Discover more from Behind Product Lines
8 Dimensions of PMs that level up their game
+ 7 Mistakes I made as a PM early in my career
Welcome, lover of products!
As a young PM, I used to think being busy = being valuable.
Obviously, this line of thinking was flawed. I learned the hard way that it was incredibly easy to get sucked into rabbit holes that had no bearing on product outcomes. I classified such activities as “red zones”.
In contrast, there are “green pasture” areas which level up a PM & enable them to create far more value. I’ll talk about these in the 8D post below.
So, in this edition of Behind Product Lines, we’ll explore the following topics:
8 Dimensions PMs can work on to improve their impact
7 Mistakes I made as a Product Manager early in my career
Thinking about growth with Elena Verna’s growth model matrix
8 Dimensions PMs can work on to improve their impact
Top Product Managers think in 8D.
PMs that work on these 8 dimensions become more effective in moving the business needle.
you don’t need all 8 when you’re starting out your career. You may start with a few depending on your interests, the product’s stage, the company culture & so on. Moreover, the set of “active dimensions” may evolve over time.
It’s near impossible for a PM to be perfectly skilled in all 8. Sometimes, you might want to play to your strengths & focus on a subset. However, you still need a game plan for each. Whether you choose to delegate them or partner with someone else, these aspects are linked with direct product impact.
this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are certainly more dimensions. However, figuring just these 8 can go a long way in meeting product goals.
Here we go:
Know about the primary actors, the industry at large, the jargon & regulations. Unfair advantage in industry knowledge can easily become a competitive advantage.
Ex: if you run a real estate CRM, know the ins and outs of the local purchase process, how agencies operate, trending localities, governmental paperwork & buying factors. When you bake this knowledge into your user flows, not only does it enhance the user experience, it also establishes trust.
Get better at asking the right questions.
When possible, interview customers in their own habitat. Deeply understand what frustrates them the most, how they solve relevant problems today & what importance they attach to them.
Note: It's equally important to know what's NOT a problem. As a PM, it’s easy to get into the mindset to solve everything that can be automated or processized. This way everything looks like a “problem”.
However, it’s important to allow the user audience to give it an appropriate label. Is it a problem that scales? A minor inconvenience? An accepted norm?
Ex: ask questions like "How do you solve [pain point] today?", "What alternatives have you tried?", "What do you lose if this isn't solved?"
As you conceive features, identify the metrics that would highlight performance & decide on a tracking method.
Learn how to
sanitize data: work on data hygiene, standardize, cater to outliers
interpret it: understand what that data signifies in the context of the product or business.
benchmark it: is it too high? is it too low? how do we know? what’s the industry standard?
Also, data ≠ insights - know the difference.
Finally, insights without subsequent action is like a bow without an arrow.
Ex: when running a restaurant delivery marketplace, think about three buckets:
Business (e.g. GMV, average cart size, CLTV etc.)
Product (e.g. order volume, avg. delivery time etc.)
Customer Satisfaction (e.g. NPS, CSAT etc.)
Figure out how you'll stand out against existing solutions.
Often PMs bank on features to serve as effective differentiators. However, features, in many cases, are ephemeral advantages. If they aren’t hard to copy technically, it may give you a head start but competitors won’t take long to neutralize your edge if they are able to validate demand.
Differentiation parameters come into different shapes & forms e.g.
Unique offering (e.g. Amazon's recommendations)
Tech play (e.g. Figma's cloud-based interface designer)
Brand (e.g. Netflix)
Data (e.g. Google)
Network effects (e.g. Craiglist)
Learn to recognize "functional elegance". Apart from on-brand aesthetics, ideate how your interface presents a low-learning curve & helps retain/engage users.
e.g. Quora's design:
onboarding that effortlessly captures topics of interest & populates the initial feed.
minimalist design that prioritizes content over controls and other bells & whistles.
delivers fantastic multi-device consistency.
Hone your second-order thinking to make sound judgements. Know about cause-and-effect, correlation, logical fallacies & cognitive biases.
Think about backward compatibility when architecting a new feature.
Use opportunity solution trees to identify gaps & plan for a goal.
Deconstruct requests by questioning assumptions.
PMs don't sit on the fence. You'll have to call the shots & own the consequences. Not just the big ones, but several small ones too (which compound over time).
Ex: Decisions are needed when involved in activities like:
prioritizing a feature
Talk is cheap. You haven't experienced PM until you ship & place the product in your customer's hands. Execution is about sweating it out with engineers & designers, navigating last-minute QA issues & rolling out a build.
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Here are 7 mistakes I made as a Product Manager early in my career
1. Made myself the customer.
I self-projected my mental model during solution design. I wasn't getting customer validation. Design decisions were inspired by personal preference.
