3 key qualities of a successful product manager: Alexey Korotich, VP of Product
We continue our series of articles on the key qualities of a successful product manager, according to Wrike managers. We have already managed to talk with Anton Danilov , Yuri Golikov and Dmitry Orlov . Today is an interview with Alexei Korotich. Alex has been working at Wrike for over 3 years and now holds the position of Vice President of Product and is responsible for the entire product strategy. Alexey has a strong background in product analytics and product management: he worked at Aelita Software, Quest Software and Dell.
- Hi Lesha! You have an important role in Wrike - you are responsible for the entire product strategy. Tell me how far do you plan your goals? How many years forward?
- Hi! Now we have begun to plan work for the year ahead. This seems insufficient, but in our highly competitive market with the high dynamics of changes that we experience every year, and such planning looks like a distant horizon. Even if you build a plan, say, five years in advance, then after six months everything will have to be re-planned, because some new events and changes have occurred on the market, new technologies have become available. It also happens that we understand something new, understand something better, and decide to change course. In this context, planning is ideal for at least two years in advance.
- As part of the strategic work, how much do you go into details? Do you consider each direction and direction on a general level or sit down with a specific product manager (and there are more than 10 of them in Wrike) and analyze everything thoroughly, down to individual buttons and features?
- It's not always the same. Sometimes, in order to understand a problem better, you need to dive into the details. If we put things on a large scale, we want to do it well, so diving to a fairly low level helps to work better and have a common understanding with the product managers themselves, who work on a specific feature: then the feedback becomes more relevant.
But it is obvious that in all directions it is impossible to plunge into a low level of details. Work is simultaneously being done on a huge amount of different functionality, so I'm trying to prioritize. My first filter is to see how this initiative fits into our overall strategy. An important point is the extent to which I have expertise in this area so that I can give an adequate feedback. And there are requests coming from the guys, product managers, where this help is needed to solve some complex problems. But, of course, these are only a few among all initiatives where the level of immersion is commensurate with the level at which the product manager himself is.
“But, nevertheless, do you regularly make decisions like that in such different directions?
- Oh sure. There is another factor: of course, I like to do this. Despite the fact that I am responsible for the product strategy and overall vision, I still was a product before, and all these skills have been preserved. This is all very close to me, so if there is any interesting task and a request for help, I always try to find the time for it.
- The next question. What component of your work would you call the most difficult, a challenge for you, and why?
- Probably the most difficult component is to make sure that we all understand correctly: strategy, vision and together we go in the same direction. Because the team grows and scales, and the product becomes more complex, grows more and more functional, and in order for the product not to lose face and identity, it is necessary to ensure the same level of understanding: who we are, what we are better than competitors, where we are moving, who we are want to be.
And this is a permanent job. It would seem that the strategy and vision can be formulated in three sentences, but all three product managers can understand these three sentences in completely different ways. Therefore, creating this same level of understanding on the most important issues and, in fact, aligning people and teams around our most strategic initiatives is the most difficult task that I solve every day.
- Almost all product managers with whom I managed to talk mentioned how important communication skills are for a product manager. If I understand correctly, this is not only communication from oneself, it is also “into oneself”, so to speak.
- Yes, absolutely.
- And how difficult is it to operate in a situation where you set the general trend - which way should you move, but at the same time leave some autonomy for managers?
- It was difficult, but now it’s getting easier. When you clearly define the boundaries of responsibility and direction for a specific product manager, unnecessary intersections and waste of our creative potential across all people and product teams become less.
Now our efficiency is very high, because everyone understands in which block of the product they really have this autonomy and how much what they do is aligned with the product strategy. And therefore, under such restrictions, product managers have a fairly high degree of freedom of decision-making.
My task is to explain to the guys why we are doing this and what goal we want to achieve. Having this answer at the entrance, the team can already formulate how to achieve this goal and what needs to be done.
The most difficult thing was when we were at the stage of formation of these areas of responsibility, when we set global goals and scaled the product organization. And now, once these rules of the game have been defined, it has become much easier. Now you do not need to constantly explain all the basic principles of work both for new guys who come to us, and for those who have been working with us for more than a year.
That is, the introduction of the rules of the game in the product organization and the clear distribution of responsibility, within which there is a degree of freedom, helps to avoid situations when a person does something, invents, and then it turns out that this does not correspond to our product strategy and, unfortunately, we forced to abandon these initiatives. Such situations do occur, but they are more likely an exception than a rule.
- In the last interview Jura I said that one of the key moments for the product manager - the definition of a clear Scope, which is included in its area of responsibility. Otherwise, the person is not a real product manager, but simply does what they let him down. And this must be avoided. How do you think?
- Exactly. In my opinion, one of the key qualities for a product manager is the ability to take responsibility. True, skill in its pure form is not enough, you still need the desire and lack of fear to take this responsibility upon yourself.
A clear understanding of their responsibility and a willingness to be responsible for the result are the basic qualities of a manager. For any company, it seems to me that the best solution is to give the product the authority to make decisions for which responsibility for the result will stretch along the chain. Making decisions without responsibility for the result is impossible, otherwise the product manager will not be able to do his job.
