This weekend I had the opportunity to read Ashlee Vance's Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I've been a huge fan of Elon Musk since the early days of SpaceX and knew I wanted to dive deeper into the story of both SpaceX and Tesla. The book did not disappoint: it was a fascinating history starting from his childhood, to his early startup adventures with Zip2 and PayPal, to a deep dive into how he willed SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity into existence and ultimately to success despite the odds being continually stacked against him.
We often paint the picture of Elon Musk as a superhuman who has a boundless work ethic, willingness to take massive personal risk, and an incredible mind to make it all happen. All of this is certainly true and contributed meaningfully to his success. But as I read his story I came across so many examples of skills that Elon had mastered that any of us could also master to enable us to achieve our goals. I wanted to highlight five of those skills that are particularly relevant for product managers that can help them reach new heights in their own craft.
Mastering the craft of product management is no easy task. Much of the literature that defines the role as the intersection of business, technology, and user experience isn't particularly helpful for practitioners who are left wondering what skills they need to learn versus the fine people they work closely with in actual business, technology, and user experience roles.
I instead define a product manager as driving the vision, strategy, design, and execution of their product. Each of these four dimensions has specific responsibilities as well as skills needed to be great at it.
It's equally important for product managers to think about each of these four dimensions as having a concrete set of deliverables. Too often product managers perform the activities associated with each of these deliverables, but may not do so as rigorously as they could to maximize value. When you instead think of them as concrete deliverables you then can look for exemplars of greatness for each as well as hone your craft around each of them.
I wanted to share what I believe are the top ten most important deliverables for product managers across each of the four dimensions of product management. In doing so I hope to help demystify what you actually do in the role, provide a framework for assessing what dimensions of the role you are already good at delivering against, and opportunities for improvement on each. While I should write an entire essay on the best practices associated with each deliverable, I'll instead focus for now on introducing each of them and providing a perspective on why they are important.
Product managers most often reach out to me for advice when they are in the midst of contemplating their next role. In our discussions, we talk about all the usual things: their ultimate career aspirations; their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and the skill gaps they hope to fill; as well as the specifics of each role they are considering, including scope, responsibilities, title & compensation, and manager. But the one conversation that people often tell me they find uniquely insightful is our discussion on finding product culture fit. So I wanted to share my thoughts on this more broadly.