“Hiring Product Managers” (Book Review)

Human and technical skills

In the book, Leto makes a clear distinction between human and technical skills, and how to best hire for both skill sets. She describes technical skills as the tools and techniques to solve a customer problem; what work is done. Human skills are all about how a product person works (see Fig. 1 below). Leto talks about working towards a balanced product practice, ideally consisting of 50% human skills and 50% technical skills.

  • Vision statements
  • OKRs and KPIs
  • Design sprints
  • Product prototypes
  • Testing with customers
  • A/B and multivariate testing
  • MVPs
  • Leadership
  • Active learning
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Dealing with conflict
  • Emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management)
  • What is holding you back from bringing the two dimensions more into balance? For example, what is your own awareness of or comfort level with human skills? Does your team or product organisation encourage development in technical skills but not human skills?
  • What small changes could you make, or experiments could you put in place, to improve your score by one point? How can you get that 6 on human skills up to 7? For example, if you’d like to focus on increasing self-awareness, can you challenge yourself to ask five colleagues for feedback in the next two weeks? If you’d like to work on your ability to influence, can you push yourself to set up meetings with two tricky stakeholders to understand their own challenges or concerns on a recent project?

Understanding EQ and human skills

Leto focuses on emotional intelligence and emotional quotient (‘EQ’) and how both underpin human skills. She lists the basic dimensions of emotional intelligence, as defined by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman in his book titled “Emotional Intelligence” (see Fig. 3 below).

  • Self-management: The ability to handle distressing emotions so that they don’t cripple us while also being able to connect with positive emotions to get involved with and enthused about what we’re doing.
  • Social awareness: The ability to handle relationships and awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
  • Relationship management: The convergence of the other three competencies; relationship management is more than ensuring relationships are maintained, but they are also positive and beneficial for both parties.

Deciphering the job description

Once you’ve identified the human and technical skills that you want to hire for, the next step is to reflect these skills accurately in the job description. I agree with Leto’s point that human or ‘soft’ skills are often listed as ‘nice to haves’ in job descriptions. She shares the “Role Canvas” that you can use to create a job description (see Fig. 4 below).

  1. What’s the role accountable for? What outcomes and goals will the role be working toward to deliver on its purpose?
  2. What human skills will the role need to display to achieve outcomes? For example, if this role is going to be part of a team that has experienced a lot of tension or conflict recently, the person who takes the role needs to have strong conflict resolution skills.
  3. What technical skills will the role need to execute in order to meet the outcomes and achieve success? For example, will this role need to create a product vision or strategy? Use A/B testing or lead a design sprint?

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