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Confidence in Product Management

Uncategorized Apr 19, 2020

One of the most valuable currencies as a product manager is influence.  As a Product Manager, you will often find yourself being involved in projects that you may not have any experience in handling yet and influence will help you get the much needed support from stakeholders, your own team and other support teams.  An integral part of influence is having the confidence in yourself, your skills, the project and most especially, your team.

 What makes a confident product manager?

 I think, along with that question, every Product Manager has at one point asked how does a confident product manager act.  As confidence is highly related to high performance, it is even more important for Product Managers. I have talked about the Imposter Syndrome in my previous lessons and how many Product Managers struggle with this.  Many feel they are being an imposter, that they are not really worthy of doing the job.

 In this video, I will paint a picture of what a confident product manager looks like.  These are 11 ways to tell that someone is confident about their abilities. I will give you 11 traits here and keep watching because I have a really nice surprise for you at the end of the video.

 So, the 11 traits of a Confident Product Managers are: 

  1. Leverages in their team’s collective intelligence: asks great questions during team meetings and gets great answers.

  2. Decisive: can make decisions and move forward knowing that  most decisions are type 2 -- reversible with limited downside. 

  3. Fights for their customers: keeps pushing and acts as the pole that pulls their team towards their customers.
  4. Takes difficult conversations head on: gets through resolutions  quickly and moves the things forward
  5. Says no to good ideas that might not be a good fit for the team yet: 
  6. Advocates for their ideas passionately but gets other people’s perspective
  7. Clears off bottlenecks for their team so the team can focus on their work.
  8. Shields their team from confusion by giving them simpler problems to solve.
  9. Gives credit freely as a strong product manager rather than take it.
  10. Works well cross-functionally and across teams because they can confidently ask for help.
  11. Moves faster through their career.


Confident is one of those attributes that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit.  You know I’ve been really trying to figure out what makes for a confident product manager, but as importantly, how do they act.  Like what are the traits by which you could say this person is confident. And there’s been enough studies that have shown that confidence is one of those things that’s related to high performance.  It’s one of the strong attributes of high performers in any field. But it’s super important for product managers, I would say even more so. And second too, the number one question I get asked is how do I get into product management.  You know, a lot of folks are interested in getting into product management. And that was just my daughter walking in asking if we could play video games. Those are the days we live in right now. But anyway, number one question I get is how do I get into product management followed by how do I get into Google.  But the second conversation I have with product managers is a feeling of being an imposter. Of having the imposter syndrome. That you’re not really, you know, you’re not worthy of doing this job. You don’t have all the skills and this constant worry. So today I’m gonna paint a picture of what a confident product manager looks like.  What are the 11 traits, 11 ways you can tell that they are somebody who’s confident in their abilities, in their abilities to figure things out. And then in later live cast, as well as exciting things I’ll mention at the end of this live cast, I’ll talk about how to build that level of confidence.

 So, with that, let’s get going.

 Okay and one great way to follow along is to rate yourself.  Think about how you act in these situations and give yourself a rating in each of these 11 categories. One out of 11.  Oh, sorry, from one to ten in each of these 11 categories. And then you’ll know, you know, where is it that you need to improve.

 So, the first thing I see that confident product managers do well, the trait that they exhibit is that they help their team leverage their collective intelligence.  So, what do I mean by that.  Let me compare and contrast. A confident product manager would be somebody who’s asking great questions in team meetings or of their team so that they can get the best answer.  Not so confident product manager would be trying to see their agenda through in order to ultimately get credit. You know, ultimately, to try to be the person who came up with these wonderful ideas.  The more confident you are, the more concerned about where you end up irrespective of where the idea came from. And you ask really good questions. You know some of the best questions I’ve seen such product managers ask are, you know if they are discussing in a team meeting and trying to figure out a new initiative.  They might ask: What would be considered wild success here? You know, challenging the team to think about what would make them ecstatic of having launched this feature or capability. Or, what would make us stop and revisit our approach. Or, what’s the best answer given the situation or given the fact that we have right now.  So they are always trying to put their team in different modes of thinking so that they can leverage the collective intelligence and they do not necessarily try to see their ideas through. That’s what one of the biggest things that confident product managers deliver.

 So, second one, and you know what, I’ll keep checking back for questions and comments but for now I’ll keep going  three or four of these.

