Product Management roles are getting snatched up like hotcakes!
In a world of finite problems, the tech industry is bursting with ideas. Who better to try and tend to the pain points with potentially infinite solutions than a well-coordinated team of PMs, designers, and engineers?
What makes it really cool is that there’s not really a set “PM course curriculum” that feeds students right into the industry. Sure, we have some of the usual direct and lateral career tracks, but it IS possible to break in from non-traditional majors and succeed in understanding our users’ needs.
For the folks who are starting to take on a product mindset, we hear a lot about tending to our customers’ pain points, but how about our teammates’ influence points?
We shouldn’t forget the human side of the job. Even if we often don’t start with formal authority, collaboration is essential. After all, you’re a conductor between different creative parties at the end of the day — no matter the organization or function in the product’s lifecycle.
This is where I want to offer up some food for thought!
Product Management and Consulting titan Ken Sandy introduces four key mindsets, how you can work with each of their successes and shortcomings, and how you can eventually lead a team with positive influence.
(Quick plug: I highly recommend getting a copy of Ken’s book, The Influential Product Manager, which gets into the human side of PM’s best practices.)
I thought it would be a fun exercise to find resonance in the characters most of us grew up with to start working with Ken’s different mindsets shown to the right.
It’s pre-Star Wars, pre-Marvel Disneyverse time!
The Explorer / The Dreamer → The Visionary Product Manager
Why? Whether he’s 90% good or 90% bad, Stitch is undauntedly curious. No matter which galaxy he finds himself in, he soaks everything in and quickly cobbles up solutions with the tools in front of him to realize his goals.
Biggest Product Strength: Resourcefulness, often relentless optimism, passion
Biggest Product Weakness: “My way or the highway,” stubborn, hesitant to share the workload out of fear that their vision might be negatively altered
Most Compatible with: Fellow Dreamers and Detectives
Main Foil: They can butt heads with Challengers, but they eventually need them to add foundation to their castles in the air.)
Influence Point: Support their vision. Find a way to geek out with them.
The Analyst / The Detective → The “Data-Back” Product Manager
Why? “I can see what’s happening. And they don’t have a clue!” Timon doesn’t want us to leave any stone unturned, and he’ll tell us why. The “data-back” product manager is a ride-or-die, propped up by data just as much as Timon is propped up by Pumbaa.
Biggest Product Strength: Keen data observation and pattern recognition, mix of gut feeling with common sense to make the best out of a situation
Biggest Product Weakness: Falls into “the question quagmire,” getting so lost in data that it’s hard to focus and move forward
Most Compatible with: Dreamers & Challengers
Main Foil: Evangelists are actually the vine Detectives will need to grab to get out of the question quagmire. To craft an effective story, you need to marry art with science.
Influence Point: Be curious with the facts/data they’re bringing to you! Align with them over a specific happy hunting trail where they can do more digging, and they can get back to you with focused key insights that’ll push the team forward.
The Challenger / The Nay Sayer → The Technical Product Manager
“Mitigates risk and creates focus”
Why? Give a little whistle, and your chirping conscience will soon be there to help you make clearer calls away from the passion of the heat of the moment. They’ll throw curveballs, but they do it to underscore the reality of the situation and pave the way for a viable solution.
Biggest Product Strength: Deeper experience and perception, appreciation of the specific product building process; more awareness and less blindspots
Biggest Product Weakness: Too noble to curb and too lofty to bend, making them less able to see more creative solutions that don’t come out of the pre-existing rubric
Most Compatible with: Detectives and Evangelists. Constraints unleash their creativity!
Main Foil: They may think Dreamers are driven by naivety, but together, they can build something efficient and delightful for customers.
Influence Point: Don’t flee from the curveballs- embrace them as questions that’ll improve the next product iteration.
The Evangelist / The Cheerleader → The Product Marketing Manager
“Delivers a path to delivery”
Why? Mickey’s face is ubiquitous, and it sells. Disney in particular is the expert in pushing the brand forward with a customer-gripping story. Disneyland evokes the hopes and dreams of users young and old.
Biggest Product Strength: Extols the virtues of every team member and pushes for delivery
Biggest Product Weakness: Not cushioned against sharp turns, harder hit if things go wrong
Influence Point: Ask them how they want the customer to FEEL. Channel into that and try to weave in the data.
Compatible with: Dreamers and Challengers. Both work to get to an overarching message.
Main Foil: Detectives with the cold, hard facts can add more to an emotion-gripping story.
Like with Disney’s classic storytelling and 1990s-2000s bangers, it takes a great ensemble to pull off a delighter for customers. Regardless of how technical your role is, how do you optimize these characters to ensure you get as many creative solutions (not just PMs but also designers and engineers) while paving the way to alignment?
Know your team. Learn to work with people to figure out the problems you need to prioritize, especially when other tasks and stakes are being held in the balance. No matter which level you’re at in your career, lead, align over values, and inspire with healthy influence instead of unhealthy manipulation.
It takes some elbow grease to figure out the golden combo of PMs and work some real magic, but who knows, you may end up making some dreams come true!
Curious to see where you’d place some more beloved Disney characters that come to mind on Ken Sandy’s Four Mindsets chart!