PMs are notoriously difficult to evaluate for a few reasons. In general, they compose no code, produce no structures, accomplish no business targets, and deal with no support tickets. And even if they do, you wouldn’t want to measure their efficacy as a PM on those outputs, because PMs exist to create those outputs through others and help a team build the right product.
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Here are the four dimensions that can be used to assess PMs:
A. Product Performance
The theoretically perfect way to assess a PMs is through the performance of the products they manage. In practice, however, that can only be one of the inputs, because of how difficult it is to measure reliably:
- Products often require a long time horizon to know if they’re successful — The time it takes to build and launch a product is one thing, but even after you launch it, it can take a long time to know the impact of the product. You can quantify things in the short run like adoption and engagement, but the metrics with lasting impact like retention, revenue & customer satisfaction necessitate significant time and sample test size to assess.
- Not all product performance is directly attributable — If a PM’s feature adoption grew 80%, is that good? Imagine a scenario where client development during a similar time was 70%, or a complimentary feature from another team grew to 150%? The point is it can be very difficult to isolate a specific feature’s impact, because customers pay for the whole product and support experience, which is a system of interconnected features/operations with feedback loops to each other.
- PMs that inherit products and are tasked with improving them are limited by what they were given — If a PM took a poorly performing product area, and through some incredible work made it O.K., how does that contrast with one that took a quickly developing region, and proceeded with its development trajectory?
- PMs are just part of a team. They can’t be assigned all the credit — If a PM has the best designers and engineers in the company on their team, it’s a bit unfair to assess their products with the same lens as a PM who has a group of interns on their team.
All the above being said, I think it’s always worth trying to assess a PM on the performance of their product, but do so while normalizing as many of the conditions as possible.
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B. How well they work with other people
This sounds wishy-washy but it’s probably my number one indicator of an effective PM. Do people enjoy working with them, respect them, and think that they add value to the team?
You need to get feedback from all the key stakeholders a PM has: their direct team, their PM peers, the sales team, the support team, the marketing team, the engineering and design leadership, etc.
Product management is a leadership function, and the potential impact of PMs is a function of the amount of trust they have developed with people internally. The more trust they have, the more capable they are of moving mountains inside a company and galvanizing large groups of people to get shit done. That is their firepower, and it’s worth a lot.
This is also how I get a signal as a manager on how well a PM does PM-y things like backlog management, writing project briefs, presenting, etc. Since those outputs are used by people around the PM to operate, the sum of their impact results in higher trust scores with the people around them. It’s that final result that should matter to you more than the PM-y things they do. For example, if 100% of the people think a PM is organized and knows what’s most important at a given time, you shouldn’t give two shits about the state of their backlog.
C. Decision-making ability
Every project has to make big tradeoffs. You should deep dive with the PM on the key decisions they’ve made, and get them to defend those decisions and explain how they came to them.
Use these sessions as coaching moments, but also to level-set your assessment of their decision-making ability (and as we’ve covered before in Making Good Decisions as a Product Manager, ability is measured by the speed and correctness of decision making).
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D. Strategic thinking
What you’re checking for here is how well a PM thinks of the big picture. Strategic thinking means structuring a product strategy based on:
- What the company’s strategy at large is
- What is happening in the external market today, and having an opinion of what will happen in the future
- What the other important initiatives are within the company
A good product strategy will use those inputs and be able to articulate how the resulting plan should better accelerate the company’s impact, versus a plan designed with tunnel vision.