17 Product Managers Who Will Own the Future of NYC Tech — and the 9 Frameworks They’ll Use to Do It

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In October, 17 product managers sat around a table at First Round’s New York Office, ready to learn something new. They’d been hand-picked out of 800+ applicants for the First Round Product Program — the first seminar series of its kind for rising star PMs destined to shape the industry for years to come. Instructors included recent product luminaries ranging from Viacom SVP Product Mike Berkley to Ellevest CPO Alexandria Stried to KitFounder Camille Hearst. But no one knew what to expect.

What happened next was kismet. We watched as the group turned into friends grabbing drinks after each seminar, and ultimately tight-knit colleagues who will follow and support each other through their careers. We also saw them rally around and adopt the frameworks, exercises, and tools shared by their teachers — digging in and applying them at their jobs right away.

To provide a window into the program’s content, we want to share these key lessons learned with the broader community — and give you a sneak peek at who these 17 remarkable product people are. We have conviction that they’ll be building the products and businesses that define NYC tech over the next five years. Get to know them (and the top tools they’ll be using to get there) now.

The Curriculum

The Product Program’s nine sessions were each curated to take on an essential area of product leadership:

  1. Getting into the PM mindset
  2. Figuring out when to build what
  3. Building out strategy based on a product vision
  4. The best ways to communicate with stakeholders
  5. How to develop a product narrative that rallies people
  6. Creating a remarkable product team
  7. Scaling yourself as a PM
  8. Driving decisions with data
  9. Leveraging product skills to become a founder

At First Round, we believe the best companies are most often built by extraordinary product minds. Even if you’re not a PM right now, you can benefit from adopting the habits and strategies that make talented PMs successful. To help in this pursuit, we’d like to present the most tactical gems emerging from each session, you can click on any of the links above to skip directly to that section of this mini-manual.

For the purpose of this post on adaptly.com, we are only highlighting the session that our VP of Product Kristen Donnino co-hosted. Check out the full post on First Round Review for key learnings from the other eight sessions.

6. Build Your Best Product Team

The product team you build will have a profound impact on what your company becomes. You have to hire people who aren’t just talented, but who are perfect for your particular business. Instructors Natalie Gibralter, Director of Product at Squarespace, and Kristen Donnino, Adaptly’s VP Product, shared a three-step exercise to ensure you’re on course for hiring your optimal team:

Build a strategic hiring plan

Define key competencies

Standardize your assessment of competencies

This is an exercise every early-stage company should run prior to scale.

Develop a strategic hiring plan by determining who on your existing team should be a part of the hiring process (all relevant folks the role will interface with), and the concrete steps every candidate will take between application and hire. This will vary by company based on values and culture, but every strategic hiring plan should be designed to extract as much relevant information about a candidate as possible, while familiarizing them with the people they’d be working with. It should also optimize for only investing a lot of time in the best candidates.

Once you have a good plan outlined, share it with everyone you’d have on the interview loop. Let them poke holes in it and get into the details of the parts they’ll each play.

To define a list of vital competencies for a role, bring all stakeholders together in a room and have them call out all the skills and attributes they associate with great product managers. Once you have a healthy list, have everyone silently vote on which competencies they believe are the most important. Consider writing all of them on a whiteboard and give everyone 3 stickers they get to place next to their top choices. When Donnino and Gibralter ran this process with the Product Program class, “High Emotional Intelligence” won the day — with “attention to detail” and “data driven” as runners up.

You want to make sure everyone on your hiring team is aligned around the same top competencies so that people aren’t making judgment calls solely on their own criteria. After you have your list of qualities you’ll focus on, work as a group to clearly and explicitly define what they mean to you. The same word can mean different things to different people. Having a singular definition as a group helps ensure that candidates will be judged fairly and accurately.

To create questions and an evaluation rubric, you can use very similar methods. Again, lead your hiring team through a brainstorm and voting process. Phase 1: For each competency, everyone share their favorite interview questions to assess that trait in a candidate. Phase 2: Run another round of silent voting with stickers till you’ve got the best 3-5 questions. For example, the top two questions to assess emotional intelligence were:

Give me an example of a time you were misunderstood. How did you handle it?
How have you gotten your team out of a failure?

All of the questions you think up might be great, but you want to focus and maximize your time with a candidate. Work with your hiring team to agree on the best questions to ask, and keep them the same for every candidate interviewing.

You’re not done yet, though. You have to similarly decide what good and bad answers to each question sound like. Again, you can have people brainstorm what a great answer to a question might be, and then have the whole group vote to see which type of response emerges as the best. Clearly, candidates won’t be able to hit that exact mark verbatim, but you want to have a sense of what the most impressive answers will include or touch on. And you want everyone who will interview them to have that standard in mind.

Running this exercise is time intensive. You have to run several voting rounds to arrive at competencies, questions for each competence, and then the best and worst responses to each question. Sounds like a lot, but it’s incredibly worth it to have a standardized approach created collaboratively — one that can be recycled and reused again and again as hiring picks up pace.

The full article originally appeared on First Round Review.