Product Management interview question on strategy and tactics

I was being interviewed for a Product Managers position by a Chief Operating Officer (COO) who used to do the job that I was interviewing for. The company has adopted and really embraced scrum so naturally expects the Product Manager to take on many of the Product Owners responsibilities. I ask the COO to broadly split the role down into three aspects. His reply was:
1. Vision and Strategy
2. Execution and delivery
3. Stakeholder management and collaboration

I jotted the above answer down on my note pad. He then asked me “what percentage of my time I think I would spend on each of the above three activities.” I paused for a second – gathered my thoughts and jotted figures next to each one:

1. Vision and Strategy – 20%
2. Execution and delivery – 40%
3. Stakeholder management and collaboration – 40%

Fortunately for me he agreed.

I often hear and read of Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers stressing at their yearly appraisals that they get too bogged down with the tactical and have no time for the strategic and visionary part of the job. The problem is that if you don’t use it (the visionary and strategic thinking) then your loose it. Amy C Edmondson in HBR puts it this way:

“Execution is difficult to sustain – not because people get tired of working hard, but because the managerial mindset-set that enables efficient execution inhibits employees’ ability to learn and innovate. A focus on getting things done, and done right, crowds out the experimentation and reflection vital to sustainable success”. Harvard Business Review July – Aug 08
Correct implementation of the Scrum process aims to solve the problem where the Product Managers/ Product Owners gets burned out due to “efficient execution” and a sharp focus of “getting things done” and “done right”. A Product Manager/Owner knows the cycles of the team and can therefore plan his/her work in advance. The key is to ensure that there is a well balanced Scrum team. I like the way Marty Cagan puts it:
“You will need product managers to represent the needs of your target users and lead the product discovery effort. You probably already have project managers (aka Scrum masters), but if not, you’ll need product managers too; just don’t make the mistake of trying to hire one person to cover project management and product management.” (italics supplied)
It’s important for each product person to deliberately carve out time for themselves to do activities that will be the catalysed for strategic and visionary thinking. Such activities would include (but not limited to): visiting customers, researching the marketing and competition, discussions with the development team on the latest and greatest technologies as well as discussions on how existing technologies can be used in an innovative way, looking at how other industries (current and past) have solved problems. When I led a team of product managers – I gave them one day a month to spend out of the office in order to research what ever they wanted – all I asked in return was for a one line explaining what they had discovered. The key is not to get distracted by too many tactical things – hence the one day out of the office: Tom Grant Forrester analysts expressed it this way:
“Product Managers need to focus on the strategic inbound tasks instead of being distracted by too many tactical demands… companies need to hire or cultivate product managers who have the skills and experiences necessary to produce high-quality product management deliverables – not something that anyone can do with out training”
Tom continues by identifying the benefits of ensuring that Product Managers spend quality time on vision and strategy activities:
“Companies that make these product management reforms will be more competitive and better able to use product management deliverables to make better strategic decisions.
In short it’s a win: win situation for both you and the company. So we product people need to take the time to develop ourselves and companies need to give us the time and ensure we have the band width to do it.


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  4. “Companies that make these product management reforms will be more competitive and better able to use product management deliverables to make better strategic decisions". This caught my attention! Indeed TRUE! What you've shared really is pretty impressive, everything about that counts!