 So, the second one, very important, decisive. You know when, most of the time in product management, you don’t know the right answer and you don’t have all the facts.  If you have about 40 to 60% of the facts, you can make a decision and move forward with confidence. Knowing that on occasion you will be wrong and you could come back and revise it.  See, most of the decisions are type two and type two decisions are, those are the reversible with limited downside. Very few decisions are type one which are “I cannot come back from this” and what we tend to do is we tend to, mostly, treat most decisions as type 1 even though they’re type 2.  So, we think about it, we fret about it, we really like to try to figure out. Well, really confident product managers can stand up to their team and say “Look, we really don’t know all the answers, we can spend another three weeks investigating but that is not useful. Let’s go with this decision and we’ll figure out  if it’s the wrong one as we move forward.” That’s what confident PMs do. Just think about it for yourself. How often, on a scale of 1 to 10, do you put forward decisions and how often do you just wait and try to get all the facts before you make decisions? So, that’s trait number 2, being decisive.

 Number 3 is fighting for the customer.

Look, a normal set-up is that you’re working anywhere from 3 to, I don’t know, thirty engineers, maybe more.  And as you are the product manager, maybe you have a designer and while it sounded generality, often it’s true that engineers care about the customers but they love tech.  Like that’s the reason why they get into it, they love creating things. They love writing great code. It’s an autumn craft and you cannot blame them for it. But what might get lost is the point of view of the customers, it’s what really matters for the customers.  I remember a project I was working on where we were really obsessed about making sure that the product we were launching is fast, that is the key attribute. And we could have spent weeks trying to figure out what’s the right metric, how do we instrument it so that we get as close as possible to the actual customer experience, while our product was in the wild being used by customers and they were not happy with the performance.  So I had a choice. I could be like “Yeah let’s figure out the right metrics, what’s the right thing to do” but the point is that it wasn't delivering customer value. So I had to fight for the customer and say “what do we have today that’s a good enough proxy for us to move forward?” And so this combines for decisive and fighting for the customer cause what the customer needs are performance improvements. They don’t care whether you have the best freakin’ metric and the best way to measure their performance gains.  They really care about, can they access the UI quickly and can they move to the task fast. So, confident product managers keep pushing, keep fighting for the customer and they act as the pole that pulls their team towards the customer. So that’s trait number 3.

Number 4 is, has been the topic of one of my blog post that has really caught on fire and it was ah, sorry I may sound boasting but it was the first blog post to ever be featured in Mind the Product which I think they did a good job of picking all, you know, some of the best blog post across the internet on product management and if you want to subscribe to one additional newsletter, in addition to mine, of course, well then absolutely Mind the Product is a great one to subscribe for.  So, the main thing on the topic that I wrote was taking on difficult conversations head on.  As a PM, anytime you’re advocating for ideas, any time you are trying to get your organization to align and work towards something new, you have a difficult conversation.  You’ll have cases where the other person's being too self-centered, thinking only about their own good. You’ll have cases where a team member is not acting for the best interest of the team.  You’ll have cases where an engineer insists on doing things their own way without worrying about what's good for the customers, and you know we could be surrounded by conversations which are difficult, which are challenging.  If you’re confident, you’re gonna take this head on, you’ll get through resolutions quickly and move the things forward. But if you’re not confident like a lot of people are, and look, it’s human nature here, you might just try to postpone them.  And almost, sometimes, subconsciously you might just try to avoid these difficult conversations. So a key trait of confident product managers that makes them super effective is that they take these difficult conversations head on. It’s almost like they’re playing games, they know they can be good at this.  They know they can come around the situation ahead by having the difficult conversation with someone, even the one in which you might be at fault. You might actually improve the relationship rather than damage the relationship. So, my challenge to you and the way I want you to grade yourself up here is one out of ten like anytime there’s a difficult conversation I’d run for the hills.  I just don’t want to have it. I do everything I can to avoid it. And the ten is, I just go. Prepare myself and go have that conversation. Even if I know it’s gonna be uncomfortable in the moment, I’m just gonna go and take it head on.


Cool!  Checking once again if there has been any questions or comments.  If there’s any just feel free to post and I’ll try to address it. Cool.

Trait number 5 They say no to good ideas.

You might say, hey that’s dumb, Shobhit like why would they say no to good ideas.  It’s because there’s 10 others that are more suitable for the mission you are in right now, for the ark in which your company is moving towards right now.  So, not so confident product managers would really fret and worry about you know like, this data scientist came up with this really awesome idea and now I have to go and say “Nope, that’s not a good idea” or “We’re not gonna invest on that right now”.  And they wait weeks or sometimes months, I’ve seen that, then say no. And by the way, I’ve seen that, I’ve also done that. I remember a role where I just would hold the backlog close to my chest because once that got exposed, like what I was thinking of doing for the next six months, a lot of folks would realize that I’m not going to be able, we’re not going to invest in their ideas.  While what I should have done is just gone to them and said “hey, there are things that are more important. Sorry, we cannot do these ideas even though I think it’s a good one. But it’s not great. It’s not what we need”. So, a confident PM, think about yourself. If you say no to good ideas regularly with empathy, ten. If you hide from saying no, one. Excellent.  


