The Five People You Meet in Product Management Heaven

Contributed by John ZilchIMG_1215

I’ve always remarked that product management is a difficult role to dress for. One moment I’m in a conference room surrounded by marketing and sales managers wearing cufflinks and sports coats. The next, I’m in a scrum room with developers in concert tee shirts. In jeans and a sweater, I’m only dressed for the moment when I’m tucked into a small conference room making a customer call.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If there’s one element of product management that I revel in, it’s the cross functional nature of the job. Savvy marketers, genius engineers, artistic designers, prospective buyers, industry analysts, ultra-diligent CSRs and, of course, customers are all part of the day-to-day.

Yet, with all of these interactions and resources, it still may not be enough. I’ve identified five – often overlooked – peer personas that all PMs need in their quest to build world-class products.

  • The Miner. We live in a paradoxical data world. We crave it, model it, scale it, predict it yet do a rather poor job organizing and disseminating it. Consider yourself lucky to have someone at your office who can dig for relevant data and assemble it into information that allows you to be the data-driven product manager you strive to be. This isn’t typical IT work either (although you’ll often find this individual in an IT or operations role). The Miner is scrappy and adapts to changing demands and solves data problems that transcend simple data querying.
  • The In-House Customer. Customer interviews are extremely valuable in gaining insight around product usage. But what happens when you have a small nagging question that doesn’t warrant a half hour customer meeting? Having someone on your team who “drinks the champagne” is a colossal time saver and a great source for feedback. So where is this individual in your org? Depends on your product.  Personally, I sell to marketers so my in-house customer is the demand marketing manager.
  • The Maven. Wait, this should be the PM, right? In theory, product managers are counted on to be omniscient product owners who should own every pixel of the offering. Realistically, there will always be a corner of the product that you just didn’t think about when you made that critical product decision or revamped that legacy product feature. Especially valuable for PMs starting a new gig (like myself), this persona is commonly a QA engineer or sales engineer who will assist you with any “gotchas” you wouldn’t have picked up on yourself. Thank them often. (Thank you, Jason Perry and Andrew Parthum.)
  • The Skeptic. Sorry if you just squirmed in your seat. The Skeptic is skeptical about your ideas, your vision and probably your lunch order.  However, in reality, The Skeptic is eternally asking ‘Why?’ and although that can be an annoyance in the moment, it’s actually quite valuable.  Didn’t think you’d have to rationalize the choice of a checkbox over a radio button? While you may not have planned on defending your decision, it’s quite healthy to do so.  I seek this person’s feedback before I share my ideas broadly to make sure I’ve covered all corners.
  • The Advisor. Imagine this scenario: You wake up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough vision for the product. It’s genius! Or is it? If Keith Richards could write ‘Satisfaction’ in his sleep, isn’t it possible that you could dream up the next phase of your offering? You race into work and run the idea by The Advisor. The Advisor is always candid, open-minded and appreciates radical ideas. While The Advisor doesn’t have to be a visionary in the space, he or she does have to ask the right follow up questions to allow you to work through the idea. Talk about satisfaction!

Recognize any – or all – of these people?  If so: good, because you omit their input at your own peril. If not, work on cultivating your influences beyond the usual colleagues you turn to for input. You’ll be glad to have these five on your side.


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John Zilch is a Product Manager at NetProspex, a cloud-based data management platform for marketing and sales leaders. In his current role, John specializes in data management services, inbound enrichment and platform integration. John loves building world-class software products for world-class companies such as Intuit, Pegasystems and now NetProspex. Follow John on Twitter at @JohnZilch and LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/johnzilch.

2 thoughts on “The Five People You Meet in Product Management Heaven

  1. I remember well woking with my first QA manager. He drive me nuts with his worries about “what if” scenarios that would never happen. Then I discovered (the hard way) that 1 our to 10 of his worries had a maddening tendency to come true. From then on he was my best friend in the company. This “skeptic” was one of the first people I went to with any plan so he could poke holes in it before I went public.

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