62: How to measure product manager performance

62: How to measure product manager performance

Survey: product manager self-assessment1

Based on the skills and traits we as a product team have rated as important, this survey allows us to assess ourselves individually and highlight any areas where we may have hidden talents or opportunities for learning and development. It’s okay not to be a black belt in everything :-)

For that reason, form submissions are NOT anonymous. However, please note that this information will expressly NOT be used for the purposes of comparing one individual to another.

Your respective teams and service managers will also be sent a similar survey so that I can compare what you think about yourselves with what your direct peers think.

The questions are divided into three sections:

1. Soft product management skills
2. Technical product management skills
3. Skills from other disciplines that product managers may be familiar with

— Jock

1. Soft skills

This section relates to ‘soft’ or non-technical skills of a product manager

How would you rate yourself on the following soft skills?

A rating on each skill is required

Soft skillVery poorPoorOkayGoodVery good
EMPATHY – putting yourself in the shoes of the user to understand their needs from their perspective
COMMUNICATION – storytelling, speaking your audience’s ‘language’ and tailoring what you say to their needs
VISION – defining what the ultimate product could and should be, and enthusing others with that vision
FOCUS – attention to detail
MOTIVATION – rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in
PATIENCE – controlling your own impatience and calming the frustrations of others
CURIOSITY – always eager to learn
TIME MANAGEMENT – effective use of your time and ensuring you’re working on the most urgent and important thing at any given time
TENACITY – not giving up in the face of adversity
PERSPECTIVE – dividing your attention between the big picture and the fine detail, between the here-and-now and the long term
DIPLOMACY – disagreeing in a way that will mean they keep talking to you afterwards
LEADERSHIP – getting the best from people and setting a good example
INFLUENCE – causing people to change direction without direct authority
HUMILITY – placing the contributions of others above your own

2. Technical skills

The section relates to technical skills specific to product management

How would you rate yourself on the following technical skills?

A rating on each skill is required

Technical skillVery poorPoorOkayGoodVery good
Defining product vision
Making the business case
Forming a multi-disciplinary team
Writing epics and user stories
Prioritising epics and user stories
Using a user story and bug tracking tool
Participating in Scrum
Participating in Kanban
Setting SMART objectives / KPIs / success criteria
Analysing and interpreting data and metrics
Transition / migration planning
Product launch
Product retirement
Managing product roadmaps
Public speaking
Promoting your product

3. Skills from other disciplines #

This section relates to other skills outside of core product management that a product manager may be familiar with

How experienced are you in the following skills?

A rating on each skill is required. Note different ratings for this question.

Technical skillNo experienceSome familiarity onlyConversant (can discuss with specialist)Some direct experienceExpert
Conducting user research
Creating user personas
Paper prototyping
Data protection / information security
Data protection / information security
Technology evaluation
Usability testing
Continuous integration / deployment
Writing product copy
Service design
Interaction design
Graphic design
Writing long-form copy
Writing microcopy
Information architecture
Business / process analysis
Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Notes #

  1. Note: the skill lists were updated slightly following the feedback from the team.

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Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, a product management consultancy and training company. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD.

8 Comments on “62: How to measure product manager performance

  1. I would first start with what problems product managers are hired to solve for a company. Different companies hire product managers for different reasons, but typically there is a problem with making and executing product decisions. Example problems that product managers solve:

    1. Products don’t provide value to prospective buyers and users.
    2. Developers don’t know what to build, and why.
    3. Sales and marcom can’t consistently articulate the value of products.
    4. The process of learning the market is slow and unreliable.

    As you can see, the problems primarily relate to stakeholders on the team who are not empowered to build, market, and sell a product that delivers true value to customers.

    The question, then, is the extent to which a product manager is empowering the team to make sound product decisions.

    Accordingly, we turn to the stakeholders on the team as part of a “360 review” on whether the product manager is empowering them to be as effective as they can be. We ask questions such as:

    1. Do all the stakeholders understand the product’s unique value proposition?
    2. Do the stakeholders have confidence that product decisions reflect an understanding of the ever-changing market?
    3. Do the stakeholders believe the pace of learning is sufficiently fast?
    4. Do developers know why they are building what they are building?
    5. Does the product actually deliver its unique value proposition?

    I might add another leadership question:

    6. To what extent is the product manager helping each member of the apply her unique talents?

    To be sure, product managers need certain talents and skills to perform well. But the performance of a product manager – the extent to which those talents and skills are addressing the challenges that product teams face – lies in the answers to these sorts of questions.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment. The points you raise certainly reflect what happens in real life, but I think they also highlight the problems I’ve seen with the way product manager performance is typically done.

    My main issue is that product managers are often assessed on:

    1. the performance of their products; or

    2. the performance of factors outside their direct control, such as the performance of other teams.

    A product may be performing well or badly for a number of different reasons, but it is perfectly possible for a well-performing product to be managed badly by a product manager, and vice versa. So product performance by itself isn’t a reliable indicator for how well the product manager is doing.

    Similarly, teams such as Marketing and Sales should be expected to do their own jobs well, but again whether they do or not is often independent of whether the product manager is doing her job well.

    I expand on this in the original performance article I wrote.

    Lastly, you put a lot of emphasis on alignment across internal stakeholders and the delivery team. I do agree that these are important parts of a product manager’s role – it would be very difficult to create a successful product without good buy-in and alignment. Again by itself it is not the only aspect of a product manager’s performance to take into account.

    There’s also the reality that not every internal stakeholder is necessarily in favour of the product (or the product manager), perhaps because the product threatens their fiefdom or competes with their own plans. In these situations the product manager’s stakeholder strategy might be to minimise the negative influence of ‘anti’ stakeholders and concentrate on the ‘pro’ and undecided stakeholders. But this is a complex and lengthy discussion for another article, I think :-)

  3. Jock, note that, contrary to your assertion, I actually did not propose any evaluation criteria that assess product performance. Rather, I enumerated the problems a product manager solves, correlating to functions that a product manager performs to address these problems that stand in the way of product success.

    I then enumerated questions that shed light on the extent to which the product manager is successfully performing these functions. I did not mention product sales, revenue, or any other product performance metric.

    As you contend, many factors outside a product manager’s direct purview contribute to the performance of a product. If developers don’t competently carry out their duties, product performance will suffer. If sales doesn’t competently perform its functions, product performance will suffer. If marketing doesn’t competently perform its functions, product performance will suffer. I blogged about this issue in 2005, writing then that I did not believe product performance equals product management performance.

    But to the extent a product manager hasn’t facilitated process that empowers, with strategy and context, developers, sales, and marketing to succeed, she is responsible.

    You can make the case that the answers to the evaluative questions I enumerated still depend on the competence and abilities of others. I welcome tweaking the questions to get more directly at the product manager contribution.