Tech Simplified Assessment
+ Getting into Product Leadership Roles
👋 Hey, I am Deepak, and welcome to another edition of my newsletter. I deep dive into topics around building products and driving growth.
For the new ones here, do check out the popular posts that I have written about recently if you haven't
10,000+ smart, curious folks have subscribed to the Growth Catalyst newsletter. To receive the newsletter weekly in your email, consider subscribing 👇
Let’s dive into the topic now!
The book Tech Simplified for PMs and Entrepreneurs was launched around two years back. One of the persistent requests from the readers has been to create an assessment to test their understanding and recall.
Merely going through a technical book isn't enough; you have to recall it in conversations. And so, an assessment would help build that confidence in themselves.
We are launching the first version as the 50-question long assessment. People have loved it so far.
I have consciously kept the questions simple. Here is how you should evaluate yourself — If you are able to score 80+, you are in the good league. A score of 60-80 means you don't have a good understanding of certain topics. Anything below 60 means you need to work a little on brushing up on all concepts.
Onto the next topic,
I have been writing a 3-part series on mistakes to avoid in product interviews.
Part 1 was about the entry-level roles(APM/PM). You can read it here.
Part 2 is about the lead PM roles (SPM/GPM). You can read it here.
Part 3 is about executive roles (Director and above). This is what we are going to talk about today.
The interviews in executive roles focus mainly on product and corporate strategy, people hiring and management, setting up a strong culture, and gravitas.
Let's understand them bit by bit! I have been a part of the hiring committee for such roles in startups but not in large companies. I have also made many of these mistakes myself.
So, the blog post is written from that perspective. However, since the skills for such roles are similar in both startups and large companies, the requirements can be assumed to be more or less the same. Also note that rather than focus on mistakes, I have kept the focus on why such a skill is essential, what it means, and then cover one/two key mistakes.
Product and Corp Strategy
We have already discussed the key mistakes people make in the previous post. From the post,
"Corporate strategy is different than product strategy questions. Corporate strategy questions focus on choices that improve the competitive positioning of the corporation as a whole. In contrast, product strategy focuses on choices you must make in a particular product line to meet BU objectives."
At an executive level, you need to be able to not only understand strategy but also define it for the products you are managing. The steepness of requirement changes depending on whether you are managing a product line (as Dir/VP) or a suite of products (as CPO). The higher up you go, the more the focus becomes on corporate strategy.
Identifying and hiring strong product leads/managers is a good way of making everything else easier for the organization down the line. It is also the hardest to learn.
That is why the ability to hire and build a strong team is a key consideration in such roles. People want to know how fast you can build a new team, how well-connected you are to bring people on board, etc.
When it comes to people hiring, one of my favorite phrases is — "You're not a "leader" if no one is following you." Remember this when you get to the next interview in a leadership role. Have the stories from the past that build the conviction that you can hire and build a team.
And no matter where you are today on the PM career ladder, start building your tribe. It will come in handy when you get into leadership :)
As you graduate from a lead PM role to an executive role, a steep change happens in the headcount of the team you are managing.
Earlier, you were managing a few PMs in the lead PM role, and suddenly, you started managing lead PMs who are managers themselves. Managing PM managers is a very different skill set than managing IC PMs.
It's really a conundrum. You need to trust your team to execute the plan, but at the same time, you should have the ability to foresee the problems that might affect the plan. You should also be able to spot an issue with team dynamics quickly.
Further, the lead PMs you are managing are better than you in many aspects of product management. I, myself, had a natural struggle with orderliness because I tend to evaluate bigger and better ideas for higher impact continuously. I worked with PMs who were very strong in this suite. Managing people who are mature and better than you in some regard is a different ballgame altogether.
A common mistake that people make when interviewing for such leadership roles is presenting themselves as 'know-it-all' and pitching the story of how their excellence will help them manage excellent people. While it has some truth, it isn't a convincing story. Different things motivate different leaders. You need to show maturity that you can manage people differently and better than yourself. Authority isn't useful here; building meaningful relationships is.
Setting a strong culture
I resonate deeply with Brian Chesky when it comes to culture,
I define culture as a shared way of doing things. That's it. There are not necessarily good and bad cultures. There are weak and strong cultures. What I consider to be a bad culture, others might think it's good. It's just the way they do things. I wanted to have a strong culture where everyone was on a mission.
The job of the leadership is to create a strong culture around whatever helps the company grow. Google has a people-first culture, whereas Airbnb, Apple, and Meta have a product-first culture. There are also business-first cultures like Amazon.
All the companies have done exceedingly well by setting strong cultures.
To be a good product leader, you need to think deeply about what sort of culture needs to be cultivated in a company. When asked in an interview setting, you should be able to put out your beliefs with convincing case studies. Refrain from stating that one culture is superior to others.
Having gravitas is essential in leadership roles. If you do everything right that we mentioned above and fail around this — you will still fail the interview.
From the HBR,
Having gravitas at work means you are taken seriously, your contributions are considered important, and you are trusted and respected. Gravitas increases your ability to persuade and influence and is likely to fuel the extent to which you rise in an organization. The organization also benefits: You're more likely to add value if your voice is taken seriously.
While some learn this behavior based on their background and nature intuitively, others have to learn it as they move to higher roles. If you are in the latter category, start working on it as soon as you become a lead PM.
It will take a lot of practice and introspection to get good at,
being composed in stressful situations,
knowing how to respond to a crisis,
knowing how to respond to a personal criticism,
understanding where to draw lines..
But start reading around it, and start gauging yourself.
That would be all for this topic!
I would be conducting a Zoom event on Building a Roadmap to Your Next Role
You can check the event here
Besides this, a lot is happening at pmcurve.com.
We have the Growth Playground launch scheduled on 6th Jan '23. Do attend it since growth is relevant for all PMs, and this would be an interesting learning product.
We have a Product Sense cohort set to launch in February.
We have a growth for PM assessment coming soon!
That would be all for this post.
That would be all for this post.