Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product - Department of Product: WTF is Product Strategy, Really?

Aviral Vaid

Aviral Vaid

Oct 03, 20234 min read

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Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product - Department of Product: WTF is Product Strategy, Really?

Transitioning to the role of Head of Product can be both exciting and daunting. As you step away from the hands-on craft and take on new challenges, such as coaching Product Managers, building alignment, and cultivating the right product culture, it's essential to approach your new role with a fresh perspective. In this article, we will explore some unconventional advice for navigating this transition successfully and becoming a true leader in the field.

Coaching is a skill that should already be ingrained in good Product Managers. Even without direct reports, it's crucial to coach your Product Team, peers, and stakeholders on what good product practice looks like. The best Heads of Product I've worked with excel not only in casting a wide net but also in considering the future. Instead of solely focusing on the present, they think about the next generation of leaders and strive to solve their problems. So, as you step into this role, remember to balance your attention between immediate needs and long-term growth.

To build breadth in your skillset, it's advisable to go broad when it comes to knowledge and competencies. This means becoming more of a generalist. While specialization is vital, having a well-rounded understanding of various aspects of product management will make you a more effective leader. Additionally, breaking your thinking into horizons can help you deepen your understanding of the product landscape. Consider horizon one as the present and ask yourself what actions will have the most significant impact right now. Then, look at the next horizon, focusing on what needs to be done in the coming year. Finally, extend your thinking to five and ten years down the line. This habit of thinking in different horizons will enhance your strategic decision-making abilities.

As a Head of Product, you will often find yourself facing paradoxes. One common dilemma is whether to prioritize morale and retention by taking longer to make decisions or to go all-in and risk losing people. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these dilemmas, it's essential to recognize that culture plays a significant role in your organization's success. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast," as the saying goes. Building and maintaining a healthy and productive culture will be one of the most challenging tasks you face as a leader. Whether it's addressing your organization's understanding of branding or shifting the focus from output to outcomes, tackling cultural issues will be a pivotal part of your role.

One crucial aspect of transitioning to Head of Product is understanding the true essence of product strategy. Product businesses differ from sales or service-based businesses in counterintuitive ways. Product strategy serves as a high-level guide, approach, or framework for a product and its team to meet business objectives over the short, mid, and long-term. It involves making decisions about what products to build, who the target customers are, and how to position the product in the market. As the Head of Product, you will play a crucial role in shaping and executing the product strategy, ensuring alignment with the overall business goals.

In conclusion, transitioning to the role of Head of Product requires a shift in mindset and approach. By embracing unconventional advice, such as coaching others, thinking in different horizons, and prioritizing culture, you can navigate this transition successfully and become an effective leader. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to take away:

  • 1. Continuously hone your coaching skills: Even without direct reports, coach your Product Team, peers, and stakeholders to foster a culture of excellence.
  • 2. Embrace breadth and depth in your skillset: Go broad when it comes to knowledge and competencies, while also breaking your thinking into different horizons for deeper strategic insights.
  • 3. Prioritize culture: Understand that culture plays a significant role in your organization's success. Work towards building and maintaining a healthy and productive culture that aligns with your overall business goals.

By following these pieces of advice, you'll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges and responsibilities that come with the role of Head of Product. Embrace the journey, and remember that your role is not just about decision-making but also about capability uplifting, coaching, and culture-building.

Resource:

  1. "Unconventional advice for transitioning to Head of Product - Department of Product", https://www.departmentofproduct.com/blog/unconventional-advice-for-transitioning-to-head-of-product/ (Glasp)
  2. "WTF is product strategy, really?", https://medium.com/inherent-ventures/wtf-is-product-strategy-really-c96b167b5f0b (Glasp)

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