As coaching becomes increasingly popular for product people, a more clearly defined picture is taking shape of what a product coach is, and in particular what a product management coach is.
In this article, we explore the discipline of product management coaching, what is it about, why is it becoming increasingly popular and what skills and experience does it require.
What is Product Management Coaching?
A product management coach is a professional coach with a strong background in product who works with product managers and product owners to help them grow and achieve their goals.
Product management coaching is different from other types of professional coaching because it combines various disciplines to provide an holistic and impactful experience for its clients.
Let’s see the main disciplines that are effectively combined in a product management coaching process.
Coaching is led by the client and makes use of the skills, knowledge, and abilities that they already have. It works by increasing consciousness and inviting to action.
Coaching is a change process towards a vision that pulls from your strengths, driven by hope and desire.
A product management coach will …
- help you find your own answers
- encourage you to take your own decisions by widening your perspectives, questioning your beliefs and assumptions and acting like a mirror where you see yourself reflected
- maximize your potential through a thought-provoking and creative process
- help you increase your self-awareness
A product management coach will not …
- be the subject matter expert
- tell what you have to do. The main tool of coaching are powerful questions.
What you are looking for in a mentor is experience and wisdom. It is important to find a mentor who will teach you about their experiences and share the wisdom that they have gained. A good mentor should be able to offer insight on how to work smarter and not harder.
Product management coaches mentor by providing their clients with a broader perspective on their situation, drawing on the expert knowledge of the product coach’s own past experience. This can come in the shape of different possibilities, recommendations, or tips
The mentor is a subject matter expert, hence she guides you from her experience, typically in a specific area of knowledge. She will typically answer to the question “do you know what is going to work to solve this situation?”.
When consulting, the product coach helps the client manage their product. Consultants make sure there exist a clear understanding of the challenge and provide potential solutions.
There is a wide variety of topics that the consultant can cover as a specialist in the area: strategic thinking, strategic planning, product discovery, stakeholder management, product marketing, personal productivity, or time management.
By teaching we do not mean being able to deliver trainings. In this case it is something more dynamic and difficult.
The product management coach has to be able to determine which skills may need to be cultivated at any moment and act immediately by providing resources, exercises and activities that can help the product manager progress on her own.
Benefits of a Product Management Coach
Unlike other types of product coaches the product management coach works with people — he is a professional career coach.
On the other hand, product coaches and product discovery coaches work with the product to achieve business objectives, drive improvements, find product-market fit, improve funnel metrics, improve sales, reduce time to value, etc.
The reason to hire a product management coach is for career development purposes, where the organization identifies certain individuals who need support that cannot be provided internally.
Product management is evolving and becoming increasingly important due to digitalization and competitive pressures that force companies to reorganize and structure in a more lean and agile way.
We know how challenging it is to find and recruit experienced product managers that will fit seamlessly with the team. Hence, often times, product managers lack skills required to lead a successful product team.
The benefits you can expect from a product management coaching process are the following:
- Reduce recruitment cost and time
- Improve product team performance
- Develop and grow internal talent
- Maximize cultural fit
- Reduce ramp-up time for new hires
Our coaching programs focus on three key dimensions of product managers’ growth:
- Leadership – develop the leadership skills required to become an effective digital product manager or product owner
- Career – design the strategy, set the goals and create their own professional career roadmap
- Specialization – develop the fundamental skills of their product specialization
In addition to that, we help clients solve day to day issues, reduce adaptation time to their position or prepare for their next career change.
It should be noted that a collateral effect of coaching product managers is that the team and the organization greatly benefit from this process, even if its focus is merely individual. Therefore, the return on investment is immense.
Shape of a Product Management Coaching Program
Most experienced coaches offer programs designed to deliver maximum impact in the shortest amount of time.
In Aktia Solutions we have developed an individual coaching program of twelve sessions in twelve weeks and another program for companies in which we work with a cohort of product managers for 6 months in which we combine individual sessions, shadowing sessions, technical sessions and training.
There are two interventions that make up most professional coaching programs: individual sessions and shadowing sessions.
- Individual sessions are the usual coaching conversations of any process.
- Shadowing sessions allow us to observe the product manager live and then provide feedback and indications for improvement.
Product management coaching is an individual process, hence I do not carry out group interventions. In case that’s required I leave that to the product coach who works with the team to develop a new product, improve the current one or work on team performance issues.
What Experience Should I Look for in a Coach?
We have already explained what disciplines product management coaching includes. Well, that is exactly what we should look for in a good coach:
- professional coaching competency (coach)
- mastery of the practices and techniques of product management (consultant)
- experience as a product manager (mentor)
In my opinion of the three disciplines, the one that really makes the difference is professional coaching. In the absence of this, the other two will not be of much use.
Here it is advisable to look for people who have experience in business coaching, rather than in life coaching.
In my experience as a coach, what my clients have valued the most has been my ability to adapt to their evolving situation. Despite having a strong program that serves as the backbone of the coaching process, it is fundamental to adapt and change course frequently.
In all coaching processes without exception, it is necessary to work on product management techniques: product strategy, okrs, roadmaps, product discovery, product delivery, product marketing, product metrics, etc.
This is the main difference between a generalist coach and a product management coach — our expertise in the domain.
Experience as a Product Manager
Product management coaches have years of experience in putting effective product management theory into action. They’re focused on practical solutions to your challenges and work with you to help make them a reality.
There’s no set rule on how much experience a product management coach should have, so you would expect them to have experience in several roles from product manager to product leadership roles.
However, I have met great coaches without first-hand experience in product management, but in very similar roles such as technology leadership roles, entrepreneurs, business owners, or marketing managers.
Why Would I Need a Product Management Coach?
The situations that we usually work on in our coaching program are the following:
- The product manager can feel alone and overwhelmed without the support of a product leader or senior product managers. It is in these situations where it is very useful to have the support of an expert coach.
- Another common aspect that we work on is career plans. In fact, our coaching program includes a specific section for it, as we know that it is difficult to be a good professional if you do not know where you want to go.
- Improving individual performance is another common aspect in any coaching process, and specifically in coaching product managers. Here it is very common to work on leadership, time management, personal productivity or communication.