Assessing your PM Skills + Decoding MVP
This week’s newsletter is a two part post. The first part focuses on how to assess your product management skills and second part focuses on decoding the definition of MVP as a riskiest assumption test (also pointing out some misconceptions about MVP)
PART 1: Assessing your PM Skills
This part is a collaboration with How to PM on How to assess your Product Management skills and is represented in a Q&A format. How to PM is a passion project started by Andrew Mairena and Chandrika Maheshwari, friends who met at MIT Sloan during their MBA program and connected on their shared passion for product, growth and paying forward the help they got transitioning into product management.
Chandrika: What skills do you think are critical for landing a PM role?
Bandan: The skills that are critical for landing a PM vary depending on whether the candidate has any previous PM experience or not.
If we are talking about skills critical for landing the first PM role (which is the more difficult transition), then I’d say focus on bringing forward a few transferable skills from your previous roles. Understanding what these transferable skills are that you may have developed in your roles and how you can use them in your PM job is key. Some examples are:
💼 High ownership on projects: One of the PM interview skills is communicating how you execute on projects with high accountability and agency. Read more here
🔥 Dealing with complex high cross-functional projects: Showcasing how you have dealt with complex interdependent situations in the past. You may also bring in other skills such as structuring work-in-progress so it is clear to all the teams.
🤓 Decision making: As a PM, prioritization is a critical skill and being ruthless with it is important. This post summarizes the importance of prioritization really well.
📈 Driving impact: This is one of the common mistakes I see candidates making in interviews where they talk about the measure of success in terms of launching an initiative. They talk about the celebratory moment when the team got an initiative over the finish line. In reality, the impact of their work should be in terms of the impact on the organization either increase in business metrics or efficiency, or impact on customers/users.
Depending on what roles you have been in before, these might apply to you differently. I was in Sales and Account Management for 4 years at the beginning of my career. I have talked to a number of folks who have moved from Marketing, Customer Service, Product Marketing to Product Management and here’s what I have observed about transferable skills:
For a PMM, their understanding of the market and user needs is a really valuable skill in product management. The gap you may have to cover is how you convert those insights and the market understanding into product requirements.
For a Customer Service rep, the customer empathy they develop by being on the frontlines is really valuable. They also have a big operational part of their job which is fairly transferable in a PM role.
For a Sales rep (Account Manager, Account Executives etc.), there is an element of partnership and coming up with commercials which is another valuable skill for a PM. As a PM, ultimately you’re selling your ideas to a number of stakeholders internally.
These are some examples that hopefully help you think through which of your skills can be transferable to the PM role.
Chandrika: What skills do you think are critical for doing the PM job?
Bandan: My spicy 🌶️ take is that candidates are getting really good at interviewing and may not carry the skills they display on the job. While the skills that you are interviewed for are definitely important, these are usually the baseline and there are other skills that go into doing the job.
In my opinion, the top 3 of these are:
1. 🤝 Influence without authority: This is something you are not necessarily tested for in an interview but something you need to display on the job. How do you go about convincing people to buy into your ideas?
2. ✍️ Writing skills: Great document travels faster than any call. It's also a great way to have an artifact and show how refined your thinking is on a particular topic. With remote work, this particular skill has become even more critical than before.
3. 🗂️ Organizational skills: To get things done when there are multiple stakeholders, dependencies and timelines, you have to be organized. There is an element of project management in the role. One of the key differences in the role of a program/project manager and a product manager is they don’t need to do product management but product managers need to do a little bit of both program and project management.
Chandrika: What skills do you think make PMs stand out (great vs. good PM)?
Bandan: In addition to mastering the skills above, what makes a PM really stand out is uncovering the layers that are hidden under user research. A good PM can read the same set of insights and say let’s prioritize these 3 features and a great PM can come to a deeper insight by diving into the whys. This is a muscle that you develop over time and eventually becomes second nature.
As an example, let’s say a user research reveals that users don’t want to give their email and phone number to a third party. The insight there is not that users don’t want to share their personal information and hence we should take away those fields from the sign up flow. The insight is that users value privacy and want to feel secure. So the problem to solve here is how might we make users feel more secure as they are sharing their private information?
Chandrika: How have you gone about assessing your PM skills? How often do you go through the assessment?
Bandan: Assessing your PM skills is an ongoing evaluation - you could keep a check on yourself on daily basis or monthly basis - cadence depends on the kind of improvement you’re looking at. In my experience, most of the improvement happens on a daily basis (1% at a time) and most of the time it is unnoticeable. Hence, it is helpful to refer to a few frameworks to consistently measure yourself and improve:
1. PM Skills Self-Assessment Template
2. PM Wheel and Future Self Canvas
3. Liability-Superpower-Median Framework by Shreyas Doshi
Chandrika: Are there any tools out there you have found helpful for assessing your skills?
Bandan: Here are some other resources that I have come across that seem useful:
Mind the Product Skills Assessment
Product Management Self-Assessment Tool
Part 2: Decoding the definition of MVP
Easiest way to understand the goal of MVP is = Least Effort that leads to Maximum Learning.
MVP is NOT:
1. Only Least Effort product
2. Fastest build possible (Speed)
3. Smallest size feature
4. to test product market fit
But how do you then learn the maximum with the least effort?
For this, you should know your RISKIEST assumption. If this assumption is not validated, you shouldn't spend any extra effort in scaling the MVP.
Imagine you were building city's first private car commute sharing service.
The riskiest assumption here could be:
Strangers are willing to share their ride with other strangers
(or choose another)
Now, the MVP should do nothing else but learn about this assumption.
For example, I could build only the interface where DRIVERS share intent and their route and Riders register themselves (in principle for a future launch) for sharing the ride with these drivers because its same route.
You don't need to build route optimisations, actual Maps integration, fancy booking interface.
If Riders are willing to share rides with Drivers (strangers) on the same route (Set a success benchmark of how many in-principle bookings you need) --> Check in with your assumption.
Remember in this example we NEVER talked about building fast or small (since that is not what MVP is about) - > we need to build ENOUGH to learn. If assumption is invalidated, you know you need to reconsider your product idea or tweak the go to market.
Here's Instagram checking their riskiest assumption that Users would apply filters to their photos and share with other users (WITHOUT rolling out the feature to all users)
Here's AirBnb testing riskiest assumption: that people would actually pay money to sleep in strangers’ homes
Here's Dropbox youtube video which is an MVP to test : Large number of people have multiple devices with which they wanted to access the same files.
DropBox beta waiting list went from 5,000 people to 75,000 people literally overnight.
1 MVP is about testing your riskiest assumption (if not validated, you dont have a market)
2. Build MVP in a way that you learn the most with least effort
3. MVP can be a full fledged product or just a video
4. It is not the fastest, smallest/ subpar thing you can build