Friday, July 27, 2007

operators: defining qualities

There comes a time in every product manager's career when he/she needs to look outside the product management craft if he/she's going to get through a particularly challenging time.

In my efforts to be a better product manager I've been learning more about what it means to be a good operator.

Actually, strike that. I've been learning about what it means to be a great operator. Good is for suckers.

  1. Great operators are able to focus the organization on the main drivers of value.
  2. Great operators are constantly simplifying processes - not for the sake of simplification, but because simple processes can be executed flawlessly and measured more easily.
  3. Great operators feel a need to upgrade the organization's talent - they're always setting expectations, giving feedback, giving A-players key roles and opportunities to excel.
  4. Great operators have a very strong execution ethic - they have the ability to focus and get things done with an eye toward revenue growth and market-share gain (as benched against the key comparables - our rate of revenue growth against theirs, year over year or quarter over quarter, whatever is most important).

Across the board the operators I spoke with all seemed to have the ability to be able to conceptualize where their business is and where it is going, then they have the wherewithal from an execution focus to get things done.

They told me the reason most operators fail is not that they didn't know what was important, but that they couldn't focus the organization to make sure the most important tasks actually got done.

Here's something telling I heard from one particularly interesting guy:

I recognize that good operators have a small knowing vs doing gap - the time that elapses between knowing that something needs to get done and doing something. Good operators teach an organization to narrow this gap - to see a problem and to act on it, and teaching everyone else in an organization to see issues when they come up and to take action on those issues.

I also figured out that great operators embody certain intangibles. I'll mix my insights with some quotes here:

  • The ability to teach the organization to confront reality - "a lot of times you'll see people trying to talk themselves out of what's going on (we're losing share, we have a bad person) - great operators have an ability to confront this reality and do something about it."
  • An ability to teach the organization to refuse to accept mediocrity - "if you can teach people not to accept mediocrity, this is a huge competitive advantage."
  • An ability to prioritize - "I tell my team that I want to be world-class at metrics number 1, 2 and 3 - this takes a narrowing of our focus on a few core things because they are the things that create the most value."

After talking to a bunch of these folks, I've come to appreciate that there is no magic background for great operating people. They simply have a knack for doing things that make customer's lives better and make it easier for customers to do business with them.

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