5 Ways to Act More Like a Product Lead (Part 1)

Ross Otto
Product Architect

Great Product Leads aren't born. Great Product Leads acquire their skillset via painful trial-and-error, from working with products, product mentors, managers, and teams in the real world. Learning more, communicating more clearly, finding a better faster path forward are all lifelong learning processes for Product Leads.

In this post, I’ve taken some of the effort out of that for you and started a list of my own with 5 critical skills that every Product Lead should have. Whether you’re already a Product Lead/Manager/Analyst, dreaming of being in Product, or building your own startup, you can take advantage of these strategies now.

Become an expert in your product (and ideally your industry/market too)

The fastest way to think more like a Product Lead is to learn everything you can about your own product. How does it work? Why would you use it? What features is it missing? What doesn’t work? If you can’t answer these questions, you shouldn’t expect anyone else to either. This knowledge will help you to start framing up your own perspective on the strategy and priorities for the product. For those of you just building a product, learn the industry/market and competitor’s products. If there isn’t a direct competitor, look to those products that are most similar.

Channel your users and their needs

A Product Lead is always trying to think like a user. Keep in mind though that you may have different types of users or personas -- so channel one at a time. What’s best for your product is what will drive more value or utility for your user, not necessarily what you think would be fun to build or what your CEO wants. If you frame up your product decisions around what the user needs, you’ll be much more likely to convince those around you to support your strategy and be on your way to building a successful product sooner.

Chunk up problems/features/products into the smallest, valuable components

Senior leadership often doesn’t want to hear it; but, even the most simple sounding product ideas or features often require significant time and resources to complete requirement gathering, prototyping, testing, and development in order to release. And sometimes your team and you may not even know how to solve the problem. Work with your team to identify the smallest problem/feature/product within it that you can build first (as long as it still provides value on its own). Said another way, build stepping stones or building blocks that deliver value sooner and make it easier to do the development. You can always add on later once you know you’re headed in the right direction.

Prioritize against everyone’s needs, not just your own

A good Product Lead solicits feedback and actively listens to a broad set of constituents when developing priorities and a roadmap. Not one person, user or customer should dictate your product strategy. And, certainly, your own opinion shouldn’t dictate it. Instead, rely on feedback from different types of users (perhaps by persona, level, industry, customer, use case, etc.), different teams within your company (customer success, product marketing, engineering, etc.), and key stakeholders (your boss, C-suite, investors, etc.). Take all of their ideas and thoughts into account and prioritize accordingly.

Define common language to translate between teams

We’ve all seen coworkers from different teams talk past or around each other, using their own jargon, acronyms, and nomenclature to describe an issue or an idea. A great Product Lead can play “translator” between these different teams, users, and functions by helping to identify and define common language that can be used throughout the company. When done well, this allows for faster communication, stronger collaboration, and happier co-workers. Start by identifying where confusion happens, and then start documenting, defining, and consistently using and sharing the knowledge. Others will follow your lead.

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Continue reading the next 5 ways in the next post in this series here.

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