Number 6.  You might have guessed this one it’s that they advocate for their ideas.  Now, remember the first one I talked about  leveraging the collective intelligence of the team.  And now I’m saying you must advocate for your ideas, it’s obviously a balance.  You advocate. I love this phrase that I heard from one of the leaders I worked for.  It was balance, advocacy with inquiry. You know, advocate for your ideas but get the other person’s perspective.   And maybe that might force you to change your mind but then advocate for your ideas with confidence. And, by the way, this also means not giving up easily.  Just the other day I was having a conversation with a client I coach. And we had a conversation on how she wanted to be more customer focused, and the proposals that she had put forward with her company in trying to get more customer focused in trying to get more customers to use it and what ended up happening was she never heard back about it.  And so I asked here “When was this?” and she said “oh that was four months ago” And I’m like “okay, well what did you do next?” She assumed that they were not interested. That’s not what she needs to do. If you have not heard back, if you heard no, try approaching it another way. Tony Robbins often talks about it. He says that look, if you have to, success is guaranteed, if you are firm in your belief,  but the second thing is you’re flexible in your approach. You’re gonna try something, not work, comeback, try it another way. Try a different influencing approach. Go to a different person in the organization. Change the contents of what you’re proposing as in the tactics but stand for your ideas. That’s another thing that confident product managers do.


Okay, we are more than halfway through so I’m just gonna check in.  Ah, great question. Sorry I can’t see your name in the studio, it shows everyone as Facebook users.  So, should it be advocate for customer problems to solve instead of ideas? That’s a great, great point.  So, let me clarify. When I talk of ideas, it’s meant to be somewhat broader encompassing, English is failing me today, but yeah, it’s meant to be broadly encompassing. It could be customer problems, it could also be ideas in terms of process, how your organization listens to customers, how your team works together in starting maybe a customer advisory board.  So, I use it as a general purpose term rather than whether it should be customer problems, or whether it should be a solution or whether it should be a process or way of approaching things or mindset changes it’s meant to be all. But the point is that when you think about it and then you advocate for it rather than giving up too early but excellent question, whoever it was.  I’ll come back and than you later with your name when I can see your name.

 Awesome.  Then I’ll keep going.  Number seven, Be Clear of Bottlenecks.  So, by that, what I mean is, you know, especially if you work on a large organization, you might be dependent on other teams.  You might be waiting on approvals. You know, there might be a whole bunch of stuff going on and often your engineers or your designers “oh we just gotta wait for that to happen” or “I haven’t heard back, so I’ll try something else”. Product, strong product managers especially in these organizations go and say “look,  I’m gonna take over, I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna go fight for getting this thing done. You know, just let me figure it out. Let me get the approvals, you don’t worry about it.” And, sort of relating to advocating for your ideas is by you fighting for your team so that they are shielded and so they can focus on work while you go  tackle organization bottlenecks. So, that’s what i mean by bottlenecks. it’s organization bottlenecks. You might not come across a lot of this in a start-up environment. Even then, there are some like one of the biggest bottlenecks is the attention of your executive team. If they need to win on something, you’re gonna get it. You’re not gonna hold your team because of that but you’re gonna try to figure it out so that’s what strong, confident product managers do is that they take on themselves to go clear out these bottlenecks but instead they, they do so themselves.

Awesome.  So, we have seven out of seven.  I’ll repeat everything at the end.

Number eight is shield their team.  So, this one requires some explanation.  There's an amazing book called Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.  If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s actually such a good read that you know, you’ll just enjoy reading the whole thing. It has stories, like just one of the best books I’ve read on strategy.  One that stood out for me from it was strong leaders, strategic leaders they take a more complex problem to solve and they give their team an easier problem to solve. Oh, wow. What does that mean?  An example from that book was when Starbucks started, you know Starbucks went to a phase where they grew too much and then suddenly they sort of tanked. You know, their growth plateaued, they weren’t getting enough revenue and all these other things.  And they were like, you know all these different ideas that were available for Starbucks to do. You know they could try to go international and grow there. They could maybe launch some new products, maybe they should improve store efficiency. All these different ideas.  But the leadership team, they simplified the problem that the team needed to solve. They took all that data and they made meaning out of it. And they said “Look, what’s happening right now is we are not serving our customers well because customers come in and they see inconsistent experiences across the Starbucks stores.  Sometimes the bathrooms are not clean, sometimes the coffee is not made direct based on their order, that’s what we need to solve. And they gave that problem to the team rather than all these data which the team would, you know, continue to ruminate about but not be able to make any progress. Which means now they could do steps such as closing all stores for I think half a day and retraining their team.  To train the team to, you know, talk to the customers, look at the customers when they are giving them the order.   

