In this MTP Engage Manchester talk, Melissa Perri describes how you should start investing energy in “the product of you” and plan your career ascent to product leader.
- Skills you learn as a junior product person can translate well into the C-suite
- You should look for opportunities to diversify your skill set
- There is not just one type of product leader
Melissa begins by describing how there are over 11,000 open Head of Product positions available in the EU today – one of which could be yours. This idea might leave you asking what skills you need to work on to become a product leader, and what companies look for when hiring. How can you position yourself well now for a future as a product leader, and, once you get the job, what do you do?
Quoting Georgie Smallwood, CPO of European digital bank N26, Melissa explains that the skills of a product leader are essentially those of a product manager but with wider scope. She describes the role as being at the intersection of the user and the business, but in a place where the stakes are much higher.
Using a graph from her best-selling book Escaping the Build Trap, Melisa shows how product work can be divided into three skill sets:
She also explains that seniority often dictates the dedication to each area. For instance, more tactical skills are required in a junior role, then as we develop we’re required to employ more operational skills, before finally moving away from tactical work entirely and to focus on strategic work.
She believes that product people have dynamic skills. She condemns the SAFe framework, which separates the role of product owner and product manager, asserting the former as tactical and the latter strategic.
Fortunately, the diversity of lower-level product roles encourages us to grow our expertise.
While it’s true, you may have less opportunity to be strategic as a junior product person, Melissa says you can still flex those muscles. Start today, by analysing all the information available – customer and user research, market research, and user data. Take those inputs, synthesise them and then figure out which direction you should go in.
Preparing for the C-Suite
Melissa also looks at the key areas of personal development which will give you skills for the C-suite:
1. Portfolio and product strategy
You need to work on creating a portfolio and product strategy; a framework that enables teams to make product decisions about how to provide customer value which will then drive business value. In addition, you must always consider the numbers – you have to understand revenue and costs and think about how to develop your product and portfolio in order to achieve the required financial outcomes.
2. Product operations
When you’re thinking about building a strategy, you must consider data because it’s essential to define what changes you make and frameworks you create – in short, you can’t build a strategy if you can’t answer questions of data.
Here’s are some of the things you should analyse:
- Business data and insights
- Customer and market insights
- Process and practices
Start today by asking yourself how your product relates to revenue or cost. Then challenge yourself by asking how you can build on that story.
Communication, Melissa says, will be the make or break differential when it comes to making it into the C-Suite. You need to be able to tell your story and then relate it to the bigger picture, building communication lines and garnering trust.
There is not Just one Type of Product Leader
There are many types of product leader, each with different skills and duties and each required at different times within the lifecycle of a growing company. The context of the company defines which leader you need when:
- Startup VP – As a startup VP you need to be willing to build things from scratch; take a problem, find a solution, and iterate as your team builds and scales, all the while experimenting fast in order to find a market fit.
- Scaleup CPO – This role is part of the growth stage where you’re expanding to new products, adding new lines and looking critically at financial success. It’s like a sprint towards the enterprise phase – increasing revenue and expanding at pace with a large amount of board interaction.
- Enterprise CPO – At an enterprise level the role is less about growth and more about operations and governance, while strategy is pushed down to product lines. As the CPO you bridge the portfolio, reduce costs and align teams through the operational processes you’ve defined, and also manage politics – it’s about communication and organising a massive scale operation.
Melissa describes how you may think you’re suited to one role and later redirect your focus – no career is a straight line. It’s important to think about how to position yourself and first and foremost, so look at what you want to do. Knowing that will allow you to start developing the right skill set for your future role.