Expert's Corner

How to hire the right product manager

Are you looking at hire the right product manager but you don't know where to start? Let our framework help you with clarity.


We recently hired our first Senior Product Manager to lead Upflowy.com product. It turned out to be a much more complicated process than expected, mainly due to the constellation of skills covered by the title “Product Manager”. Here is how we cracked it.

The outcome is a framework with a kickass pun as a name – A.G.I.L.E. – for which we’ve already received a fair bit of positive feedback. It made all the difference to help us hire the right product manager, and we hope it will help you do the same!

But let’s explain to you how we got to this framework and how you can use it too! 

 

The pain with hiring a product manager

We are a young startup in the marketing automation space and just passed our 10th hire. The lack of a product manager to structure our IT team’s work was quickly becoming critical. In the lead up to this new hire, we posted a one page ad on our investor and community networks. 

It wasn’t until after this job ad that we realised how many different types of profiles for a product manager were available. We were receiving applications with a wide range of different skills, and it seemed that we were comparing apples and oranges.

However, at the same time it seemed that we were not clear enough in our job description and we were potentially missing out on good profiles. We needed to come up with a better way of filtering down what we needed at Upflowy and hire the right product manager. We also identified this could be a pain point for many other businesses and startups.

 

How we discovered a better process 

While taking a step back on why we were not clear enough with our expectations, we realised we were actually mixing up different dimensions: 

  1. What our team needed to be efficient today – we needed both someone that would run efficiently our sprints, and someone who could help with user research and product validation (remember we were a 6 month old startup at the time).
  2. What our ambitions were for the mid to long term, typically we were already thinking that our early hires will occupy key positions in 2-5 years. In theory, we were looking for someone who could become a CPO, or a Head of customer success.
  3. What we thought the market, and especially the investor community, would want to see in our team during the next fundraising. Typically we had in mind someone who could become a thought leader in its own community, would write articles, and articulate our product vision to the world.

As expected, what resulted was a mushy “one-fit-none” list of expectations. We felt the need to clarify our need, and looked for a framework to help us.

What came out from our research was very useful links pointing to specific roles such as some very useful articles from Product School and Jackie Bavaro

We then realised that the confusion was not only ours. There are a variety of roles descriptions that rely on similar, and sometimes interchangeables,titles:

  • Technical Product Manager (sometimes named Scrum Product Manager)
  • Data/Analysis Product Manager
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Growth Product Manager

And a variety of related positions:

  • Customer Experience Manager
  • Heads of Product
  • Scrum Product Owner

Obviously a range of seniority and experience can also influence the job description and job title.

The worst part might be that it seems that the industry hasn’t really settled on a clear definition for all these roles. Even the recruiters we contacted were not fully able to guide us through this maze.

 

So we defined our own framework

We first thought about the world of basketball and a team of basketball players. It looks something like this, and you will start to notice how it aligns well with our use case:

  • Players have typically a different mix of skills, that a complementary
  • Players have different degrees of experience for each skill
  • Players have plans to evolve and fill more gaps in the team with time

Doing our research, we found this Spider Chart breaking down the players and their different skill sets. 

1-2

 

How to “hire the right product manager” framework

With this comparable in mind, we then defined our main variables and iterated it through the various profiles and type of job positions we found online. We ended grouping variables in 5 main pillars defined as such: 

  • Pillar 1: Analytics
    • Product manager capacity to define the right models, to setup data collection processes, to access and retrieve data, to analyse it, and to make informed decisions that are supported by data
  • Pillar 2: Growth
    • Product manager capacity to articulate product goals around customer acquisition, activation, revenue growth, customer retention and referral, and to generate ongoing experiments that lead to more growth
  • Pillar 3: IT
    • Product manager capacity to communicate with the IT team, to write clear IT requirements, to integrate technological constraints into the product roadmap and at best to enable creative technological thinking from the team
  • Pillar 4: Leadership
    • Product manager capacity to articulate a long term vision and strategy for the product while leading each individual in the team to own the vision and to become the best version of themselves
  • Pillar 5: Experience
    • Product manager capacity to understand and develop the user personas of the product and to drive successful experiences through relentless research, experimentation and iterations of the product

After shuffling a few letters, we realised that there was an amazing acronym available for this framework: A.G.I.L.E: Analytics, Growth, IT, Leadership and Experience. 

To match the Spider Chart (also called Radar chart), we thought about applying a 5-step rating for each of these pillars. 5 steps is usually a good scale to ensure enough granularity while keeping things simple. It ended looking like this: 

2-2

We then proceeded to match some key roles we recurrently saw online using our A.G.I.L.E framework. 

 

The different types of product managers

Let’s go through some of the different product managers and the skill sets that create the different roles. 

3-3
4-2
5-2
6-1

 

How to take expertise and seniority into account 

We find that a good rule of thumb is that the rating you attribute to each axis is at least the number of years of experience in each pillar you expect the ideal candidate to have. 

The head of customer experience, for example, would have at least:

  • 5 years of experience in User Experience, Interaction design or UI
  • 3 years dealing with analytics
  • Some minimum understanding of customer acquisition
  • No specific IT background
  • 4 years as a team leader

Overall, the ideal candidate might have collected this experience over the course of 7 to 10 years, as she or he might have developed in different pillars during the same experiences. Does this sound about right?

7-1

 

How to use the framework

How can you use it to benefit the hiring of your new product manager? Here are some tips we have on how to use this framework. 

  1. Define your requirements based on the 5 pillars

Feel free to print the graphic above to define your ideal product manager. It can be used as a conversation starter with your team. You can also use it to do a 360 and try to map out your short term and long term needs.

  1. Make sure you align your job description to the graph

A good acid test is to ask people who were not involved in the process to draw the graph based on the job description that you have drafted.

  1. Rate each candidate based on this graph

A technique we’ve used is to ask the candidate to auto evaluate based on this framework. I would also ask each interviewer and references to do the same exercise to make sure you create a consolidated vision. I also mainly use it as a conversation enabler rather than a final decision tool as other components matter as well to hire the right product manager including culture fit, salary expectations and so much more.

 

How Upflowy used the framework

We wanted to hire our first product manager, to manage different aspects from:

  • Enabling our growing IT team with well defined epics
  • Conducting user research to inform our product roadmap
  • Enabling analytics sooner rather than later as it was a key part of the company culture
  • Understanding the ambitious growth targets we set for our product led marketing strategy

We ended up with a very balanced profile:

8-1

We also discovered that this tool was a great way to plan the road ahead for our hires. Typically, we’ve estimated that the person we would hire could then become a good Chief Product Officer over time.

9

Thanks to this approach, we now also know which skills we would need to develop over time for this growth path to become a reality. 

We were then also able to test whether our candidates were interested in developing these specific skills

 

Conclusion

We hope this framework will help you as much as it helped us to hire the right product manager.

I realise that this approach could be applied to other positions  – if this is popular, we will definitely look into it. The next type of role we would cover would be growth leaders, as the same level of confusion exists in this industry (“what is a growth hacker?”).

Use this framework as you see it fits in your business and please share all your feedback with us in the comments below or on Twitter

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