Self-aware people always make great product managers.
The problem is that 95% of people “think” they are self-aware, while only 10-15% genuinely are self-aware.
Today, I share a simple 5 step process to become self-aware as a product manager. Following this guide will help you accomplish three things:
1. Know the skills required to succeed in your role
2. Understand how well you’re doing one each of them
3. Identify the areas which need the most work to get you to the next level
Step 1: List skills, dimensions, and expectations
Create a long list of skills, dimensions, and expectations. Focus on the skills most critical for professional growth.
Every skill can have multiple dimensions (example below), and every dimension has an expectation (or pass criteria).
The skills and dimensions are the same for most levels (PM, SPM, GPM, VP, etc.) But, the expectation for each dimension will be different and specific to the level.
Skill: Product Sense
- User empathy.
- Working with ambiguity and complexity
- Data-based decision-making
Expectations for a Product Manager (2-3 years of experience)
- User empathy: you understand the entire ecosystem of users. You talk to them and ask the right questions to identify the pain points.
- Working with ambiguity and complexity: you can own a small project with a well-defined problem statement. You need little to medium support from your manager.
- Quality: you deliver solutions that tackle the right problem and satisfy the user’s needs. You need little to medium help from your manager in defining the solution set.
- Data-based decision-making: you are familiar with existing metrics, analytics tools, and experimentation. You can analyse experiments and form decisions based on the same.
Expectations for a Senior Product Manager (3-6 years of experience)
- User empathy: you understand your users, user segments, and their pain points. You collect quantitative and qualitative data on your users. You can make good product decisions based on user empathy.
- Working with ambiguity and complexity: you own a broad and large problem space. You understand how the problem space ties into the larger strategy of the product/company. You can break the larger problem into smaller actionable projects.
- Quality: you consistently find effective solutions to the user’s problems. You are an expert in identifying and fixing the root causes of product failures. You motivate the team to build long-lasting and high-quality solutions.
- Data-based decision-making: you are an expert in your product area’s metrics and can leverage past user research and data to define new metrics and goals for the team. You can generate fresh hypotheses and run experiments to validate them. You can lead meetings to share experiment results and decisions based on the results.
As you can see, the expectations from an SPM are drastically different from that of a PM. While PMs focus more on execution of well-defined problems and solutions, SPMs run the show end-to-end with close to no support.
The best way to create a list specific to your level is to ask your manager. If you do not have access to such a list, let me know, and I can create one based on your company and role.
The next step is to measure yourself on each of the dimensions objectively. And to do that, rate yourself on a scale of 10. This is how I recommend using the scale.
- Score < 3: I do not understand the job expectations, and I am unable to contribute in a meaningful way
- Score = 3 to 4: I understand the job requirements and am getting some of it done, but I cannot contribute in the most effective way.
- Score = 5 to 7: I understand the job and am doing well in meeting my manager’s expectations.
- Score > 7: I understand the job and am exceeding meeting my manager’s expectations. I am ready to move to the next level.
At the end of this step, you should have a very good sense of how you gauge yourself across all the dimensions.
Step 3: Ask others to rate you.
You need to repeat the same process by getting others’ ratings on your performance.
I recommend sharing the same sheet (with the self-rating hidden) with stakeholders you work with closely. Include your manager, engineering manager, design manager, and business stakeholders you regularly work with. Aim to have 3-6 people in your list.
This step is critical in understanding how others perceive you and how close is their perception to your perception?
When you request feedback from others, add a few open-ended questions:
1. What do I do well, and should continue doing?
2. What do I do but should stop doing?
3. What do I not do, and should start doing?
Step 4: Identify opportunity areas
At this stage, you should know what you do well and what you should improve. Next, you should prioritise the top two or three dimensions to focus on for the next 3-6 months.
The best way to prioritise:
1. Add an “importance” column for each dimension.
2. Rate the importance on a scale of low-medium-high.
3. Highlight the dimensions that are medium/high on importance but are low on self and manager rating.
Once you have identified “opportunity areas”, focus on improving them in the next 1-2 quarters. Work with your manager to create an action plan to help you get a 6+ rating on the opportunity areas.
Step 5: Repeat this process, measure progress
Do this process regularly. I recommend at least once a quarter. Do it even if your manager doesn’t.
Every time you do this exercise, measure the improvement you made in the opportunity areas. The questions you should answer:
1. By how much has my score increased on the opportunity areas?
2. What did I do to increase it?
3. Were there any big achievements that helped me?
4. Does my manager agree with my evaluation of the progress I’ve made?