Here Is Why I Am Excited About Product Leadership
Answer me this – how did Apple revolutionize the music business? How did Amazon grow to become the Megalodon of the eCommerce industry? How did Uber revolutionize the taxi industry forever? How did Netflix dictate the change in how we view content?
You might say they did so because they created a great product. And you’ll be right. But how do you create a great product? While we play ring around the roses and say things like customer demand, great technology, stellar UI and UX, I’ll go ahead and say it out loud – It is the Product Leaders.
Just how we credit organizational success to visionary leaders, we have to attribute product success to the product leaders – the people who take an idea, a vision, to its successful outcome by harvesting great ideas and with innovative thinking and. It is the product leaders who solve the pervasive problems of the market, ensure customer delight and create great customer experiences.
But what do I know of product leaders and product leadership, you might ask? After all, have I not been running a services company for the longest time? Instead of going into a marketing spiel and saying that everything is ultimately a product even if it is a service, I’ll lay out my cards. I say this from the experience of building Rubics, our revolutionary data science platform that allows every user to become a data scientist and finds its application across a plethora of industries.
When we were building this data product, we obviously had to look at the usual suspects to lead us to success – an innovative mindset, the right set of technical resources, rich features and functionalities, etc. all made it to the list. Upon its launch, Rubics was at the receiving end of major acceptance and adulation.
This journey also reinstated the importance of product leaders and their contribution to creating stellar products.
Which takes me to the next question – what are the key aspects of product leadership?
It is established now that product leaders and product managers are two sperate species. While each must work with the other, their motivations are different. A Product leader decides what products to build to add value to the life of the customer.
Customer discovery is all about objectively questioning business assumptions, asking the right questions, and then evaluating and refining your product idea to ensure that it matches what the customers want.
The product leader thus can be equated to Sherlock Holmes, using data and evidence to lead to a solution without any bias getting in the way.
What made Uber a success and the Segway a failure? Both were started with the identical purpose of transforming transportation and increasing interconnectedness in a city. So, what makes Uber a pioneer and Segway an overpriced scooter used mainly by mall cops? The answer rests with product-market fit.
Successful Product Leaders are obsessed with designing products that customers love. But how can you be sure if the product you create will be ‘used’ by your consumers? Your customers might seem excited about a product but how can you guarantee that they will purchase your product?
Clearly, understanding a product-market fit is not all statistics and data. There is a level of intuitiveness involved that helps one assess if you need to build the product, iterate it or shelve it.
Product leaders are these people who with their skill, experience and intuitiveness assess if there is a market for the product, if you need to stop your efforts, or if you need the product to adapt further to find the right product-market fit.
Wouldn’t you agree if I say that product leaders are a passionate lot? They are passionate about their products. It won’t be off the mark to say that these people ‘live the product’. You will find them critiquing, brainstorming, creating, admiring and then evaluating how to make the product better constantly.
As the product definition expands to include user and customer experience around the product, the product leader has to have a broad functional knowledge to lead the decisions that influence and mold product decisions. The product leader thus becomes one who understands the technical details, knows the industry trends and has her finger on the pulse of what the customer wants.
A ‘product mindset’ is the hallmark of a product leader. These leaders don’t just manage products, they envision them, often, out of the blue. This mindset also helps them build great products from scratch, shape the scope of the product, identify which features to prioritize and how to deliver value from them. They can look at the product from a critical eye to ensure that the product can battle market forces. By doing so they ably connect the tech and commercial worlds to create value – both for their users and for their business.
Product leaders are not all product strategy. They are also the ones who influence teams to work towards a common goal.
Quite obviously, they have great communication skills. They are articulate not only in the way they think but also how they express. They possess the skill to customize their communication according to the situation or the audience. Most product leaders are consummate public speakers having an unignorable gravitas.
But more than anything else, good product leaders are great coaches. They are generous with sharing their knowledge and their expertise with their teams. They are mentors who help their teams grow and build skills, experience, and confidence.
Product leadership is a lot about strategic thinking. It is also about holistic thinking about a market opportunity. Strong product leaders have intuitive capabilities that help them anticipate customer needs and assess how the competitive landscape will appreciate.
It is indeed an exciting world…this world of product leadership. Because it is the product leaders who have the capability to synthesize their perspective of the market, the customers, the competition and what they offer to develop clear strategic visions to see a future that others are yet to visualize.