Home > Hiring > Hiring product managers: questions to ask and detect a real gem

Hiring product managers: questions to ask and detect a real gem

I posted this entry on my old blog.   Since then I switched to WordPress.  But this topic seems to be very popular.   One of my clients asked me to strengthen their product management team.  Taking a product management team from ‘good’ to ‘great’ is one of the most difficult journeys.   Great product champions are simply in short supply – always.

Here are my thoughts about a great product manager, better yet – an exceptional product manager:

Is a convincing product champion. Exceptional product managers are excellent communicators who can engage the customer very well.

Is a visionary. It’s easy to say “we need to build X because customers A, B, and C need X”. It’s much harder to say and justify “we need to build X because X will open and create new markets”.

Is a crisp ‘distiller‘. Exceptional product manager distills customer pain points into a set of product capabilities that can help the customer in a measurable manner

There are of course many questions one can ask a potential product manager candidate. I will share some of the questions which proved to be valuable over time:

Product champion?
“Were you ever in the position to sell your product or explain its capabilities in a highly competitive environment?”
“If you lost the deal – what would you like to do differently next time?”
If you won the deal – why was your product chosen by the customer?”
NOTE: It’s important to look for the ability to lean from mistakes or losses. Champions are made, not born.

Visionary?
“Did you work with early stage products or were in the position to rapidly offer a series of very new capabilities not offered by any of the competitors”?
“How did you prioritize or select one capability vs another”?
“How did you position these capabilities to potential customers who have never even thought about them?”
NOTE: Look for a convincing and repeatable thought pattern when the candidate speaks to the customer, “this is a problem, you happened to have this problem, this problem can be addressed by these capabilities, which are only available in my product, and these are the metrics of success if you buy the product”.

Crisp distiller?
“20 customers want seemingly different things. Did you ever create a set of consistent of capabilities which answered 20 different needs in one release?”
“How did you do it?”

Exceptional product managers most likely read the book “Product Strategy For High Technology Companies” by Michael McGrath. It’s an incredible source of information about managing evolution of any product.

It’s always good to ask a product management candidate if they read any product management books lately and who they admire as a great product leader.

Categories: Hiring
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