In 1997, Ben Horowitz, the epnonymous founder of the famous venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote an article called Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager.
It's a canonical piece in the PM community and worth reading if for no other reason than to better your understanding of the PM role and your ability to collaborate with product teams
Below, I've written a take on PMMs, which is inspired by Horowitz's original piece.
Great PMMs understand how to leverage research and market data to uncover user insights, discover new use cases, and help drive product roadmap decisions. Great PMMs work tirelessly to earn customers' trust and business by solving their problems. They embrace data to understand them, communicate and delight them. Data is PMM's best friend. Bad PMMs think this responsibility falls on R&D or Product Management. They think Google Stats or internal user data is good enough.
💡 Tip: Take advantage of all data sources available to you. Great PMMs will work with Data Science to understand their own user's behaviors. Work with Strategy or purchase reports to understand industry trends. Work with User Experience Research (UXR) to learn how users may use their products. Work with Research and Insights to validate marketing assumptions, test narratives and even product names. Work with Marketing Analytics to do A/B testing of content and learn what sticks. Work with customer support and sales teams to have a secondary source of customer feedback. Great PMMs will look at all data sources and triangulate all insights to ultimately build out a customer journey map with different buyer personas.
Great PMMs understand that great products require great marketing-driven insights and design thinking. They understand that marketing starts at product discovery and they inform product roadmap decisions. Bad PMMs think their role begins when the product is almost ready to launch. They think product exploration is not part of their job and they expect Product Managers (PMs) to fully own discovery and design thinking.
💡 Tip: Always leverage research and data exploration to build out a customer journey map that has 2 primary main objectives: 1. Uncover insights that can help you draft a compelling narrative and marketing plan. 2. Uncover gaps in the journey that can be used to inform product development. Most PMMs only focus on the 1st objective. Great PMMs always think of both objectives. Armed with those insights, schedule and lead a Design Thinking workshop with your product.
Great PMMs understand that the best marketing comes from true product knowledge. They understand the competitive landscape, the product's advantages and weaknesses. Bad PMMs don't think they need to know how to demo a product. They think this responsibility falls on PMs or Sales managers.
💡 Tip: Ask product managers to give you a full product demo and record that session. If you work in B2B, ask the top account executives or account managers to give you a sales demo, and also record that session. Schedule in-person lunch meetings with product experts and use that time to ask the most basic questions you may have about how the product works. Use all this information to build out your own demo playbook: How to demo the product in 5 minutes to C-level, in 5 minutes to a customer/buyer and in 5 min to a tech expert.
Great PMMs want to drive the GTM process, plan and execution. They understand all parts of the business and are respected cross-functionally to lead the GTM process. Bad PMMs think project managers should manage the GTM process. They think they only own the plan but wait for someone to step up and take the lead in executing it.
💡 Tip: Get into the mindset of owning the GTM plan by developing or upgrading an existing GTM template. If your organization already has a GTM template, look at how you can improve it. If it does not, be the first to develop one and establish credibility early on. By going through this exercise you will be training yourself to think in GTM terms and phases and you will organically find yourself leading GTM discussions with critical thought and credibility.
Great PMMs are great storytellers, they understand the power of a great narrative and dedicate hours to developing a memorable and inspiring product story. They use the insights they acquired, the product knowledge they developed and apply it to build a unique and differentiated product narrative. Bad PMMs revert back to technical product explanations or try to copy competitors' messaging.
💡 Tip: Always start with the customer pain, introduce the solution and close with the benefits that solution brings. In order words, start with the ‘Why?' (why should customers care?), introduce the ‘How?' (how will you solve their needs?) and close with the ‘What?' (what benefits will they get from your solution?). Simon Sinek clearly explains this out in his Tedx talk "How Great Leaders Inspire Action".
Great PMMs know that a great brief is key for great creative work. They use the brief to inspire and motivate others to bring their best work to life. They know that a great brief not only inspires work but also can ultimately move cultures, brands, people. They write a brief to inspire and fill the creative team's work with a sense of purpose and possibility. Bad PMMs think of briefing an agency or creative teams as a necessary process. They confuse the purpose of a creative brief with a strategy document and list out all the facts they uncovered and all the things they need to accomplish to be successful but it lacks inspiration and call to action.
💡 Tip: A great brief is a combination of: A problem + An Insight + An Idea. Identify the most pressing problem your customers face. Instead of listing out every insight you captured in your research, either group them into categories or call out the most impressive insight that ties back to the problem you called out. Finally, don't present them with a list of ideas but instead put forward your best idea and let creative teams build upon it. Ultimately, you want your brief to have Prison Yard Clarity. Meaning, nothing in that brief can be misunderstood or it would be extremely dangerous. It could lead to many more clarifying meetings, frustrating creative revisions and potential timeline and budget adjustments.
