Feedback from our First Product Leader RoundTable

We concluded the first edition of our Round Table talks with Product Leaders in Melbourne and Sydney – and what great sessions we had!

Judging from the turnout there is a real demand for more events like this. We had over 80 attendees across Melbourne and Sydney. Our survey responses indicate this too, so we will be hosting more of these.

The intention behind hosting the event has always been to learn from Product Leaders how an Association of Product Professionals might help you address your Product challenges. As The APP, we believe that there are certain tasks that need to be addressed at an industry level. These are tasks that may be difficult for any individual Product Leader to pursue on their own.

We’re embarking on similar round tables with recruiters, trainers, coaches and consultants to learn about their specific Product challenges so that we can obtain a broader, holistic view of the Product Management ecosystem.

So What Did We Learn?

Our overarching discussion topic was “hiring/developing Product Management talent”, and there were some common themes across both cities. These are summarised below.

1) Skills Frameworks:

Many organisations have their own Product Skills/Competency frameworks that are bespoke. There was some agreement that there is probably a 70% overlap in Product skills that are transferrable from one organisation to another. One of the challenges that organisations face is having a common language and “how Product Management is performed at different workplaces”. This suggests that this profession needs some form of industry benchmarking when assessing new candidates so that we are better able to compare apples with apples.

2) Testing/Assessing Skills:

Organisations used different models for benchmarking/testing candidates when hiring. We spoke of Case Studies and Practical Tests that organisations conducted. Some also ran internal quiz/assessments. You flagged that sometimes you would need to be aware of good storytellers.

What was interesting was the discussion on how Product Team requirements in a start-up differed from those in an enterprise and that the training programs hence would differ. As expected, the scrappier start-ups don’t have the resources to match the level of training and development programs that are available at an enterprise, nor the resources to do the deeper filtering recruitment process.

There was also general consensus about the Product Manager being the “catch-all” profession that ropes in people from diverse backgrounds. Since there is no formal degree for the role, it’s hard to create a “standard” by which organisations can measure new entrants to the market. What I enjoyed about this discussion was how open many of you are to hiring people from diverse career backgrounds, and in fact, welcomed or actively looked for candidates who had a fresh perspective to bring. Again though, this brought up the question of how might one assess the transferrable skills from one career (e.g. customer care) to a new one.

A big point that emerged across Melbourne and Sydney was the importance of Adaptive skills. You would hire less for Technical or Functional skills, and more for human skills to add to your team. Measuring this can prove difficult, but it’s probably the most important thing to look at. You would hire for cultural fit or mindset nearly 80% of the time.

3) Hiring Versus Developing:

Depending on the length and depth that someone is hired for, you tend to decide if you are going to get a “Unicorn Gun For Hire” or look for someone with skills you can develop. Typically for shorter engagements, you hire someone with deep skills in one area, but for permanent team members, you look for someone that can grow with the organisation.

On the topic of “talent development,” it was clear that product people are expected to learn on the job. There is no formal training that someone can embark on because the practice is emergent and ever-changing. This is also reflected in the current training/education offering. You told us that there simply aren’t the courses to send people on, nor is there necessarily a guarantee that any of those courses will result in valuable growth for a Product Manager.

Some of you shared great examples of peer mentorship programs that you trialled, or “safe space” testing where you create environments for Product Managers to test their skills e.g. juniors presenting to senior stakeholders. There’s definitely loads to learn from each other here.

One comment that I found interesting was that some of your Product Managers did not want to take on more responsibility. They are technically very capable but did not want to grow in the “influence” space to manage additional people. This creates the need for a new role (Principal Product Manager) in the organisation and is an entirely different branch in the Product Management career path.

4) Low Talent Pool:

Australia is facing a massive Product skills shortage. Anecdotally we heard that there are about 700 product positions open at any time, but only about 500 candidates looking for roles. This creates a massive skills gap. We heard that the struggles to find the right skills in this country is exacerbated by the restrictions on Australian immigration. This means that the talent pools you source your candidates from are limited. You are now looking for talent in areas you don’t normally look at, or are considering accelerating the training of your existing team.

There were also some comments about how your teams sometimes face the “middle management problem” – you have seniors and juniors, but no one in between. This can lead to frustration from the leaders as they need to handhold juniors who aren’t yet capable enough yet to execute the work.

5) Credibility Proxies:

The ability of Product Manager candidates is often “outsourced” to “credibility indicators”. For example, working at a well known “Product-Led business” e.g Canva, Xero, is one way to assess the candidates' skill and experience. Having those brands on a candidate’s CV is sometimes used to short-cut the filtering stage in hiring. Some Hiring Managers use this method to discard candidates quickly, but there is often a risk of leaving great candidates on the cutting pile, and can result in less diverse Product teams. You mentioned how you sometimes encourage a person to work in a different industry to get diverse experience.

6) Executive Representation:

There was a lively discussion on your requirement as Product Leaders to lead the teams and product. You focused on how to shape stakeholders to the needs of your team and directly influencing your team to adapt to the requirements of the business. There is definitely a recognition that walking this tightrope and being the translator between product requirements, growth and business objectives can be frustrating and are one of the most demanding aspects of your role.

So… WHAT’S NEXT?

The round tables have certainly indicated to us that there is

a) a need for more shared knowledge amongst product leaders and,

b) more industry level agreement on the common Product teams.

It feels like we’re reinventing the wheel the whole time.

What we’re doing as an Association

The first action that the Association is embarking on is identifying the common language that we are using as a profession and building out commonly accepted best practices. And that’s where we need your input as a member and Product Leader to help define what those are.

Once we agree on a set of principles, the Association will be working tirelessly to promote the standards for global adoption. We don’t believe that there is a 100% objective standard to measure and hold Product People to, but we do think that 70% of the Product Practice and discipline needs to be the same in organisations so that we can hire quicker, train better and ultimately launch and grow our products with a higher success rate.

The Association is launching in May and we’re inviting you to be part of helping define the next steps of our journey. Here’s what we have planned for our members in the first year:

  • Networking opportunities with peers through our Product Leader Round Tables.
  • Access and contribution to industry specific research topics and white papers.
  • A library of best practice frameworks, job specifications, toolkits and more.
  • A yearly recognition and awards platform for honouring great Product People.
  • The APP Skills and Competency assessment – the first fully digital skills assessment.
  • Access to our peer-mentorship program.
  • Inside scoop on industry movements, career movements and more.
  • Advocacy on your behalf at industry level.
  • Input into defining what the product discipline should look like.

If you would like to have your voice heard, or join in the next Association Round Table, please signal your intention here.

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Association Of Product Professionals

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