information. So, which is it, where do you stand on this?

 

Christian Idiodi:

Well, it’s back to our accountabilities. Is it a product manager’s job to build the product? They actually truly are not actually building, writing code, but we hold them responsible for results. We didn’t release on time, blame the product manager. Why is that the case? Because you are accountable to ensuring that it works for customers and it works for the business, so we end up holding you accountable for the results, right?

Christian Idiodi:

So, to your point, what is important? Why do we need a strategy? We need a strategy, because the strategy tells us how we will make our vision a reality. It also allows us to know what we’re not going to do. It provides focus and clarity, but the most important thing is that the problems we assigned to our teams come from a strategy.

Christian Idiodi:

In the alternative case, what I see teams do is prioritisation. Everybody, I need a prioritisation rubric or a metrics. Let’s do a voting kind of stuff. And that is the absence of strategy.

Christian Idiodi:

Here’s the reality, you still assign problems to your teams. It comes from somewhere. We still do it today. We ask, where does it come from? We want to build a mobile app, how do we make this decision? What is the context, the background? Where are we going? What’s important next? What strategy does is it tries to provide clarity about why we made those decisions and that empowers teams.

Christian Idiodi:

So, to your point the reason the product leader is accountable for the vision and the strategy… Maybe to put it another way, if you had a vision and strategy, and nobody knows it, you don’t have a vision and strategy. You see? So, you can be like, “Yeah, we’ve done one.” But nobody knows where we are going, so it’s still not doing the job of what he’s meant to do. It’s because the leader’s job is to provide clarity and context. To do that effectively, the strategy helps, right?

Christian Idiodi:

The best strategies come from everybody collaborating, bringing insights and data, qualitative insights, quantitative insights, technology insights, industry insights, working with leadership. So, it is your job to figure out one, and then communicating effectively, right? And building the muscle of knowing how to do that and how to communicate that, super important. If you keep outsourcing it, you keep coordinating with other people to do it. You actually haven’t empowered yourself. You can’t even defend it when people ask you to communicate it. So, it’s a very valid question.

Randy Silver:

Yeah. Thank you for that. And I feel like we do a disservice when we tell people it’s their job to do something sometimes, and it makes it sound like they’re supposed to go off into the wilderness and come up with it on their own. And this is where we got that whole CEO of the product thing, which I can’t stand, not because it’s wrong, but because it gives people the wrong idea about what it is that the job is. The good CEOs work with their teams. They manage and facilitate. Good product leaders do the

 

same thing. So, the difference between being accountable and responsible is, as much as I hate racing,

that is a really useful thing. Thank you.

Christian Idiodi:

Yes, that’s right. You’ll see, you have nothing product people. I tell them all the time, “You’re the opposite of Spider-Man in that case.” With great power comes great responsibility, or with great responsibility, no power. Try playing a CEO move really quickly. But like a CEO, is what I tell them, like a CEO, you’re meant to understand your business, understand how things move, have relationships with stakeholders in different parts. That’s the idea, right? Those kinds of words in many conferences, they hurt people when they… because half people understand what you’re saying, the other half are like, “I am the CEO of my product. And my job is to say, no.” I’m like, “What are you saying no to? I don’t care about what you’re saying yes to. What did you say yes to?” Anyways. [inaudible 00:25:16]

Lily Smith:

Okay. So, on the flip side of this, if I’m listening to this podcast and I am a product manager, and I’m fairly early in my career, or even later on, and I want to be the best, I want to be doing it well, I want to be having an impact. How do I identify a company and a manager or a leader to go and work for? How do I find those people that I can learn from and really properly get good at what I do?

Christian Idiodi:

In some ways, I don’t know if companies are the right… Look, people that I know, I refer them more to managers or to people than to companies, in that sense. There are couple of tracks that I typically use to advice new product people or people that are interested in discipline. One is the permission track, right? You don’t need permission to solve problems in the world. And what the job truly is, is uncovering solutions to problems and working collaboratively with people to do so, and deliver those solutions.

Christian Idiodi:

And there’s always that inner entrepreneurial route of product management that I always like to encourage people to consider. And I see that, in that you will need that muscle to be successful in this job. So, if you’re looking for a job today and you don’t have a product management job and you want to break into product management, I tell them, one, try starting a business, just go, don’t feel like you have permission. Find a problem in the world that is meaningful to you. One day, you might either have some deep knowledge of, or some deep interest in, go for it. What you’re doing there is, you’re building muscle.

Christian Idiodi:

Two, go serve. If you volunteer to serve in any place, any group that is solving a problem, whether it’s through an internship, whether it’s a volunteer programme, connecting with people, what you’re doing there is you want to constantly immerse yourself in a problem solving environment, because the dynamics of the people you will have to work with to solve problems, how you go about solving problems is a muscle you want to get good at very early. It is the muscle of product management, uncovering risk, packing risk, creating value for customers and the business.

