What Does a Product Manager Do? Part 5/5: Putting it all together

Throughout this series we’ve deconstructed the dimensions that comprise product management. Here we’ll put those back together, to see how you can employ the 3^3 framework to help you in your day-to-day endeavors.

9 modes vs. 27 types

Unlike other frameworks I’ve developed, the 3^3 model is not a “matrix” in the sense that you would multiply it out to get 3x3x3=27 different types of Product Managers. Instead, I’ve intended that time spent in each of the 3 competencies is a function of the 3 customer types and the 3 contexts. So in effect yielding 9 “modes” PMs operate in.

Guidelines vs. rules

Due to this diversity in the PM role, there is no way to provide a concrete set of rules for it; so the 3^3 framework is meant to be a guideline, with the idea that with a better your understanding of your situation, you’ll understand the requisite skills it takes to be successful. Likewise, CEOs should understand what their company needs, given the stage they’re at, so this could help guide hiring decisions.

Helping you avoid the big mistakes

Some of my motivation for this series was watching PMs take on roles that were poor fits for them, and likewise CEOs, at startups, making hiring decisions that looked good initially, but turn out to be poor ones. This series tries to dig into why those may have happened. So, let’s look at a couple of examples…

Example #1: First product hire at a startup
A CEO I know had just raised an early investment round for their consumer company, and was looking to grow his executive team. Many of their new investors told them they needed to hire a “head of product” (sometimes I think VCs try to fill in generic org chart boxes). After an exhaustive search, their Board set settled on a candidate from a well-established technology company, who was a major industry thought leader. What do you think happened?

Using the 3^3 model, the company was their own customer, and at the “Pre-PMF” stage, (i.e. the Founder / Market fit concept). This meant that the the CEO, and his founding team, had built a product in a market where they had deep first-hand knowledge. So, throwing an industry “luminary” into the mix, without the requisite experience in the domain experience, and without the resource level they were used to operating in, it was a recipe for failure. Not that the candidate wasn’t highly skilled, he just didn’t possess the correct skill set to be successful in the role, at the stage of the company.

In cases like this, I view that the “head of product” role as the job of the CEO (or another co-founder), and therefore their immediate need is for someone to help them execute (“Doing it”), so the founders can scale out of the day-to-day details. Later, this role will evolve into more prioritization and developing process (“Design”) en route to finding Product / Market fit. It’s unlikely, in this case, that an external hire could be given autonomy to own the product “vision”.

Example #2: Mature company launching a new product or division
A second example comes from a colleague who went to an established company to lead a new spin-out. In taking this role, he believed he’d have the best of both worlds working in a “startup”, while also the resources of a large company. However, in reality, he was inundated with meetings trying to persuade multiple stakeholders, across multiple existing business lines, to buy-in; meanwhile the companies planning cycle required longer term roadmaps, with costs & budgets to justify the investments he was asking for.

Luckily, in this case, he was experienced and versatile enough to flex to the needs of the context he was in, even if it was far different from what he originally bargained for. Ultimately, he was able to succeed by quickly recognizing his context, what was needed from him, and making the necessary adjustments.

Other factors

Of course the 3^3 framework is limited in that it can’s possibly account for every variable, so some other major ones to look out for include:

  • Team makeup
  • Specific technologies involved
  • Business model familiarity
  • Organization of complimentary functions (e.g. marketing, engineering, design)


Series Index

If you’ve read this series, hopefully you’ve found it helpful in appreciating the diversity of the various types of Product Managers, and how that may impact finding the right role for you. My aim in this is to help formalize our discipline, in addition to letting my parents to understand what I do for a living :) Please feel free to comment, tweet, or reach out to me; this is certainly a living work, that I’ll update based on new ideas and feedback.



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