How to Build a Rockstar Product Management Team

Top attributes (and important red flags to watch out for) when interviewing applicants for your product management team, and tips to keep new hires on track.

Savvy hiring managers know that talent alone isn’t enough to make a solid team. Rather, each employee’s commitment to a unified effort is arguably more important than individual experience to reach business objectives. Such traits are cornerstone attributes that Olivia Ryan, software project and product lead for the Louisville, Kentucky-based development firm Slingshot looks for when building and maintaining her product management team.

“A rockstar product management team is going to have great communication, and they’re going to work collaboratively. I’m trying to build a team with an adventurous and intensely inquisitive spirit that can creatively solve problems for our customers,” says Ryan, who adds that Slingshot’s product team is responsible for being the primary interface between clients and developers, and for guiding the overall product strategy.

We sat down with Ryan to learn her top product management hiring tips, and ways she keeps her team engaged, connected, and on task in an increasingly remote work environment.

1. Prioritize Flexibility

Product manager job descriptions change considerably by industry, company business models, and organization size. At Slingshot, product managers need to have a balance of business and technical knowledge to solve complex, intersectional problems. Their day-to-day tasks can range from interviewing customers to learn their pain points to product roadmapping to prioritizing features and functionality, and more.

“The most important attribute I look for when hiring product managers is flexibility. Our clients vary widely, and we need to be nimble in order to meet the needs for each customer,” says Ryan. Slingshot clients range from large healthcare companies with rigorous standards to startups that need to get their MVP launched quickly. “Product managers must be fluid in their approach by knowing the client well.”

2. Pay Attention to Red Flags

“Based on their past experience, some candidates have very specific ideas about the roles and responsibilities of the product manager,” says Ryan. To identify if a candidate has what it takes to be successful in a dynamic and rapidly changing organization like Slingshot, Ryan asks interviewees what they want to do less of in their next position — and gauges whether the applicant’s response indicates if they only want to work on a small piece of the PM puzzle rather than a diverse variety of tasks. This helps Ryan understand if candidates have the capacity and curiosity to work on several different projects at once and challenge their comfort zones.

“Hiring a product manager is really just about determining the fit between expectations and clearly communicating that from the get-go,” says Ryan. “The best PMs aren’t afraid to dig in, get dirty, and be dareful in their approach to problem solving.”

3. Stay Connected From Afar

Nearly all successful product management teams have one thing in common: excellent communication. Throughout 2020 and 2021, Slingshot’s PM team has grown increasingly remote. A remote work environment underscores the importance of staying connected.

Once you’ve hired your PM team, how can you maintain a positive culture from afar? “Remote communication has to be inherently different than if you’re sitting next to each other in an office,” says Ryan, who makes a point of asking PM candidates how they approach communication when working on remote teams.

In addition to using basic tools such as Zoom and Slack to stay connected, Ryan recommends embracing plugins to help alert teams of upcoming deadlines or meetings. For example, Slingshot’s daily standups help keep everyone on track and on the same page. But to better accommodate multiple time zones, Ryan is piloting asynchronous standups via Slack using the plugin Agile Bot, which prompts users for scheduled reports. “The key is to be proactive about communication — I’m always pushing my developers to communicate more with the product and project team because we need to identify roadblocks and issues early. If not, we’re going to miss a client requirement, deadline, or both.”

Identify Your Organization’s Values

Hallmarks of a rockstar product management team vary from company to company. While some organizations may value more technical experience from their PMs, others may seek product managers who can build customer relationships or rapidly solve complex problems. Even before you post your job description, consider what an exceptional product manager looks like for your organization. What kind of core competencies should your PMs possess to suit the unique needs of your customers and business? Solidify your non-negotiable requirements, and build your team around these values.

The work doesn’t stop once your PM team is hired. After onboarding, experiment with ways to keep your team connected, on task, and curious about product management to create the best possible user engagement and experience.

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