Christian Idiodi:

Tactically, in terms of finding leaders, I always say, find what’s your favourite products? What product truly appeals to you? Great products come from great product teams. It’s just the way we’ve seen the walls today. And those people are probably coached by great product leader. You can almost map it down to some leader that supports that team to create the environment for them to succeed. And then try to see if you can find a good coach to do that. You find them in all different companies, people that truly understand their role is to get people better, and then to their potential. And that is probably more valuable to you in your career when you can find a good coach, than when you can find a good company.

Randy Silver:

I do have two questions, I really want to ask you. So, I’m trying to decide.

Christian Idiodi: Go for it.

Randy Silver:

I’m just going to start with, I’m going to ask both.

Lily Smith:

Be brave. That’s fine.

Randy Silver:

Okay. So, when you talk about coaching, is that coaching internal, or should you be looking for an external coach? Which do you find more valuable?

Christian Idiodi:

Internal all the time, that’s simply because they’ve got skin in the game, right? People often confuse coaching with mentors like, “Oh, Randy is my mentor.” Well, if you win the Super Bowl, does your mentor get a ring? No. If you lose a Super Bowl, your mental says, “I told you to not do that play. You did it anyways.” Right? A coach on your team gets the ring, if you win and also gets a loss on their record, when you lose. They have natural skin in the game and they provide that.

Christian Idiodi:

Unfortunately, I do see leaders also outsource coaching to somebody else. They’ll tell you, “Go find a mentor. Go get help.” But I’m like, “If you could get better at that by yourself, you probably would have done it already.” It is the mindset, I try to say, by saying, “Look, Randy’s job is to do the job. The coach’s job is to get you better at doing the job.” If we can agree on that, then there’s a trust dynamic that comes into play.

Christian Idiodi:

You trust me that if I’m giving you harsh feedback, it’s not because I’m trying to fire you or so, but literally it is my job to get you better. And if you win the Super Bowl, I win the Super Bowl, right? External coaches can tell you, “Well, that’s your problem, if you don’t do it.” I can stand on the sideline and say, “Oops, bad decision.”

Christian Idiodi:

So, I typically love internal, if you can find it. If you cannot, please don’t get it wrong, take good, meaningful coaching, wherever you can.

Randy Silver:

Thank you for phrasing that at the end, because part of my work is as a coach, so you’re making me feel useless.

Christian Idiodi:

I reference all the time. [inaudible 00:30:32] the good coaches, know how to make people feel like they’re part of your team. That is part of it, because it’s a trust dynamic that has to happen for it to work well. Right.

Randy Silver:

Fair. Thanks. The other question was, so I’m in the job, I’m in an organisation, I think it’s going reasonably well, but I’m not so sure about some things. What are the signs that I’m not necessarily doing the job right, I’m not on the right organisation? What are the things that I shouldn’t be asked to do, or shouldn’t be doing as a product manager?

Christian Idiodi:

Oh boy, that’s a loaded question.

Lily Smith:

That could be a long list. Right?

Christian Idiodi:

It could be a very short list. I typically ask people, “Do you like what you do? Do you like who you do it with? Do you like who you do it for? Do you like why you do it?” And that’s just a pulse of general satisfaction and happiness in the discipline of product management. Even the worst environment can mould out the right people with the right kind of coaching and guardians. These are important muscles. Because here is the dynamic, is it beneficial to be in a project based command and control, factory model culture, and transform them to do great work. Is that valuable in many companies? Absolutely. Right? To your earlier description, if you can find somebody that can exist with a crazy CEO that wants everything at one seat now and swaps some poops in everyday with all kinds of ideas, and you survived that and you came out and you built great products, there are so many companies that you can help in that way. It’s not an excuse to leave necessarily.

Christian Idiodi:

What I typically look for first, is an empowered productivity, your ideal environment. Am I given a list of projects and features, or am I given problems to solve? On the other hand, am I empowered to come up with the best solution to those problems? And what did he hold me accountable to? Do they hold me accountable to, “Did you build no mobile app or not?” Or did they hold me accountable to our caps? Right? Did we grow revenue? Did we improve customer satisfaction?

Christian Idiodi:

 

Ideally, you want to be in an empowered environment. Most companies have future teams, what we call future teams of product teams or even project teams still exist. Does not mean that’s a reason to go. If you can figure out, remember my product culture, how to try many things quickly, right? If you have a culture where there’s not a fear of failure, but one that embraces learning, that you feel you can go about trying to create value for customers in a way that works for the business in a meaningful way, I think it’s worth trying to build a muscle in.

Christian Idiodi:

The only times I will distinctively tell people to get out of environment are bad management, just back to people. If you don’t feel supported, if you don’t feel that you’re growing personally or professionally, you are literally at best going to build a competency of what you’re doing, but never want to carry heavier load. Right? And there’s no growth in that.

Christian Idiodi:

Most of the amazing companies you might like, whether it be Google or [inaudible 00:33:57], they have come to realise this. And they invest heavily in training and developing their people with the skill. So, that will always be my number one driver, because if they create the environment and if you have bad leaders or managers, then you have a toxic, unhealthy environment with no growth. Things die in that soil.

Lily Smith:

Yeah. I think that’s a really important and good point to make. Okay. So, just one last question from me. I can’t believe how quickly this conversation has got. It’s been really great. But yeah, just one last question from me.

