Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product: Gaining Perspective and Cultivating Culture

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Sep 14, 2023

5 min read


Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product: Gaining Perspective and Cultivating Culture

As you transition into the role of Head of Product, you will encounter new challenges that go beyond the hands-on craft of product management. Suddenly, you find yourself asking questions like, "How do I coach my Product Managers?" and "How do I build alignment and cultivate the right product culture for the teams to succeed?" This shift in responsibilities requires a new set of skills and a different mindset. In this article, we will explore some unconventional advice to help you navigate this transition successfully.

Coaching: The Key to Success

Coaching is a skill that every good Product Manager should already be honing. Even as a Head of Product without any direct reports, you should still be coaching your Product Team, peers, and stakeholders on what good product practice looks like. The best Heads of Product I've worked with are not only great at casting a wide net but also excel at considering the future. Instead of fighting tomorrow's battles, they are constantly thinking about the next generation of leaders and attempting to solve their problems.

Broadening Your Knowledge and Competencies

To build the necessary breadth in your role as Head of Product, it is advisable to go beyond your comfort zone and become more of a generalist. This may seem counterintuitive, but it allows you to gain a broader perspective and understand the various aspects of the business. By diversifying your knowledge, you can better navigate the different challenges that come your way.

Additionally, it's crucial to break your thinking into horizons to develop depth in your decision-making process. Consider horizon one as the present, focusing on the most important tasks at hand. Then, move on to horizon two, which encompasses the next year, followed by horizons three and four, representing five and ten years ahead, respectively. By adopting this approach, you can develop a habit of thinking strategically and planning for the long-term success of your product and team.

Navigating Paradoxes: Morale vs. Efficiency

As a Head of Product, you will often face paradoxical situations. One such dilemma is whether to take longer to keep morale high and retain people or to go all-in and risk losing them. Balancing these conflicts is crucial to maintaining a healthy and productive team. Remember the saying, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Your role in building and maintaining a positive culture is paramount. Whether it's addressing your organization's understanding of branding or shifting the focus from output to outcomes, you play a pivotal role in tackling cultural issues head-on.

Things Your Manager Might Not Know: Bridging the Communication Gap

While transitioning into a leadership role, it's important to recognize that there are certain things your manager might not know about you and your team. This lack of knowledge can hinder effective communication and hinder your team's progress. Here are some key facts your manager might be unaware of:

  • 1. What's slowing the team down: Identify the bottlenecks and roadblocks that are impeding your team's progress. Communicate these challenges to your manager to ensure they have a clear understanding of the problems you're facing.
  • 2. Individual workloads and responsibilities: Your manager may not be aware of the specific tasks and projects each team member is working on. Provide visibility into individual workloads to ensure a fair distribution of responsibilities and to prevent burnout.
  • 3. Technical debt: Technical debt is a common challenge in product development. Make sure your manager understands where the technical debt lies and the impact it has on the team's ability to deliver quality products. This will help them make informed decisions regarding resource allocation and prioritization.

In addition to bridging the communication gap, it's essential to actively seek opportunities to improve your skills and job performance. Share your goals with your manager and request their support in helping you grow professionally. This open dialogue will not only demonstrate your commitment to personal development but also provide your manager with valuable insights into your aspirations.

Conclusion: Actionable Advice for Success as a Head of Product

Transitioning to the role of Head of Product can be challenging, but with the right mindset and approach, you can excel in your new position. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to guide you on your journey:

  • 1. Continuously hone your coaching skills: As a Head of Product, your success relies on your ability to effectively coach your team, peers, and stakeholders. Invest time in developing your coaching abilities and share your insights and knowledge to foster a culture of learning and growth.
  • 2. Embrace the paradoxes of leadership: Understand that being a leader means navigating conflicting situations. Strive to find a balance between competing interests, such as morale and efficiency, to create a harmonious and productive work environment.
  • 3. Communicate openly and bridge the gap: Ensure your manager has a clear understanding of your team's challenges, individual workloads, and technical debt. By fostering open communication and providing transparency, you can build a stronger partnership and set the stage for success.

In conclusion, transitioning to Head of Product requires a shift in mindset and approach. By embracing coaching, broadening your knowledge and competencies, and addressing cultural issues, you can excel in your new role. Additionally, bridging the communication gap with your manager and actively seeking opportunities for growth will contribute to your success. Remember, being a Head of Product is not just about decision-making; it's about capability uplifting, coaching, and cultivating a positive product culture.

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