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How your business can benefit from a product management coachHow your business can benefit from a product management coachHow your business can benefit from a product management coach

How your business can benefit from a product management coach

The world of product moves fast, with businesses under increasing pressure to deliver amazing products quickly that delight their customers and bring in the necessary revenue, all while staying a step ahead of the competition.n. With businesses under these pressures, it's no wonder that the demand for top product talent is high. But it takes time to recruit and build a product function that can deliver the goods.

So with that in mind, what can businesses do to deliver on their product goals effectively while building a product department that will help them stay ahead of the competition in the long run? That's what we'll explore in this article.

Enter the product (management) coach

A product management coach (we call them product coaches) is a product expert, usually an experienced product leader and successful product manager who works with product managers and product leaders to help them get unstuck and deliver on their goals at work.

How does product management coaching work?

Product coaches work with product managers, product leaders and product teams individually or in groups, over the course of several coaching sessions where they help clients set goals, figure out where they are currently at in relation to those goals, come up with solutions, then prioritise what actions to take in order to achieve those goals.

The coach provides clients with an action plan and part of the power of coaching is that they also hold clients accountable for completing the actions on that plan.

Is there a difference between mentoring, coaching and training?

Coaching, mentoring and training are technically different things but in reality, people tend to use the terms used relatively interchangeably. An effective product management coach does all of them, coaching clients when they think the client has the skills to solve their own problems, mentoring them when they think the client would benefit from examples from their own product management experience and training them on topics were the client's lack of skills is preventing them from achieving their goals.

This article has more detail on what a product coach actually does.

The real benefits of product coaching for your business

Product coaching is much more tangible and transparent than many other forms of coaching or training. Because clients work on important business problems with their coach, it's relatively easy to see the positive impact of product coaching on a business. Let's explore some of the most obvious and tangible benefits product coaching can have on a business.

Product coaches help you identify and solve the real problems that are holding your business back

Product coaching is ultimately about delivering value and one way in which coaches do that is in making sure you are solving the right problems. Oftentimes, clients come to a coach with a problem they think is holding their business back but which is actually just a symptom of a larger more fundamental problem in their business.

Working with a great product coach helps people see the fuller picture of their problem and zoom in on the most important area to fix. A product coach will do this through a mixture of asking powerful, targeted questions, drawing on their experience of dealing with similar situations in other contexts, and by applying coaching tools such as the Lean Coaching Canvas to unpack the situation visually.

Because product coaching is so directly linked and aligned with your business goals, the effect is often much more immediate and apparent than alternatives like bringing in consultants or trying to solve problems that are simply surface-level manifestations of a deeper challenge.

If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.- Steve Jobs

Product coaching helps your business move faster and more effectively

Failing fast and learning from failure are common concepts in product development, to the point where they could almost be considered cliché. While test-and-learn is a hugely valuable methodology, working with an experienced product coach can help you skip unnecessary mistakes and learn faster by focusing your efforts on validating ideas that haven't already been solved well elsewhere.

A product coach is often a seasoned product leader, who has built products and the teams that deliver them across a wide range of contexts. With that experience, they can help you adopt effective methodology quickly and without needing to try many different ways of doing things. In product management there are often many ways to solve the same problem. A good product coach can help you choose the right way for you.

An experienced product coach will be able to help with areas that less experienced product managers tend to find challenging, such as establishing a product vision, creating a product strategy and product roadmap that align with that vision, gain buy-in from the rest of the organization, and ensuring your product process aligns with the goals of the business.

Product coaching helps you develop, retain and attract talent

Effective, experienced product managers are hard to come by so it makes sense to develop and retain your best product management staff wherever possible. While working with a product management coach to solve a business problem, your staff are developing their own skills to solve similar challenges when they arise in the future.

Development opportunities are important to product managers. In their 2020 trends report, Product Management Festival found the number one reason product managers leave their jobs was they felt it lacked growth opportunities. Working with a product coach gives your staff professional development opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be available, making them more productive, effective and often happier and more engaged.

As well as working on business challenges, product coaching helps people make progress towards their career goals meaning that you can develop hidden product management talent, such a software engineer wanting to transition from the development team to a product career. A product management career is often a desirable next step for engineers and designers looking to broaden their remit, and with it being such a key role in your organisation, it makes sense to fill it with someone you know has the potential to do the job well.

Product coaching makes all your staff more effective

Product coaches often work with just one individual in an organization. However, even when this is the case, the work they do has a much broader impact. Because of the nature of their work, dealing with many stakeholders and teams in a given day, one product manager doing things differently after working with a coach has a knock-on effect on how the rest of the organisation works.

In fact, one of the challenges product managers often want to address with a coach is making working with others in the organisation more effective. This might include adoption of a specific methodology or help other departments in the organisation cultivate a product mindset.

When this kind of change is led by the people in your organisation, it makes it more organic and natural than bringing in a consultant. When people make their own change rather than having it forced on them, you often see increases in employee engagement making it easier to get buy-in for your vision and product strategy.

What are the alternatives to product coaching?

The first alternative, and the most common, is simply doing nothing. A lot of organisations leave their product managers to learn and build their product skills by trial and error, searching for solutions themselves in articles, online courses, books and at conferences then having a go and learning from their mistakes. This approach means the organisation ends up with relatively self-sufficient, autonomous product managers but it's inefficient and often leads to fragmented methodology and strategies without a clear vision or alignment.

Another alternative, as we've mentioned already, is to bring in consultants. This is effective for making quick progress on a particular issue but because of cost and the fact that it isn't building an internal product function with more capability, it's not a sustainable option.

If you're lucky, you can find a superstar head of product who can drive product strategy while building your product function. People like this are hard to find, though, and if you want to move quickly with your product, even a superstar like this would be spread thinly and benefit from some extra help.

How much does a product management coach cost?

So, with all those obvious benefits, what kind of investment does a company need to make to bring in a product coach? Generally speaking, an effective product management coach will charge a similar rate to a consultant with a similar level of experience, possibly slightly more as you'll be using their time in smaller chunks (hour coaching sessions here and there) than you would a consultant.

Remember, though, because the product coach will be working with your team to build their skills, it's more of an investment in your organisation than using a consultant, who will take their skills with them when they leave.

Product management coaches typically offer lower rates for larger packages of sessions or for working on a monthly retainer. If you're interested in finding out more about costs, you can schedule a free coaching consultation with us here.

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Robin Zaragoza

Founder and CEO at The Product Refinery, Robin has been working in tech for 20 years and delivering product for the last 15 of those at companies of various sizes, from early stage start-ups where she was the first product manager, to large publicly traded companies where she led teams of product managers.

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