What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager

What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager by Julia Austin

Because I teach a course on product management at Harvard Business School, I am routinely asked “What is the role of a product manager?” The role of product manager (PM) is often referred to as the “CEO of the product.” I disagree because, as Martin Eriksson points out, “Product managers simply don’t have any direct authority over most of the things needed to make their products successful — from user and data research through design and development to marketing, sales, and support.” PMs are not the CEO of product, and their roles vary widely depending on a number of factors. So, what should you consider if you’re thinking of pursuing a PM role?

Aspiring PMs should consider three primary factors when evaluating a role: core competenciesemotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit. The best PMs I have worked with have mastered the core competencies, have a high EQ, and work for the right company for them. Beyond shipping new features on a regular cadence and keeping the peace between engineering and the design team, the best PMs create products with strong user adoption that have exponential revenue growth and perhaps even disrupt an industry.


Roy DeCarava

Roy DeCarava’s  Graduation , 1949.

Roy DeCarava’s Graduation, 1949.

Born in New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1919, Roy DeCarava came of age during the Harlem Renaissance, when artistic activity and achievement among African Americans flourished across the literary, musical, dramatic, and visual arts. DeCarava did not take up photography until the late 1940s, after working in painting and making prints for the posters division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He used his camera to produce striking studies of everyday black life in Harlem, capturing the varied textures of the neighborhood and the creative efflorescence of the Harlem Renaissance. Resisting explicit politicization, DeCarava used photography to counter what he described as “black people...not being portrayed in a serious and artistic way.”

Roy DeCarava - MoMa Bio

The Value of Probabilistic Thinking: Spies, Crime, and Lightning Strikes

Probabilistic thinking is essentially trying to estimate, using some tools of math and logic, the likelihood of any specific outcome coming to pass. It is one of the best tools we have to improve the accuracy of our decisions. In a world where each moment is determined by an infinitely complex set of factors, probabilistic thinking helps us identify the most likely outcomes. When we know these our decisions can be more precise and effective.



Distribution by Ben Horowitz

When I ask new entrepreneurs what their distribution model will be, I often get answers like: “I don’t want to hire any of those Rolex-wearing, BMW-driving, overly aggressive enterprise sales slimeballs, so we are going to distribute our product like Dropbox did.” In addition to taking stereotyping to a whole new level, this answer demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of how sales channels should be designed.



Invisible asymptotes by Eugene Wei


For me, in strategic planning, the question in building my forecast was to flush out what I call the invisible asymptote: a ceiling that our growth curve would bump its head against if we continued down our current path. It's an important concept to understand for many people in a company, whether a CEO, a product person, or, as I was back then, a planner in finance.

Read More: http://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2018/5/21/invisible-asymptotes

5 books worth reading this summer


I’ve read some terrific books lately. When I pulled together this list of five that you might enjoy this summer, I realized that several of my choices wrestle with big questions. What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed?

Read more here https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2018

Emotion AI Will Personalize Interactions


How artificial intelligence is being used to capture, interpret and respond to human emotions and moods.

This article has been updated from the original, published on June 17, 2017, to reflect new events and conditions and/or updated research.

“By 2022, your personal device will know more about your emotional state than your own family,” says Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner. This assertion might seem far-fetched to some. But the products showcased at CES 2018 demonstrate that emotional artificial intelligence (emotion AI) can make this prediction a reality.  

Arlan Hamilton and her firm, Backstage Capital, have raised a new seed fund for underrepresented founders.


Backstage Capital, a venture fund that invests in underrepresented founders — “women, People of Color, and LGBT founders,” according to the firm’s website — announced a new $36 million fund on Saturday that will invest exclusively in black female founders.

“They’re calling it a ‘diversity fund,’” tweeted Arlan Hamilton, the firm’s founder and managing partner. “I’m calling it an IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund.”


"What I’d do differently if I were the CEO of Kellogg’s" by Ryan Caldbeck

The world of consumer goods is changing at a breakneck speed. This isn’t a shocking revelation to anyone who’s worked in or around the sector. Consumer tastes are becoming more and more fragmented and big incumbents continue to lose market share to upstart brands. It’s often difficult for these incumbents to figure out how to respond. On paper, a lot of big CPG companies look great. They’re full of smart people, they have well recognized brands, international distribution networks, and a lot of money in the bank. Despite all this, many of these brands have seen their sales stagnate or decline over the past several years.    


