A few months ago I wrote about how difficult it was to find product managers for Redgate. I described how hard it was finding someone with the necessary mix of technical, commercial and interpersonal skills to succeed.
Thinking about it more, I believe that it is in fact harder than that – that there’s a fourth string to the bow needed by these Unicorns: strategic thinking.
But what is this nebulous concept, “Strategic thinking”? It’s a term that is often bandied around to mean lots of things. Here are some of the descriptions that people often use for this term, but I don’t think really capture it:
- Thinking hard about something,
- Thinking long term, not just short term,
- Thinking “Big picture”,
- Thinking about “What if?” scenarios.
..and so on. What I mean by “strategic thinking” (and I completely accept others will have alternative views), is the ability to come up with a Diagnosis for a situation, a set of Guiding Principles for how to deal with that situation, and some concrete actions based on those principles. And that is far more difficult than it sounds.
This definition of strategy comes from the Richard Rumelt book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy [an insider tip, if you’ve read this book before your interview, it can only help]. In essence, a strategy consists of a Diagnosis of a situation (what’s going on here? No, really?), Guiding Principles (what are our general principles for handling this situation, given the diagnosis?) and an Action Plan based on those principles.
This book has been important at Redgate for improving the way that we deal with complex, low-data situations (i.e. the whole of product management!). But, although it sounds pretty simple, the task of producing such a strategy is very, very difficult. And ideally we’re after product managers who can do this sort of thinking.
Why is it so difficult? Take an example, you’re asked to manage a product that’s been doing just fine up until last year, but now seems to be tanking. What’s going on here? Why is this? What’s the diagnosis? It could be a thousand things – the overall market is shrinking? Competition from other 3rd parties? Competition from the platform provider? Poor UX? Missing functionality? Poor reach? Incorrect positioning? Waning brand? Disruption from elsewhere? Bugs in the product, or performance? Sales execution? What? Figuring out which of these things is really causing the problem is very difficult. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but if you jump to the wrong answer, then set your team off with the wrong Guiding Principles (e.g. that “We need to beat the new competitor” when actually it was nothing to do with them), then you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.
And even then, if you have managed to figure out what’s going on, what are you going to do about it!? If you do believe, for example, that the problem is that a competitor is eating your lunch, devising a strategy for what you’re going to do about that, that might actually work (oh, and ideally, is measurable too!) is again, no mean feat. Just “try harder” isn’t going to cut it.
So, although it makes it even harder for us to find good product managers, being able to think strategically is part of the requirement too. Is this you? Do you think you could do this for Redgate? We have a variety of roles requiring different levels and types of domain knowledge so, as before, please see our job page here – https://www.red-gate.com/our-company/careers/current-opportunities/ – or get in touch at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
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