👉 Lesson > Be the voice of the customer. Don't just talk to them. Engage, distill & extract their point of view.
2. Winged it instead of declaring ignorance.
I was afraid to admit that I didn't know something during standups & meetings. I'd try to ideate answers on the fly. I would interpret numbers ad-hoc & stitched "trends" the way I saw them.
👉 Lesson > It's OK to not know something as long as you commit to find an answer.
3. Thinking copied features are easy pickings.
Competition scared/inspired me. I thought referencing an existing feature served as a pretty good spec for an engineer. Turned out that reverse-engineering & rebuilding is harder than it seems.
👉Lesson > Every product is unique. Competitor features don't necessarily mean your customers want the same.
4. Pushing features with no go-to-market plan.
I found myself in the build trap. As my feature factory cooked up a new enhancement or feature, I didn't think much about how users would discover, learn & adopt the feature.
👉Lesson > Helping users discover, educate & onboard themselves on a feature...is part of the feature.
5. Prioritized work based on the "loudest" voice.
Louder & pushy stakeholders would get me to act in favor of them. I felt intimidated. Ideas weren't judged on merit. I didn't raise concerns or ask revealing questions.
👉Lesson > Evaluate the idea, not the person saying it. And don't just form opinions (see pt 1). Collect evidence, feedback, insights etc. before politely sharing your point of view.
6. Over-engineered specs.
My specs would exceed 50 pages at times. I thought the more detail I'll pack in, the better the results. I also took a prescriptive approach by detailing every UI aspect.
👉Lesson > Spec length isn't important. What counts is achieving shared understanding with the team.
7. Thought everyone understood "product".
I tried using the team as a sounding board for advice. But I found PM is a lonely field. No one really understood my challenges.
👉Lesson > Educate & involve teams as you go into problem/solution definition. Make them care. But be ready to walk some pathways alone.
Scaling Product Growth: Elena Verna’s Growth Model Matrix
If you’re in product marketing or growth and you’re not following Elena Verna, you’re seriously missing out. Stop reading this newsletter and do yourself a favor. Smash the follow button on her Twitter & LinkedIn.
Elena succinctly summarized how products should view their growth plans with a 3 x 3 matrix.
In the rows, she identified three pillars in the growth funnel:
new user acquisition
In the columns, she’s slotted the popular growth motions:
This leads to nine combinations of growth motions & levers that Growth PMs can pick from:
Product-led x Acquisition
The existing users of the product help in acquiring more users through systems like network effects, referrals etc.
Example: Designers sharing across a Figma design with an internal PM.
Product-led x Monetization
The product uses self-serve mechanisms to upgrade & monetize existing users to paid tiers.
Example: Pitching a user Canva Pro when they attempt to use a paid feature.
Product-led x Retention
The product uses engagement mechanisms to keep users coming back for more.
Example: Gong sending a daily digest of sales conversations of interest.
Marketing-led x Acquisition
Marketers promote the product in spaces where audiences hang out.
Example: Paid Google Ads, G2 PPC, Product Hunt campaign
Marketing-led x Monetization
Marketers highlight the benefits of a paid plan & define what problems it solves.
Example: Monday.com running a LinkedIn ad highlighting benefits of a team plan linked to a landing page with a “Buy” CTA.
Marketing-led x Retention
Marketers educate customers about reasons for them to stay.
Example: Hubspot sharing a product update mailer about new features they just launched or Sparktoro enrolling customers in a drip sequence educating them about new use cases.
Sales-led x Acquisition
Sales teams pursue a defined target segment with outbound outreach to open up a conversation.
Example: SDRs at Segment sending out a LinkedIn InMail to engage marketing leaders.
Sales-led x Monetization
Sales team give a demo with a prospect, handle objections throughout the buyer journey, win over champions & decisions makers and finally get a signed contract.
Example: Account executives at Customer.io scoop up an enterprise client after weeks of negotiation.
Sales-led x Retention
Customer success teams (or key account managers) engage with customers periodically to help them measure & extract more value from the product.
Example: Analyze cost savings, effort reduction or other benefits via the product during quarterly business reviews. Or how certain customer success teams at Hubspot offer proactive training around new feature launches.
For top gear growth, you may have to embrace all nine squares in some capacity, however, you don’t need to sweep them all in one go. It’s a process. A journey.
The real challenge for growth teams is to figure out which boxes to tick first.
To win in business & market you have to play across all 9 squares. It’s not a question of which one you should pick. It is a question about which one should prioritize and how the rest of them will be sequenced.
If you are not leveraging *all* of the growth [motions] x [levers] combos below in your growth model, you will be disrupted by competition who will.
Strategy is not about which 3x3 option to pick, but rather when and how to sequence them all.