How To Hire – Hiring Product Managers

When you are hiring product managers and building a product management organization, there is a strategy. I want to share that with you.

Pragmatic Marketing, “the authority on technology product management and marketing”, uses a system they call “The Product Management Triad” to talk about most things product. Their hypothesis is that there are three components to product management: strategy, technology, and marketing. I actually really like the Pragmatic Marketing Framework. This is not a bad vision of the universe. The next step in their hypothesis is that product managers typically excel in one of these areas and are not as strong in other areas. This is probably true also. The final part of the Pragmatic Product Management plan is that their revolutionary break is that instead of organizing product management teams is that they should be organized by their competency rather than by product.

Product Triad

The idea of having a product manager in charge of marketing for a broad suite of products, a product manager in charge of strategy for many products, and a technology product manager sounds okay in practice, but for me, it seems a bit cutesy. I have several concerns:

  1. In my experience, there is simply more technical work. So maybe you end up with a bunch of technical product managers.
  2. If you have a product marketing manager, the best hire for that is probably a marketing person. So they probably get pulled off your team eventually and put in marketing.
  3. Strategy is probably coming from the head of product, so you end up with a head of product and a bunch of tech product managers that are responsible for supporting marketing but suck at it.
  4. Even if they stay in Product, the marketing person probably doesn’t know the products as well as you would like. And they are the face of the product organization to people like Sales.
  5. People like to have someone to blame. When someone says “What is the deal with this product?”, the answer can’t be, “well, it depends what aspect of the product you mean.”
  6. Product managers typically want to own products. If they just wanted to deal with engineers, they would probably work in a PMO or something.

Now #2 is kind of selfish in an empire building kind of way (albeit, the other side of that coin is “Do you want to be a real product organization or do you want to end up just a technology function?”), but the real issue of #4 is a thing. So much of our business is about edge cases and how things actually work, the moment where a product person is in the field, they have to know the product cold and that usually means a deep involvement in building it.

So for me, I have always tended to let product managers own products. Frequently they are aligned with engineering teams in a slightly different way because engineering teams are frequently not organized around go-to market products, so it looks kind of matrix-ey, but there you go.

Hiring product managers that excel in all of these areas is still quite difficult. Given this, when I have to choose, I veer towards engineering-centric product managers. I have found that, in this industry, growing as quickly as it is, engineering is where it is at. If products are released more quickly, with better capabilities than competitors, then you win. If not, you lose.

Further, if a product manager can’t work with engineering, then that will be really bad. If they aren’t good at strategy or working with sales, I can help with that, but the day to day grind of product management in this industry is partnering tightly with engineering. If you can’t work effectively with engineers, you are DOA.


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