Good Product Manager – Bad Product Manager

Ben Horowitz is a co-founder and general partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. His background includes co-founding and serving as President and CEO of the enterprise software company Opsware that was ultimately sold to Hewlett-Packard for US $1.6 billion. Andreessen Horowitz has invested in over 150 companies including Facebook, Foursquare, GitHub, Pinterest, and Twitter.

David Weiden is a partner at Khosla Ventures, a famous VC firm, where he focuses on Internet software and services. His background includes working at Netscape, AOL and other high profile software companies in senior technical, marketing and business development roles. He has been recognized by Fortune and Forbes as one of the top technology investors.

The above suggests that both Ben and David know something about software and technology companies. Therefore I have with much interest read today a couple of articles written by them on the subject of product management.

Good Product Manager – Bad Product Manager

The first article, Good Product Manager – Bad Product Manager, focuses on “just” product managers (as opposed to managers of product managers, which is the topic of the second article). It’s very much worth reading, but here is a quick digest.

A good product manager:

  • acts like and is viewed as CEO of the product
  • balances all important factors including: Company goals & capabilities; Customer demand; Competition; Areas of uncertainty
  • maintains clear, written communication with product development
  • has clear goals and knowledge of her products’ advantages
  • has a focus on the sales force and customers
  • has discipline
  • demonstrates Group Product Manager skills and capabilities while she is a Product manager (which brings us to the second article…)

Good Group Product Manager / Dead Group Product Manager

The second article, Good Group Product Manager / Dead Group Product Manager, focuses on managers of product managers (in this case the title is Group Product Manager but it can also be Director of Product Management, Head of Product Management etc)

It’s fascinating reading, with insights that look counter-intuitive at first glance but really make sense once you have taken a minute to think about it. For example:

“Group Product Manager is the most important non-executive position in a software company. In fact, it is more important and has higher impact on the company than many executive posts. A failed product can sink the company. A successful product can literally redefine the course of the business. Nobody is more responsible or more accountable for a product than the Group Product Manager. As a result, the job is characterized by massive success, massive failure, and little in between.”

It’s quite difficult to summarise this article, but if you are under time pressure right now, here are some takeways, quoted from the article:

  • Good GPM: Knows the Good PM / Bad PM principles cold and constantly strives to execute them
    Dead GPM: Forgets about the basics
  • Good GPM: Owns the overall product strategy and success
    Dead GPM: Overdelegates, doesn’t think broadly enough, or fails to deliver
  • Good GPM: Asks questions, listens and learns — about everything — necessary to meet their responsibilities
    Dead GPM: Ignores important areas, assumes the best, fails to ask tough questions
  • Good GPM: PMs have a CLEAR understanding of what they need to do to excel
    Dead GPM: Subordinates have murky or different understandings of what is needed to excel
  • Good PM: Creates exciting jobs for subordinates with clear opportunities for visible success and failure
    Dead PM: Creates mushy jobs that aren’t visible
  • Good GPM: You set and maintain the strategy, executives provide input and leverage
    Dead GPM: Rely on direction from executives
  • Good GPM: Knows when and how to get organizational buyoff on product strategy and marketing plans
    Dead GPM: Inadequate knowledge and skill navigating the organization

Final insight? “You are now ready to be a Group Product Manager. May the force be with you.”