This topic has been covered by many, many bloggers. Yet most have written from locales such as the U.S., where things are different from my current home.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenge of building a great product management team here in the Czech Republic. Particularly given the relative dearth of software vendors, which means that experienced product managers are in scarce supply.
Experience is a tempting credential to rely on when hiring. Product management, to paraphrase my esteemed colleague Alan Lefort, is more like a trade guild than a university-taught profession (despite the lively debate over on Cranky Product Manager a few weeks ago).
First, I started thinking about good product managers I’ve known in the past, from places such as San Francisco or Boston. What was in common beyond the obvious experience they had in software product management?
I also thought about the less-than-great product managers I’ve known, and even hired. All had the requisite experience, but somehow that wasn’t enough.
So if it isn’t experience per se, nor a formal degree, what is it?
Without exception, great product managers are great learners. Their innate curiosity means they are always in a mode of learning. It could be reading a book, or asking great questions of others in their own company, or networking with experts, etc.
I’ve recently toyed with intellectual curiosity as a primary interviewing topic. You would be amazed at the disparity of answers from otherwise qualified candidates. Some couldn’t cite any example of how they pursued their curiousity to better their work. Others gave tremendous answers.
The most memorable example of late: a user experience designer told me he learned anatomy in order to better understand how people interact with computer interfaces. And that he studied corporate finance in order to better measure the impact of usability improvements on his product’s financial performance. Wow.
(Note from the cynic in me to future applicants: don’t confuse knowing my hiring criteria with meeting them.)
One of the greatest effects of the Internet is the extreme democratization of knowledge. There’s no reason to not be curious; so much knowledge is free. Those product managers who are curious will be richly rewarded. Those who aren’t are going to be left behind.