Product Marty Cagan

Product Manager Charm School

Recently I wrote about Apprentice Product Manager programs, where companies recruit and groom high-potential product managers.  Quite a few people asked me about this program and the type of curriculum that I have provided for my own teams in the past.  In this article, I thought I would talk about one of the most basic forms of training I have provided these people, “Product Manager Charm School.”

This was a concept I was first exposed to way back at HP, where it was less formal but was considered required before you could go out and interact with customers.

I later brought the concept to Netscape and we added more topics.

The idea of Charm School is to cover the basics of communication skills and working with customers, partners, stakeholders, executives and the press.

Some people already come to the role with good skills in these areas, but when we recruit for strong high-potential product managers from across the organization, such as from the engineering organization or the design organization, many of these people have never had to develop these skills.

The curriculum covers:

  • How to give a good presentation – usually involves video-taping one or more presentations along with critique
  • How to conduct a customer visit – especially covering the nature of the interactions with customers
  • How to give a good demo
  • How to communicate effectively with stakeholders and company executives
  • How to engage with the press

A product manager needs to be someone that everyone in your company, from your CEO on down, feels comfortable representing the company to customers and others.  They need to know that you will conduct yourself professionally, and also that you understand the types of statements and commitments you can make and what types you can’t.

At high-profile companies especially, interacting with the press can be a dangerous situation and the PR people help explain how interviews work and how to prepare.

I have seen new product managers with virtually no people skills or presentation skills become more than capable in these areas with a little bit of training and coaching.

I will admit that there are a few people that just can’t control themselves enough to be put in front of customers, but most people, once the context is explained to them, find it empowering to learn how to get their points and beliefs across more effectively.

I do not know if a course with the topics above is offered commercially, but different components of this are definitely available (I am a big fan of professional presentation training).

If you are a VP or Director of Product and you feel your team is weak in these respects, then it’s not hard for you to put together a curriculum using a blend of inside and outside resources.

You will still need to make sure your aspiring product managers learn the advanced techniques and skills involved with product discovery, but if you start with some very smart high-potential people, and you provide them a Charm School foundation, you can hopefully see how we can develop and nurture some very strong future product leaders.