We often hear questions in our coaching circle regarding “What behaviors do you expect/like from your head of product/VP product?”, “What does the Head of Product do?”, or even more generally “What is expected of me in this new {insert role} of Product?”

There are many opinions out there on what constitutes good/bad {insert role of Product} behaviors. Doing a quick google you find Common PM Problem Areas from Marty Cagan, The Art of Decision Making by Sachin Rekhi, 12 things I’ve learned from the Head of Product Role by Chris Leanord, Empowered Product Teams by Marty Cagan, What’s the Secret to Becoming a Great Product Manager, by Peter Krmpotic, What Makes For a Good Product Manager, by Andy Johns, and many more.

Context matters

What we know is that what is expected of a Product Manager is affected by context. Is the company a Start-up, or have they been around a long time? Is the company over 1000 people or under 5? Are the teams 100% remote teams or all co-located? Is the product being led by a cross-functional group of owners or the notion of the PM as the CEO of the Product? Do the teams have the psychological safety necessary to become high performing? Is there already a well installed base and millions of customers or perhaps are they looking for their first customer?

What we also find is that teams are surprisingly vocal about how they want to be lead.

Because of this varying context we get a lot of value out of an exercise where we ask the team what they expect from the {insert role} of product.

Exercise:  What is expected of me as {insert role} of Product?

It goes like this, and for this example we’ll use the role of ‘Head of Product’:

Logistics

Who: Gather the team, in groups of 3-4 at a table + a neutral facilitator to run the exercise.

Equipment you will need: A wall to place sticky notes, two colors of sticky notes per each group, sharpies for everyone.

Exercise

1. Facilitator asks the team:  “Pretend you just got hired into an amazingly Agile company as part of a kick-ass product team. You suddenly feel the need to talk to your Head of Product.

Brainstorm on these 2 questions, 10 minutes total:

2. Why might you need to go talk to the head of product?  Write each reason down on a sticky note (using the same color notes, say yellow)

3. What skills might this head of product need to have that would make this meeting totally rock? (using a different color note, say orange)

Facilitator preparation during the 10 minute brainstorming: Prepare the wall with two columns, one for “why I need to talk to the head of product” on the left side, and on the right side “skills the head of product has that will make this meeting rock”

4. Using the 2 columns on the wall, post up one at a time the answer to question 1, followed by the answer to question 2, so everyone sees link between the “why” and the “skills requested”.

After the post-up what you will have will look something like this:

 

5. Facilitator asks “do we see any common themes? Could we affinity group the results?”  This might happen as the stickies are posted up, if not take 5 minutes to do this.

6. Discuss results. Suggest 20 minutes for this. Questions for the facilitator to ask to help trigger a deeper discussion include.

  • Are there areas where we could be further empowered without having to see the head of product?
  • Are there expectations we have that are not met?
  • Are there skills missing (the collective team + head of product?)
  • What do we need to do to grow our collective skills?

We’d love to have you try the exercise, and share your results. And if you have any questions before you run the exercise, please don’t hesitate to reach out!