Great PMMs know that measurement is key to demonstrate business impact of their GTM plan and tactics. They embrace data for research but also to gain stakeholder buy-in, budget approval and ultimately executive credibility. Bad PMMs think measurement is not their responsibility and often come up with excuses about why certain things can't be measured.
💡 Tip: Avoid falling into a measurement "rabbit hole". While some PMMs will find excuses for lack of measurement, other PMMs will often overload their presentations or executive reports with all sorts of metrics (click through rates, bounce rates, open rates, etc.). Great PMMs will focus on only 3-5 measurement metrics and will work with key stakeholders to validate them. Because your work directly impacts business results, try to identify what are the 3-5 most important metrics for your organization or line of business. Most businesses share similar metrics such as customer lifetime value, customer conversion rate, customer churn, product adoption rate and product contribution margin.
Great PMMs help craft a vision for the success of the product and develop tactics and initiatives to support both short-term and long-term goals. Their GTM plan is not built on a launch moment but a series of campaign building blocks that drive long-term product growth. Bad PMMs think short-term, launch moments and not much beyond.They are engaged up until the launch date and then they move on to the next product launch.
💡 Tip: Take a "Netflix binge watching" approach to your campaigns. It is no secret that Netflix is the binge watching king and they did this by ensuring that their original content is readily available to watch at launch. Great PMMs will take a similar approach. Firstly they will make sure that every campaign moment ties back to the previous moment, almost like a story slowly unfolding through content and channels. Secondly, great PMMs will also have a complete multi-chapter storyboard ready before the campaign launch. This does not mean your storyboard is supported with final creative design and content but instead a vision of what the entire campaign will look like and how it will unfold. Providing your internal stakeholders with the entire storyboard before launch will inspire them and build credibility.
Great PMMs can effectively work with senior executives Monday, and on Tuesday check their ego, and take on the dirty, entry-level work normally reserved for associates or interns such as writing a piece of content, updating a landing page or simply collecting and sharing meeting minutes. They embrace change and are able to adapt their plans to support new organizational goals. Bad PMMs don't often take initiative, are unwilling to adapt to new organizational goals and frequently blame lack of resources. They are good at telling others what to do but when the going gets tough, they complain they are understaffed and can't get any work done.
💡 Tip: No matter in which organization you are in, resourcing is always going to be a problem. No matter how profitable or successful businesses are, organizations always commit to more than what their employees can support - "Shoot for the moon and at least land in the stars". Great PMMs will look for resource gaps and adapt their plans to accommodate for those gaps. They will also roll up their sleeves and cover for areas that are understaffed, thereby becoming a key partner to other teams and gaining invaluable favors. This will help you build your credibility but most importantly will allow you to extract more out of other teams because they will be grateful and feel they owe you big time.
Great PMMs are mentors, always looking to share their best practices to help others grow. They relentlessly pursue ways to optimize processes and operating models. The best praise they can get is a compliment on their proposed process or team. They put their ego aside and celebrate team victories. Bad PMMs know when to take but forget when to give credit. They measure themselves based on executive feedback and put themselves ahead of the team's priorities. They like to design programs in silos and only inform and direct cross-functional teams.
💡 Tip: Make a habit of planning for "pre-mortem" and "post-mortem" analysis. Use pre-mortem to think collectively through all the things that could go wrong and things that will drive success in your GTM. Build a back up plan for the things that could go wrong and double down on the things that will drive success. A good exercise is to create two pages in the same style as a NY Times article. Divide your GTM team into two groups. Group A: negative outcome and Group B: positive outcome. Provide group A with one page with the title "Stock price for your company has taken a dive after your product launch fails to live up to expectations" leave the body of the article blank and ask everyone involved in the GTM plan to fill it out individually. Now the same for group B with the following title: "Stock price for your company has doubled in share value after your product launch exceeds expectations". Use these insights as potential roadblocks and levers for the success of your plan. Finally, once the campaign is over, take the time to sit down with the same team and lead a post-mortem analysis. Compare this with your pre-mortem analysis, build out a deck with all those insights and share them widely within the organization. You will be building out best-practices within your organization in no time.
In summary, Bad PMMs are abundant but great PMMs are hard to come by and organizations will bend over backwards to retain them.
Real interview questions. Sample answers from PMM leaders at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, PayPal and more. Plus study sheets on key concepts like positioning, GTM & more.