A much simpler problem to solve than the problem of figuring out everything that’s wrong with our growth.  The same thing is true at a smaller level for you as a product manager. You know, you could have all these different directions and confusions at the executive level and different points of view.  You take all that and synthesize that for your team and you give them an approach with which they can move faster. So, you don’t just give them all the problems that are there to solve, but you give them a more simplified and you tell them let me take care of everything else that’s going on.  That’s confidence. You both shielded them but you also enabled them but you also said “Hey, other things, you hear other things? Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.” That’s confidence. That’s a confident leader, that’s a confident product manager. And so think about it. If you are getting different inputs from various teams of your, various members of your executive team, your stakeholders, are you just passing all that on to your team or are you synthesizing that, synthesizing that for them and giving them a simpler problem to solve.  That’s shielding your team from all the crap that’s going on.  

Okay, three more to go.  Number 9. This one should be self-explanatory, I won’t spend too much time on it.  They give credit freely.

Right.  They go to everyone and they are, rather than trying to credit for your ideas, for these sort of things, they just tell people when they did a good job.  When they are praised, they say hold on this person did a good job. Look, I was a pretty needy PM at one point. You know, and I was like “why am I not getting recognized?” and I used to fret and worry and eventually I realized that product management is just a role where you actually don’t get credit.  It’s just a fact of the situation. You know, you’re never really the hero. You know, it’s like sometimes, people getting into this field think that they are going to be the hero. And that’s what brings them to the field. You accomplish a lot, you make a lot happen but it’s often behind the scenes. Sure, you might get on stage sometimes and announce your product launch.  That feels great, it feels great to be on stage but most of the time, you’re behind the scenes. And it’s like the team did really something well, the team gets credit, the engineers get credit. And you as a strong leader, as a strong product manager would give credit freely rather than take it. So think about it. Is credit, like do you need that validation, do you need that credit to feel good about yourself?  But do you just feel confident in your abilities and you are able to give credit freely to others.That’s number 9.

 Number 10.  Sorry I’m gonna go a little over than the 30 minutes I have allotted.  Hope you can stay with me or you can always catch up, as well, on Facebook, as well but this is so worth your time. This is so worth your time.  I’m confident about that.

 Number 10 is they work well cross-functionally and across teams because they are able to influence.  Because they are confident in asking for help when it’s needed.  Because they are, they just work well with others cause they are not seeking others to completely drop what they’re doing for their own concerns but they can confidently ask for help.  Especially larger organizations, confident PMs always work well with cross-function teams, influence other people, but at the same time listen to them.

 And last but not least, what you’d notice with, it’s almost a result of doing all these things and because of these confidence attribute, confident product managers just move faster through their career.  They get promoted, they work for the right companies that they want to work for, they speak up in their company and outside you just see all that happen and confidence is one of the underlying layers behind all of these.

 So let me quickly, let me remind you of what the things were.  What were the 11 traits that I know I noticed in confident product managers and then I have something special to tell you at the end.  So, the 11 traits are, leverage in your team’s collective intelligence, be decisive, fight for the customers, take difficult conversations head on and don’t avoid them, say no to good ideas who might not be a good fit for what your team, what your organization need right now, advocate for your ideas passionately, clear bottlenecks for your team; shield your team from confusion, give them a simpler problem to solve, give credit freely and as a result, oh sorry, and work well cross functionally and across team, and as a result move through your career faster.  Now this is what happens when you have confidence. I’m going to help you have better confidence. So, I’ll post this link here later, in the first week of May, what I’m doing is I will be recording a course to help you gain confidence as a product manager. That’s the headline It’s all about how do you figure out how to get confident fast and how do you keep growing that throughout your career. Now this is a course I am going to sell for hundreds of dollars but what I’ll be doing is I will be doing a three-day challenge where I will be recording this course live with you so you, you know, we’ll be in Zoom.  You can interact, that will actually make this course better, but you can see me record all of it, you can look at all the lessons, learn all the techniques and tactics, completely for free, you just have to show result, oh sorry, and work well cross functionally and cross team and as a result, up. You just have to show up, you get it completely for free and later the same course will sell for hundreds of dollars. This is my invitation for you. What I’ll be doing is I will be posting the link here as a comment for you to register for this and then you can just attend those three-days of learning about how to be a confident product manager, how to get rid of that impostor syndrome and also quickly move through your career.





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