Lily Smith:

So, product managers are notoriously subject to imposter syndrome and feeling like they are not doing the right thing or they’re not good enough, or they’re well, yeah, basically imposters. Do you think that actually there maybe is some truth in that then that we aren’t really doing things well enough or in the right way? Or is there something in imposter syndrome, which is real and what can we do about that?

Christian Idiodi:

There are some good aspects to imposter syndrome in the humility of it, in the always trying to be better, and showing that you are doing the homework, and showing that you’re ready and prepared. There’s some other aspects of it that may be unhealthily created by the environments that people are put in and the expectations that we have off people in those environments.

Christian Idiodi:

I struggle with imposter syndrome every single day, but I tend to lose it after one minute, just because in some ways there’s clarity about what the job is and you recognise where you can help.

Christian Idiodi:

I think everybody has an opportunity to add value. Everybody can help. Recognising where you can help and why that help will be meaningful and important is super important for tackling this. I see people struggle because the expectations of product managers are so ambiguous and far in between. And you expect them to be the designer, the delivery person, the updater in chief, the communicator in chief,

the stakeholder manager, the time manager, the master of ceremony, the customer incident manager.

Christian Idiodi:

Product people need a lot of therapy, just by very nature of the role. I mean, you have an infinite number of customers, always growing, always eager to scream at you. You have an infinite amount of stakeholders with the same kind of concern. And then you have those two factors, salespeople who are bringing pressure on you because their customers want more, and customer support people who are telling you all the things their customers hate. And at some point you’re stuck in the middle like, “It’s all me and it’s all my fault.”

Christian Idiodi:

The job is to work collaboratively with a team of people that are well equipped with the competent and necessary skills to tackle whatever problems you have. Yeah. Imposter syndrome probably goes higher when you share the lack of competency from somebody else or with yourself. Your competency probably goes out, right?

Christian Idiodi:

So, I mean, if you took a high school team and put them in the NFL, I am hoping they feel like imposters there, because they cannot compete at that level too as well, no matter how talented they might be. Is it an individual or is it the team? The sum of the whole team.

Christian Idiodi:

So, in some ways they are important ingredients for that. One, you need to be equipped with the skills you need. Two, you have to respect and understand your contribution to the role. You’re fielded a quarterback, are you very good at throwing the ball? Get good at throwing the ball. Practise that a whole lot, so that when you get out on the field, you’re less concerned about, “Am I good enough or not? I know how to through the ball, that’s my contribution here.” And you threw it like you did in practise.

Christian Idiodi:

This is why I go back to coach. And again, we do coach imposter syndrome in people, because you are thinking about all the things that you are not meant to be good at and judging themselves at it, all the time. “That engineer sucks at public speaking.” I’m like, “Okay. Are you good at it?” “Yeah.” “That’s why you’re on the team. And he’s the engineer.” Together, we are good at public speaking, right? And if you think of yourself as the individual carrying that weight, it’s going to be very hard to shake that imposter syndrome. But when you see yourself, “I don’t care what the problem is, I’ve got Randy, he’s great at this. Lily, she’s excellent at this. And together we are good at this.” It’s much easier to do the job.

Lily Smith:

I think that was a great response. Just one more quick question as a follow-up to that. So, the really high-performing product teams that you work with as well, did they also suffer from imposter syndrome?

Christian Idiodi: Yes.

Lily Smith: There we go.

Christian Idiodi:

It’ll help everybody feel better. I have not met a single product manager, a single product leader that is great and excellent, that does not slightly have that. But the beauty about that, is in the environment, they rise to the occasion, because the environment encourages them to move through that, that the team is bigger than the individual, that we are all in the room when it happens. And we’re all sharing in the accountability of making it happen. Right? And they’re reminded by their coaches, why they matter, why their job matters. And those are the things that make a difference.

Lily Smith:

Christian, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you. And yeah, it was great. Thank you.

Christian Idiodi:

Really fun to do this. Thank you, Lily. Thank you, Randy.

Randy Silver:

You know what, Lily? After that conversation, I’m not so fried anymore. How are you feeling?

Lily Smith:

I absolutely loved that conversation with Christian. I wished it could go on for much longer, and it flew by so quickly. But luckily, we have way more conversations lined up with a lot more guests. So, subscribe and like, and follow us on all the socials.

Randy Silver:

And we may have to have him back because there was something we talked about before we started taping that was so good, and we never got to it in the actual chat. So, we’ll have to do that next time.

Lily Smith:

Our hosts are me, Lily Smith, and-

Randy Silver: Me, Randy Silver.

Lily Smith:

Emily Tate is our producer, and Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver:

Our theme music is from Hamburg-based band, Pau, that’s P-A-U. Thanks to Arna Kitler, who runs ProductTank and MTP Engage in Hamburg, and plays bass in the band, for letting us use their music. Connect with your local product community via ProductTank, our 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 mindtheproduct.com/producttank.

Randy Silver:

ProductTank is a global community of meetups driven by and for product people. We offer expert talks, group discussion, and a safe environment for product people to come together and share greetings and tips.