The biggest mistake

Aspiring head of product asked me: « If I were to take on a head of product position, what is the biggest mistake that lack of experience could make me do? »


My answer:

Read this article about useful skills for a head of product.

The biggest mistake would be to not to pick your battles about the topics you will invest in to become the head of product that your company needs.

If you try to check all the boxes described (technical, management, creative, business, marketing, design, leadership, strategic thinking, etc.), you will burn out.

So you have to choose very, very few. 2 ideally. 3 max.

And this choice should not come from you, but from your manager. Of all the expertise that your company needs and that your current profile does not have, which ones are the most key?

Until you have a solid answer to this question, your risk of failure is extremely high because you will disperse yourself. Impostor syndrome => panic ==> dispersion of efforts to cover everything ==> weak impact on all subjects ==> demotivation ==> impostor syndrome increases ==> death loop.

In reality, your company does not need you to become good on all those dimensions at once: some dimensions are largely covered by someone else (rely on them), while other dimensions are not critical today (ignore these rigorously for the coming 6 months).

When you’ll ask your manager for clarity regarding expectations, it is likely that he will dodge the question. It’s normal, choosing is painful. Insist till answering becomes easier than dodging. He’ll be grateful to you later.


Interesting to see the same pattern (explore the realms of possibility, then make a radical choice about what to focus on) applied to another area of product management, personal development in this case.


Another great read when starting a new job: The First 90 days, by Michael Watkins

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