Co-authored with Harsan Sidhu
Product managers play a crucial role in consumer product companies as they serve as the central point of contact between the company's users, product development teams, cross-functional teams, and leadership team. While a product manager's success is dependent on the impact and quality of their team's work, it's easy to fall into the trap of being a bad PM who contributes little to the team beyond attending meetings and writing a few documents.
However, an exceptional product manager can be a significant force multiplier for the entire organization. During our work at Clubhouse, Harsan coined the term "dangerous product managers" to describe these exceptional individuals.
To become dangerous, product managers must hone their product sense, communication skills, planning/project management processes, and relationship management with their teams, cross-functional partners, and their own well-being.
Based on my experience, the most effective product managers exhibit the following traits:
Are curious about technology: Dangerous product managers are constantly exploring new apps and technologies, generating new app or feature ideas. They are hobbyists who are passionate about the craft.
Focus on problems, not solutions: Before jumping into solutions, they ruthlessly identify and drive alignment on stack ranked problems. Once this is done, discussing solutions becomes an order of magnitude easier.
Weigh all insights to make principled decisions: They know how to consider all the insights of a product (ie, data and user anecdotes) and ultimately use that to make decisions.
Aim for simplicity: They avoid complexity at all costs and prioritize perfecting a single interaction rather than creating multiple mediocre ones.
Know that less is more: Dangerous product managers don't talk to hear their own voice; they speak to guide and focus discussions. They generally speak for less than a third of the time in group meetings.
Write structured and impactful documents: They know that docs are often the primary tool used to understand, debate and make decisions. They use short sentences, and incorporate bullet points and tables where necessary. Their documents are typically less than two pages.
Maintain flexible schedules: They design their calendars with the same care as world class architects, maximizing for negative space and flow rather than positive, or fixed, space. Practically, this means they’re calendar is booked with maker time instead of meetings.
Avoid status meetings: They share information asynchronously and utilize meeting time for productive discussions, resolving issues, and brainstorming. They encourage others to participate and express their opinions.
Become domain experts: Dangerous product managers don’t need permission to become experts in the problem that they’re trying to solve. Are you building a product for friendship? Go read sociology papers and read books by experts. An AI product? Go learn about the latest model architectures.
Have strong opinions, weakly held: They have a viewpoint on what should be developed, but never present it as a fact and are open to changing their minds for a better idea.
Clearly understand their goals: They possess an intuitive understanding of why their goals are important, how to measure them, and what success looks like. All efforts are prioritized relative to these goals.
Disagree early: They identify potential misalignments early on and seek feedback from relevant stakeholders within and across organizations, and leadership.
Don't drop the ball: Dangerous product managers never forget their commitments and always follow up on time. Their team knows that they will always deliver on their promises.
Drive for accountability: They hold others to the same high standards that they hold for themselves. They push for deadlines and regularly check in on progress. When things slip, they ask why and help their team improve.
Ensure clear next steps: They never let a meeting end without establishing a clear set of next steps to be taken. They make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding what happens next, regardless of the circumstances.
Identify and remove bottlenecks: They are constantly on the lookout for bottlenecks in systems and projects and take every possible step to eliminate them once they are identified.
Understand the impact of their words: Dangerous product managers avoid using language haphazardly and treat every interaction as if it were on the record. They don't speak ill of coworkers or leadership.
Earn trust through excellence: They establish trust by being great at their jobs and showing up for their teammates. They don't seek to gain trust by complaining, but instead by demonstrating their skills.
Proactively build rapport: They identify the most critical stakeholders throughout the organization and develop relationships with them to obtain guidance, advice, and ideas proactively.
Present themselves authentically: They display all of their idiosyncrasies, embracing their uniqueness with a smile. They are unapologetically themselves and encourage others to do the same.
Create psychological safety: Dangerous product managers make their team feel valued and heard, demonstrating their genuine care every day. They don't just give lip service to this, but actually follow through.
Follow Radical Candor: They provide direct and actionable feedback to help improve their team's performance, and are not afraid to be candid because they are concerned about how it will be received.
Give feedback continuously: They don't wait for specific meeting times or reviews to provide feedback. Instead, they offer feedback consistently and in the moment while it's still fresh, often in one-on-one settings.
Uplevel others with growth mindsets: They scale themselves by making others dangerous by constantly giving opportunities to people that are hungry for them.
Avoid hero mode: Dangerous product managers don't view themselves as superheroes, and instead opt for steady, consistent work instead of frenzied and spiky work to avoid burnout.
Look at the horizon, not their feet: They don't just focus on the current task, but also maintain a broad view of their work and why they are doing it on a personal level.
Get mad at the problem, not the person: They recognize that people are shaped by their environment, and that typically the intent of those they work with is good.
Relentlessly disconnect: They understand that taking time away from a problem can often be the best way to solve it by seeing it from a new angle.
Becoming a dangerously good product manager may not be easy, but it is a worthwhile pursuit. It requires sustained effort over an extended period, along with a commitment to continuous learning and a proactive approach to seeking feedback. So why not start your journey toward becoming a dangerous product manager today?