How to strategically hire Product Managers

Building a Product Management practice (2/3): In this second post of the series I will share how to create a balanced range of skills as you grow your Product Management team

You have made the leap and have hired your first or even first couple Product Managers in your organisation. The product teams are growing fast and to keep up with the demand of aligning priorities for those teams, you also need to think about how to scale the group of Product Managers in your company.

Now, it is easy to “just add more Product Managers”. Going through this exact journey several years ago, I have found it to be much harder to grow your Product Management practise with real purpose and intention. If done right, you’re setting yourself up for establishing a highly effective and scalable team of Product Managers that will have tremendous impact on your organisation and product success.

But be warned, it’s not an easy task to find the right timing of when to grow the team, what skills to look for, and how to set the right foundations at the start to allow for strong future growth.

In the first article of this series I talked about the importance of Product Management and the risk of waiting too long to hire your first PM. The same applies for waiting too long to grow the team: if your Product Managers get too stretched firefighting on their products or product areas, you will create gaps in some of the most important activities for your company such as:

  • 💡Driving and evangelising the vision and value proposition, keeping focus on the target market and product positioning

  • 🥅 Setting clear product goals that are aligned and contributing to the wider business goals

  • 🗺 Driving strategic roadmaps, team and stakeholder alignment with the use of clear prioritisation frameworks

  • 📊 Setting up product analytics, tracking the product north star and key metrics, measuring product experiments such as A/B tests

  • 🤓 Aggregating and prioritising behavioural data, sales and growth insights, customer feedback, market research

  • ⏲ Driving delivery timelines, coordinating releases, updating the wider stakeholders on deliverables

  • 🤝 Facilitating team retrospectives, continuously improving tools and processes, driving team motivation and velocity

  • 📃 Driving and refining product documentation, product team tools and frameworks

If you have grown to a stage where despite best efforts your first Product Manager(s) simply cannot allocate enough time to one or more of those key areas, it is time to grow the team.

Hire to your deficit to keep evolving

The trick is now to not only think about more headcount to spread the load, but to also think strategically about your product management practise itself. Any strong PM should be able to perform all of the activities above on their product or product area, but every Product Manager I have ever talked to also had at least one or two areas that they were clearly more strong in than others. This creates an opportunity to plan your hires very deliberately to create a wide range of skills in your team.

Ask yourself: which activities do you have covered well in our product management practise, and which ones do you need to get better at? The analysis of current skills versus your gaps should strongly inform the hiring for your team.

The reality is that product frameworks and demands in our role keep evolving incredibly fast. While you’re focussing on upskilling the team in one area, you’re already creating a new gap in another. I personally don’t think this should be disheartening by the way, but simply drive us to always keep learning. We can’t do it all at once of course, so it’s important to set clear focus and goals for the team depending on the most important needs.

You should however work towards creating a baseline to make sure everyone is skilled enough to perform all of the key activities at a sufficient level. Once you have created this baseline, you can set goals to advance the teams on certain frameworks and tools that you believe will have the biggest impact on your current product and business strategy.

Key Steps for growing the team effectively

1. Analyse the strongest and weakest skills in your Product Management team

Where are your most obvious gaps? You can use the product responsibilities checklist I created in Notion to analyse your coverage and identify the key skills your next hires should bring to the team.

2. Hire to your biggest gaps to create a balanced baseline

You ideally want full coverage of all key Product Management skills. This doesn’t mean everyone has to be an expert in all areas, but they should be able to perform all key activities at an acceptable level, or know who to reach out to to get support. You want to avoid creating an obvious skew towards one area while lacking skills in another.

The most common example I see is when PM teams are biased towards the delivery side while lacking skills on product strategy, or the other way around. One can’t live without the other, so be very deliberate about creating a balanced team. Product Intelligence skills are also often forgotten about or deferred to a separate, often disconnected analytics team.

3. Elevate the skills that will have the biggest impact to your product success

Creating full coverage is already hard, but if you have managed to establish a baseline of strong strategy, delivery, product intelligence and operational skills, you can now think about which areas would give your company and products the biggest advantage.

If for example your product is playing in a very saturated space, being first to market with additional features can have a massive impact on customer acquisition. In this case you could invest on further levelling up everyone on delivery techniques. It can also vary depending on the lifecycle stage of your product - you might have a stronger need for advanced product analytics skills as your customer base and amount of data increases.

Final 2 Cents

My general advice is ultimately that you need to hire with a clear strategy in mind. Identify what you’re already doing well and what you need to upskill your Product Managers on to fill gaps, then double down on on areas that will give you true competitive advantage.

Hiring PMs who have skills that you might not have yourself is one of the best things you can do - you can now use them as coaches and mentors for everyone in the team to evolve your overall Product Management practise. 💪🏼

Coming up in the next post in this series: you have several Product Managers, how do you now set yourself up for future scale? How do you manage your time and processes as the team keeps growing?

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If you have gone through or are about to go through a similar journey, I always love to talk to other product folks and exchange wisdom / tips / sorrows. Comment below or reach out directly via LinkedIn or Twitter!