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When to get a Product Coach

How Product Managers and Teams leverage coaching to accelerate their goals.

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Product Coaches are professionals with deep experience that can help give you and your organization the added perspective and focus needed to help you achieve your next level of success.  Just like professional athletes have coaches even the highest performing product managers can benefit from a coach.

Coaches can be hired by an individual or by an organization.  Typically, they engage with individual product managers or teams to help them achieve some specific objectives.   Just like an Agile Coach may help the Scrum team get better at story splitting or an Executive Coach helps a CEO become more self-aware – Product Coaches often have specific domains of expertise they can help with.

This article explores some of the times when a Product Coach can help.

Job Search and Interview Prep

Whether you are trying to land your first product management job or advance your career, many people look for a Product Coach to help them fine tune their interview skills.   There is a cottage industry of former FAANG Product Managers, in particular, that sell their services to help you hack the particulars of those well-known companies.

Job searches can be daunting.  Once finally getting some interviews you want to be at your best.  Coaches can help you present your best self and give you the confidence to position your talents effectively.  While many interview coaches exist, finding a coach that is specific to Product Management will increase focus around the skills that your target employers want to see today.

The following transitions benefit enormously:

  • Switching industries (e.g. FinTech to EdTech)
  • Experiencing different company/product lifecycle stage (e.g. move from IBM to a Startup)
  • Gaining experience in different business models (e.g. B2B SaaS to B2C Marketplace, Software to IoT+Hardware)

Of course, for many experienced professionals they may not be looking for major market change but just to grow in their leadership opportunities. Since most product managers are not experts in interviewing (on either side of the table) getting coaching is just smart preparation.

On-Boarding in a New Company or Role

Once you land a new job within your existing company or a new one, there is frequently a learning curve.   For some organizations they build in mentorship programs for their new employees.  These are an awesome accelerator.   However, not every organization has this and mentors often focus more on navigating the particulars of the company rather than specific competencies.

If you landed that perfect stretch role, finding a Product Coach to help up-skill you, identify blindspots, and increase your odds of success.

 

Developing Specific Competencies

Your organization should periodically review the competencies necessary to propel it forward.  Where there are gaps teams will often work with external trainers to increase knowledge and attention in specific areas.   Some of the common competencies that I have seen companies look to develop:

  • Specific Agile Methodologies – like SAFe, Nexus, Scrum, Kanban
  • Product Vision and Strategy development
  • Product Discovery including Customer Research, Design Sprints
  • Data-Led Practices
  • Product-Led Growth

While these can often be advanced through formal training,  they really gain traction in the organization only through proper support.  Many training organizations provide online communities for follow-through support.  Product Coaches can sometimes be a better alternative to impersonal online forums and allow greater focus on organizational and personal development goals.

Individual Product Managers are seeking this help now too.  Either with corporate training budget or as a personal investment in their own success.

New Product Leaders

When a company hires or promotes a new Product Leader, e.g. Director of Product, VP Product, CPO) often they are experienced veterans in Product Leadership.  In their new role they can benefit from an objective perspective as they navigate new organizational challenges.

Another common scenario is when a new Product Leader comes in with no direct product management experience.   Often this person will be from Marketing, Business Development, or Engineering.   They frequently, have proven themselves to be effective team builders and strong industry expertise.   Their gap is often in basic product management competencies and a deep understanding of practices.

For these experienced newbies a Product Coach (after some basic training) can be the difference between 6 months of on the job struggles and rapid learning.

 

Developing a Product Team

As a Product Leader, one of the most important responsibilities is to develop the right high performing team.  This means brining the right people on-board, developing them, organizing effectively, and ensuring the right processes are in place to succeed.   There are no obvious right or wrong answers in managing any of this.

Sometimes, external consultants are brought in for large initiatives.  However, most of the time, the Product Leadership is tasked with continually furthering the team.  Often, these can be challenging efforts and sometimes involve sensitive discussions that can benefit from speaking with other product leaders.

Once again, Product Coaches act as the perfect sounding board.  Enabling leaders to develop their thinking and take action with confidence without bogging down or creating internal uncertainties as they what-if various changes.

 

Summary

Product Coaches are not yet that common throughout the discipline but it is growing quite fast in some areas.  Startups, in particular, seem to be embracing the value of augmenting the expertise on their teams with a little expert guidance and feedback. 

Just as pro athletes have a strength and conditioning coach, a batting coach, a sport psychology coach, etc. – Product Managers can use specialized coaching to up their game.

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