Product leaders: don’t lose your proximity to the heart that keeps your business alive and well

David Hoang wades into the treacherous waters of the Should managers be technical? debate, and IMO comes out safely on the other side. I really like the 3 points he makes towards the end to articulate his point of view. I won’t spoil it because it’s worth reading the whole post. There’s one other bit I wanted to comment on, though:

The key roles of managers are to set expectations, ensure the team is operating efficiently, and maximize the output of the people on your team. In order to develop people, you must have a certain level of understanding of what skills are needed for people to be successful. However, as you progress in your career, there are going to be different org structures in place where it’s relevant. If you’re a Chief Product Officer, they likely have a more broad level of understanding of other functions outside of their domain and will put leaders in place who have the depth of knowledge in those areas.

I agree with the point that as you move into a leadership role, you can’t be as involved in the technical details of the product as much as you used to. But one mistake I see leaders make is to extract themselves completely from the product. And this becomes a bigger problem, especially in larger organizations. The further away the leadership team are from customers and the product, the more difficult it becomes to create product strategies that provide real customer (and business) value. Without the context of how the product works—and more importantly, how customers use the product—you cannot have a strategy that fully takes customer value into account. You end up with strategies that are too heavily skewed towards business value. A good product strategy balances both those things.1

So, leaders: Spend time with your product at a deep technical level. Download Postman and interact with the API. Ask to be invited to a few customer calls each week, and attend at least one every two weeks. Don’t lose your proximity to the heart that keeps your business alive and well.

  1. Side note: last week I started a new series for the Elezea newsletter about how our team collaborated on developing our Product Strategy. I hope it will be helpful to those who need to do similar work in 2023. You can read Part 1 (and subscribe to get the rest) here