When Corporate Innovation Goes Bad — The 116 Biggest Product Failures Of All Time


CB Insights has a new article that highlights the biggest product failures of all time.  There are a few lessons from this post:

  1. Some of the failures are with companies that had a core product ie Google with ads that wanted to innovate and focus on building new products.  It is not clear if these companies used the lessons from the launch of some these products as an opportunity to iterate for the future. 
  2. Some of the product failures noted here are with established consumer goods companies who focused on a new product were created for marketing purposes.  Those product failures should be differentiated from the products outlined in point one. 

From the DeLorean and New Coke to the Newton and Google Glass, here's a list of the biggest product flops from corporate giants.


New A.I. application can write its own code


Computer scientists have created a deep-learning, software-coding application that can help human programmers navigate the growing multitude of often-undocumented application programming interfaces, or APIs.

Designing applications that can program computers is a long-sought grail of the branch of computer science called artificial intelligence (AI). The new application, called Bayou, came out of an initiative aimed at extracting knowledge from online source code repositories like GitHub. Users can try it out at askbayou.com.


Once-Hot Social Startup VSCO Finds Success With Subscriptions


VSCO, a hip photo-and-video-editing app popular with people younger than 25, captured attention as a startup riding the early mobile, social wave. Instagram tried to buy it at one point and VSCO later raised $70 million in venture funding. But finding a profitable business model was tougher. To cut costs, the Oakland, Calif.–based company closed its New York office last January.

Now, 7-year-old VSCO has found new life selling subscriptions. VSCO says it has amassed more than one million subscribers in the 14 months since it launched a $20-a-year membership program called VSCO X. It offers photo filters, which it used to sell only individually, as well as video-editing and photo tutorials.


How Do Venture Capitalists Make Decisions?


We survey 885 institutional venture capitalists (VCs) at 681 firms to learn how they make decisions across eight areas: deal sourcing; investment selection; valuation; deal structure; postinvestment value-added; exits; internal firm organization; and relationships with limited partners. In selecting investments, VCs see the management team as more important than business related characteristics such as product or technology. They also attribute more of the likelihood of ultimate investment success or failure to the team than to the business. While deal sourcing, deal selection, and post-investment value-added all contribute to value creation, the VCs rate deal selection as the most important of the three. We also explore (and find) differences in practices across industry, stage, geography and past success. W


"If He Hollers, Let Him Go" by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah




DISCUSSED: Ohio’s Rolling Farmland, Hippies in Tie-Dye, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Kanye West, Oprah, A Simpler Way of Life, Seventy-Year-Old Comparative Literature Professors in Birkenstocks, Negritude,Thurgood Marshall, Black Activism, Patrice Lumumba, Stepin Fetchit, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Hemp Stores, Reuben Sandwiches, Dusk in Yellow Springs


Amazon & Jeff Bezo's 2017 Shareholder Letter


Amazon 2017 Letter to Shareholders

Jeff Bezo's on Wednesday released Amazon's annual shareholder and while it was chockfull impressive metrics around Amazon's business, it also had sage-like wisdom on building a culture of high standards. Here are some of the highlights (check out the link for the business metrics):

Customer expectations can be met, but are not static

Customers are inherently discontent and its due to human nature.  You can satisfy a customer today but you cannot rest on those laurels as they will want more tomorrow. Its not a flaw but rather a feature as humans would not have evolved from early hunter gatherers days without this (See “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari). This leads to the next point

Institute high organizational standards

Organizations should strive to have high organizational standards in order to continue to meet the ever rising expectations of customers.  Are high standards only intrinsic? Not according to Bezos who believes they can be learned by being around those who also have high standards. The corollary is also true, low standards can spread pretty quickly. 

Handstand coaches exist

It takes about 6 months to become a great handstand practitioner. You might be able to be a coach after you master it but this leads to the next point. 


You need to be able to recognize what is great in a specific domain and then have realistic expectations on what it takes to be great in that area. 

Coaches dont have to be experts at a skill, but rather experts at developing those who have those skills

Skill is important but not a required element when placed in the context of teams. At least someone needs to have the skill but teams should be complementary. The example he gave relates to football coaches and quarterbacks.  A football coach doesn’t need to know how to throw but does need to recognize the high standards for throwing and be able to teach realistic expectations on how to improve the skill of throwing. 


So, the four elements of high standards as we see it: they are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope. For us, these work at all levels of detail. Everything from writing memos to whole new, clean-sheet business initiatives. We hope they help you too. 


Insist on the Highest Standards Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. -- from the Amazon Leadership Principles