- A question to which you already partially answered: what, in your opinion, are three key qualities necessary for a product manager to be successful in his role? You already said about responsibility.
- Look, the ability to bear responsibility is such a qualifying attribute that is simply an obligatory parameter at the input. In addition, there is another level of qualities that a person should possess. I am looking for three outstanding qualities, three superpowers in each product manager.
The first quality is to be a visionary. It’s difficult to test such a skill, but the product manager must be able to predict the future in the product context, that is, imagine how technologies will change in two or three years, how people will solve their problems in the future, and what will change compared to how it It is happening now. The product manager must be able to answer these questions in his daily work.
The second superpower is the analytic ability of the product manager. We are talking here not just about the ability to work with data, but, in general, about the ability to think logically, put forward hypotheses, analyze results and draw conclusions.
Analytical skills are needed when working with product analytics, studying customer needs, and analyzing competitors in the market. It is in this context that logical thinking and the ability to see a causal relationship, having a limited data set, is a very important quality of a product manager.
And the third quality is communication skills. Firstly, a person must be able to express his thoughts very clearly and have the skills of a speaker in order to lead his team as an ideological leader. A person should not be afraid of communication, on the contrary, he should like it. After all, most of the working day of a product manager consists of communicating with people.
And you know what the difficulty is? It is difficult to find a product manager whose super-powers are even two of these three qualities, and it is very rare to find a person who has all three of them very developed.
- So you admit a situation that you take a person with a strong one quality, and the second and third will develop?
- I strive to find two qualities out of three in a candidate. Although there are unique cases when a person is highly developed, only one of the listed qualities, but it is right here outstanding. And if at a given moment of time we have a need for precisely this quality, we can take a person, as they say, “for growth”. If we believe that one very pronounced quality in a person will help us in something, then with the other two we will help him.
- In your opinion, is IT education a prerequisite for a person to be successful as a product manager?
- No, it's not. If a person has an IT education, then he has a certain handicap: he is more likely to become a successful product manager. But this does not mean that a person without an IT education has no chance of becoming a good specialist.
In fact, all three qualities that we just talked about will not necessarily develop with your IT education. For example, to be a visionary and communicator - these qualities are generally not related to a technical specialty. Analytical qualities - yes, it can be argued that people who came from the technical world are usually much better with this than other people. But again, this is not at all the main reason why people develop this quality. And, as I said, if a person is a visionary with very highly developed communication skills, this gives him an excellent base in order to become a successful product manager.
- I correctly understand that it is generally a non-trivial task to interview a product in order to identify at least the prerequisites for what you called important?
“You understand everything correctly.” That is why we have an interview process for the position of product manager takes place in several stages. It all starts with a technical analysis of the resume, in which we want to see the relevant experience of the candidate. Then we invite a person to get acquainted live in order to understand what kind of character he has and how much his communicative abilities are developed. This is the primary filter that a person must pass. And then, in the course of deeper interviews, test tasks and playable cases, we understand how much the candidate has developed other qualities that he needs in order to successfully complete his work.
It is not simple. If products were so easy to test, we would have long since closed all vacancies in the product team. In practice, a lot of guys come to interview us, and only a few of them we ultimately make a job offer. The process of hiring product managers is partly because there is no generally accepted process for interviewing product managers in the industry.
- And tell me, please, are there any differences in the specifics of the work of product managers in Wrike and in other companies?
- It seems to me that everything comes from the culture of our company. Our culture is built on the principles of transparency, freedom of decision-making and high collaboration. Therefore, I would say the following: our product managers have a real opportunity to become mini-CEOs, each at their own level. The guys have a large degree of freedom and the opportunity to be informed of decisions made at any level of the company. They also have talented and rooting for the product colleagues who are ready to provide product managers with any support. This probably distinguishes Wrike from other companies.
We have a huge potential of talented people, which we are trying to direct in the right direction. One of the main tasks of our managers is to involve the team in the development of the best technical solution. Therefore, we pay so much attention to the communicative nature of product managers, their leadership qualities, and how they are able to become masters in their product area.
- And the last question: you work in two hemispheres, spending part of the year in California, part in St. Petersburg, not counting business trips to other offices. How hard is it to constantly be in this suitcase mood? Or is this not a problem?
- I’m already used to it, because I have been working in this mode for quite some time. But still I will say that this is not easy. Not only because it’s far to fly back and forth, but also because it is still two different cultures, and you always need to rearrange your thinking from one culture to another, and this takes time. I noticed on my own that it takes up to two weeks to get used to the new working conditions, to a new type of communication and to a new mentality. During these two weeks, there comes a moment when you take off the specifics of one hemisphere and switch to the other.
- It sounds as if you often have to readjust, being in a state of continuous adaptation. How do you deal with this?
- That is precisely why I am now trying not to raid from one office to another, but still spend a sufficiently long period of time in one place to reach a good level of efficient work in different climates, in different hemispheres and with different mentalities of people.