Adaptive Mindset ‘Hats’ Your Product Manager Wears

Adaptive Mindset 'Hats' Your Product Manager Wears

Product managers wearing various hats.

By DAVID ALLSOPP

No matter the product, industry or company size, successful Product Managers must wear various ‘hats’ on any given day to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But whether you’re looking down the tree from a CEO or GM position, or across the aisle from Engineering or Finance, you’re unlikely to see everything that goes into keeping things running smoothly.

It’s like that old adage about ducks: everything looks calm on the surface, but there’s a lot of furious paddling going on underneath the water.

Making things even less straightforward is that each Product Manager will likely have a different combination of skills. The Product Management profession itself is still relatively new. With no university degree course or global certification standards, most practitioners step into being a PM from areas like Engineering & Agile Operations.

Beyond technical capability/knowledge and qualifications, there are also several adaptive mindsets (what are sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’) that are just as essential – if not more so in some organisations. These are the capabilities necessary to bring their organisation along the journey.

To bring these adaptive mindsets to life, I’ll highlight some of the ‘hats’ your PM may need to wear to get the job done.

The Diplomat

Different people will have different priorities, ideas and needs – it’s just a fact of human nature. Now imagine a large organisation, with all those people having goals, egos and styles of working that can potentially clash and conflict with each other. Getting anything done – let alone getting everyone to agree on what ‘done’ means – can often feel like a miracle.

Your Product Manager serves as your day-to-day diplomat; consulting with all parties to understand their specific wants and concerns, and then and finding the common ground where everyone can work together.

The Counsellor

Whether it’s a frustrated Engineer who doesn’t feel like their concerns are being addressed, an impatient Salesperson who is feeling the pressures of time and budget, or a disgruntled customer who feels betrayed by your product – getting past someone’s surface-level frustration and anger to understand what the underlying concerns are takes empathy and patience.

Your Product Manager will often need to get people to open up to them, creating a safe space to discuss issues without fear of judgement.

Qualitative customer research requires going beyond the surface layer of numbers to
understand what motivates your customer psychologically.

Does your product need to consider their emotional needs more when considering value?

Is their grievance coming from a performance issue or a service matter?

Answering questions like these will save time, money and resources that can be utilised elsewhere.

The Detective

Whether it’s through conducting extensive research with your stakeholders, interviewing customers, sorting through stacks of data or calculating the possible outcomes of any given situation, your PM serves as your company’s detective service – assessing all the evidence and putting together a case for product success.

The Storyteller

Different people will have different priorities, ideas and needs – it’s just a fact of human nature. Now imagine a large organisation, with all those people having goals, egos and styles of working that can potentially clash and conflict with each other. Getting anything done – let alone getting everyone to agree on what ‘done’ means – can often feel like a miracle.

Your Product Manager serves as your day-to-day diplomat; consulting with all parties to understand their specific wants and concerns, and then and finding the common ground where everyone can work together.

The Firefighter

There will always be things that don’t go as planned. A release goes wrong; resources unexpectedly disappear; customers are up-in-arm. Little spot fires everywhere, at any time.

It’s just as well that PMs are especially good at putting out fires. With their role strategically placed to know the difference between what’s critical and what can wait, they have the discipline to move quickly to ensure the situation doesn’t get out of control. It can be a delicate balance between keeping your customers happy and ensuring your team is happy and healthy, so having a Product Manager with their finger on the pulse of the situation can prevent any sparks from flaring up.

The Cheerleader

Celebrating success lets your team know that the work they are doing is making a difference. Even the little wins can give everyone a morale boost as they make progress towards your bigger product goals.

As the custodian of your product roadmap, your Product Manager will keep an eye on all the little milestones you want to achieve – and then let the team know when each is reached. It may not always be an occasion for a huge party, but keeping the team in a positive frame of mind is essential to any group’s achievement.

With that in mind, you’ll especially want your PM around as a cheerleader when times get tough – and they will get tough.

Product is a challenging game, and we won’t always get it right.

Features might fail. Customers may not respond how you’d like. Whatever happens, your Product Manager will be there to remind everyone that setbacks can be overcome, and that your road to product success can handle a few potholes along the way.

Now that we’ve had a look at a few of the ‘hats’ that your PM wears, you’ll likely find yourself starting to recognise these adaptive mindsets when they’re being employed and be in a better position to appreciate the juggling act required and the broader – and often hard to quantify – value that your Product Manager is adding to your team.

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