Over the years I’ve mentored several product managers, from associate to more senior. In that time I’ve been involved in many performance reviews for people in product roles. What follows are some ideas on how to structure product manager reviews, to ensure that they provide meaningful feedback.
Who to include in product reviews?
It’s worth spending time to collect feedback from a few different sources. PMs tend to work and coordinate with people in a wide variety of roles. It generally makes sense to include at least one person in each of the roles they commonly work with. It’s also important to get in-depth feedback from any team leads a PM works with. For instance, tech leads are a great source of input into how well PMs are working with the engineers on a team.
In a previous post I suggested asking 2-3 peers for feedback on any person. When it comes to PMs, I find it makes sense to increase this to a larger group of 3-5. On a typical product team, I would ensure each PM gets reviewed by at least:
- 1 Engineering Lead
- 1-2 Designers
- 1-2 Engineers
- 1 Product peer at the same or similar level
- Their manager
- Any reports they have
Shipping Great Products
When it comes to reviewing how a PM is doing, there is one thing that matters most: Are they shipping great products? In other words- have they solved real user needs? Are users delighted by, and heavily engaged, with their products? Have they hit their intended targets/goals?
That said, developing great products and finding product/market fit can take time. It’s not always immediately obvious that something is going to be successful. Building great products often requires persistent iteration and a good amount of patience. This can make it hard to tell whether or not a PM is doing a good job. I.e., how well a product is currently doing is not always an accurate indicator of the PM’s performance.
Building great products often requires persistent iteration and a good amount of patience. How well a product is currently doing is not always an accurate indicator of the PM’s performance.
In addition, even if a PM has shipped great products, providing detailed feedback is still a good way to help them develop their skills. Next I’ll cover some of the key skills I think one should look for when evaluating product managers.
Other Important Skills
Product Vision and Leadership
Product managers have a unique challenge in that they usually do not directly manage any of the people working on a product. They need to have the ability to influence people without having any authority over them. This influence is usually achieved by developing a strong sense of purpose within their teams. Product managers who aren’t able to do this usually struggle to get great products built.
Are they able to develop and communicate a compelling product vision? Does their team buy into the vision? Does their team feel included in the decision process, rather being told what to do? Do they champion their product and team within the rest of the company?
This is an obvious key skill for Product Managers. Great PMs are generally highly effective communicators. It’s worth reviewing and providing feedback on both written and verbal communication separately.
On written communication, how effective are they at conveying complex ideas in writing? How well do they document product specifications? Do they do so in a succinct and understandable manner?
On verbal communication, how effective are they at communicating in meetings? Are they able to communicate with various roles and larger groups of people? Are they able to effectively share ideas and present progress? How persuasive are they?
PMs should be great team builders. A motivated and cohesive team is always going to be far more effective. Does the PM play an effective role in motivating the team they are on? What is the morale and engagement level of the team? How do they feel about the product they are working on? Does the PM proactively resolve issues that might result in low morale?
Understanding Customers and the Market
A key part of the product role is bringing customer feedback and insight back to the team. PMs need to be proactive about interviewing customers and understanding the market they are in.
Do they have a good understanding of competitors and potential partners? Are they speaking with customers on a regular basis? Are they customer advocates within the team? Is the team aware of what customers want?
Problem Solving Skills
A lot of what product managers do is problem solving. Whether it’s user experience, technical or other issues, they need to be effective at breaking down complex problems and developing creative solutions.
How do they approach problems? Can they take a large problem and break it down into solvable parts? Do they work with the team to come up with creative solutions? Do they seek help when needed to fast track solutions?
Getting Shit Done!
Great product managers get shit done. No matter what. They don’t let small issues get in the way of their team. They don’t make excuses.
Are they proactive about identifying problems and solving them early? Are they effective at removing barriers for the team? Do they have super-human ability to surpass insurmountable obstacles?
Technical and Design Skills
Depending on the product, PMs may need strong design or technical skills. PMs working on customer facing UI should have a good grip on UX/UI practices. They should also be great at working with designers, to come up with good solutions to UX problems.
PMs on more technical products need to have a great understanding of the underlying technologies they are working on. In general all PMs should also have the technical skills required to analyze product usage data and extract key metrics.
Product management is a demanding role and it’s important that PMs feel supported by their managers. Feedback should be balanced. Highlighting strengths, as well as skills they should focus on improving.
Providing actionable feedback is a good way to help product managers develop their skills. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s important that feedback is provided regularly and in context. In addition, every product role is different. You need to consider the skills required for success in each situation.
As I’ve already mentioned, results are what matter most at the end of the day. If your product teams are shipping great products, that customers love, then your PMs are on the right track.