9 product leaders share their advice on product building

Our 2023 All-Stars lead by example.

January 17, 2024

9 product leaders share their advice on product building

by Aha!

"Wow! Curious." This short phrase is a key principle of The Responsive Method, our framework for personal and business success. It embodies our commitment to learning new things and is powered by insatiable curiosity. And it is also a quality shared by the product leaders we interviewed as part of our All-Star series last year.

In the All-Star Q&A series, product professionals get candid — sharing their career milestones, what energizes them, and how they keep learning.

We heard from a vice president of product, senior product manager, and portfolio strategist, among others. Across roles and industries, the gamut of experience made for unique advice each month. We were so grateful to get to know these folks — they are thoughtful, humble, and funny.

This interview series will continue this year. But before we introduce the new All-Stars, let's take a look back at the wisdom shared in 2023. Whether you are just starting out in product or have several years behind you, we hope this advice inspires you to be your best.

Here is what the 2023 All-Stars recommend:

Editor's note: We have slightly edited each Product All-Star's insights for consistency and clarity within this roundup.

Center around goals

"When I am faced with a complex situation, the first thing I like to do is set clear goals. Having specific targets to work towards provides a sense of direction and accomplishment. I try to think about every challenge as an opportunity for growth and keep an eye on the rewards that lie on the other side." — Christiaan Steyn, product manager, Caseware Africa

Pursue value relentlessly

"A product manager needs to have a vision for why the product exists, be able to prioritize essential product features, and truly value communication. But most importantly, you need to be able to influence others. Not through authority, but by helping every person contributing to the product's success believe in the value of what they are doing." — Ahmed El Mehalawy, senior product manager, Baker Hughes

Align to customer needs

"No matter the state of technology, you have to be responsive to customer needs as they align with your business goals. Companies need to be prepared to deliver solutions iteratively and embrace near-constant change. The entire organization needs to consider itself a value delivery system and evaluate whether today's customer needs match internal business objectives. If they do, then you are in a good place." — Matt Zollers, capabilities leader, Ascensus

Create focus through expertise

"The most important trait for a product builder has to be an interest in developing industry knowledge. That happens by following industry news, attending events, and talking to customers — a lot. As you gain that knowledge, you can confidently engage with all kinds of customers. Understanding your customers allows you to better field their requests and say no when you need to." — Brian Riordan, senior director, formerly at Travelport

Be in it together

"Be open-minded and focus on finding solutions when things don't go to plan. Never point fingers. Use the correct pronouns (always "we," not me/mine/they) and be accountable. Resist the temptation to celebrate your victories, and zero in on team wins." — Derek Bluestone, CPO, Relay Network

Establish trust

"When it comes to implementing product management as a framework, nothing is more important than the leadership team caring. This process centers around building trust and enabling open dialogue. Once you establish trust, getting buy-in is not an uphill battle. The team already knows what you are trying to do and believes in it." — Steve Joos, senior vice president of product management, Vanco

Get uncomfortable

"It is through my network that I'm able to grow and learn. I get so much out of sharing challenges with others. I understand that this requires vulnerability, but I encourage those just starting out to have the courage to admit what they do and do not know. And remember, you learn the most when you are uncomfortable." — Amanda Spina, product manager, ClearlyAgile

Recognize differences

"I try not to fit people into a specific mold. This is especially important in my role today because cultural and regional differences are everywhere. Each team is functioning under a different reality — business environments, regulations, and market penetration." — Anthony Chamy, digital portfolio strategist, CAE

Find magic in tension

"Do not limit yourself based on a perceived skill set that you have or someone else has. Across our product team, for example, we have similar goals and objectives, but we each approach our job in a very different way based on our strengths and experiences. When opinions differ, tension is created. That is where the magic happens." — Sydney Adams, advisory product manager, IBM

Which piece of advice resonates with you most? Let it guide you in the year ahead.

Stay tuned for fresh insights each month as this series continues. And we want to hear from you. What questions do you have for product leaders today? Who would you like to hear from?

We are accepting Product All-Star nominations for 2024 — submit yours on LinkedIn.

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