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The Product Manager's Survival GuideLast month, at the SVPMA‘s monthly meeting it was a treat to have Steven Haines, a luminary in the field of product management to conduct a cross functional product team meeting role play.

As part of the session, he gave away a copy of each of his books via a raffle. A cool touch indeed. One of his books was new to me, The Product Manager’s Survival Guide, geared to the new product manager, who finds themselves needing to come up to speed rapidly.

I was piqued, as I had been kicking around the idea to write an ebook on what to expect in your first product management role, as most people fall into it, and while there is a wide body of knowledge around the internet, it can be daunting for the truly uninitiated.

The Layout of the book

As with his omnibus tome, The Product Manager’s Desk Reference, the survival guide really assumes that you have no foundation. It doesn’t presuppose a background, or any starting point, particularly helpful since if you ask 10 product managers how they became product managers, you are likely to get 10 different answers.

While this might indicate that experienced product managers will not benefit from reading it, that is patently not the case. There is plenty of information and “tying it together” themes that even senior Product Managers can benefit from reading the book.

The book has 4 major sections, three that are immediately applicable, and one that is a theme to keep in mind as you advance in your career.

Section 1 – Getting Your Bearings – two chapters that focus on your ramp, how to get integrated and up to speed. The first chapter is really about starting out, what to expect, how to get integrated, how to set expectations with your boss/organization, and planning your training. The second chapter, titled “Navigating the Organization” is equally important, and explains how the “official” org chart and the actual organizational structure are often quite different. It offers tips on how to ferret out the relationships, identify the true decision makers, the people you will need to collaborate with for success, and to build your own org chart.

Section 2 – Learning the Product’s Business – Two chapters that provide a roadmap to understand fully the business and market of your product. To fully embrace the product (whatever it is), to understand the finance, the operational/deployment efficacies, and the sales channel. Good depth, and great advice, even for late career product managers. All too often the guru’s emphasize the methodologies of development, and the creation of products, but this section really refocuses the reader on the bigger picture, as in reality, if your product is successful, you will spend a longer time in the volume sales phase, where deep knowledge of the market, the competition, and the business are crucial.

Section 3 – Getting Work Done – Three chapters that focus on the keys to success in product management. How to lead by influence, build effective teams, how to build/work with templates, and my favorite, how to navigate and deal with the mountains of data that we all have at our fingertips. Not really a manual, but a set of guidelines and tips that are useful.

Section 4 – Moving Forward – This is one section that a new product manager can neglect at the first reading, but they should consider it anyway. It is a framework of personal development, and vision that can help you plan or map out your career, including how to identify the next step(s) and what preparation is in store. This is advice that I sorely wished I had when I began in the late 1990’s.

The book is, in typical Steven Haines fashion, extremely well written, and broadly applicable. Where I would recommend not reading the Product Manager’s Desk Reference cover to cover, this book, I do recommend that. I also recommend this book for ALL product managers, from the early career newbies, to seasoned veterans, there is something here for all.

In fact, when I am hiring product managers in the future, I will buy a copy for all new product managers on my team. I feel that strongly that this is a critical read for all.

As for my outlined book, well, I guess I will put that away. Steven Haines delivered gold again.

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