Become the Ultimate Product Manager with Chad McAllister

Introducing another addition to our expert interview series. In this interview discover how to become the ultimate product manager with Product Management teacher and guru, Chad McAllister.


Chad is the host of the popular podcast The Everyday Innovator, author of Turning Ideas into Market-Winning Products, and founder of Product Innovation Educators.


He has been recognized as a Top 40 Product Management Influencer and a Top 10 Innovation Blogger. Chad has a passion for helping product managers become product masters, and has had the opportunity to train and coach product managers at Microsoft, Kind Snacks, John Deer, J.D. Power, FedEx, Xerox, and many other companies.

To read more about Chad, follow his blog.


Tell us about yourself and your product management process.

Product managers and innovators are the heart of organizations. After 20+ years of product management experience, in 2007 I started training product managers and coaching product management teams.


Today I help product managers become product masters – influential drivers of product strategy – so they can consistently create products customers love without getting overwhelmed putting out fires.


My background is in electrical engineering and software development. As my experience grew I became concerned how some products became market-winners while others didn’t, even though the same new product development process was used.


To deeply study the issue and identify how to increase the success rate of new product projects, I completed a PhD program in business. Now I apply my experience and education to help others.


One way I do that is by hosting a weekly podcast — The Everyday Innovator. It helps product managers and innovators learn more about their craft and develop skills that will help them succeed. The podcast helped me be recognized as a “Product Management Top 40 Influencer.”


What advice would you share with new product managers? What information do you wish someone had shared with you when you were first starting out?

Start by building your base. By this, I mean getting grounded in the fundamentals of product management. I was working as a “product manager” for ten years before I even knew that term existed.


If you had asked me at the time what I did, I would say I was a project manager. While project management skills are certainly helpful for a new product manager, the breadth of knowledge needed is much broader.


I built my base through involvement in professional associations, starting with the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) and then adding the Association of International Product Marketers and Managers (AIPMM). I highly recommend the knowledge that can be learned through these professional associations.


I’ve since developed my own approach for building your base, which I call the IDEA Framework.


Second, recognize that successful market-winning products are created by first having deep insights into customers’ problems. Clayton Christensen popularized thinking of a product in terms of the job the customer hired the product for – what problem did they need solved that caused them to purchase the product.


While it is a challenge for new product managers to find time to interact with customers, it is through discussions, interviews, and observations that insights are best discovered. Don’t chase what competitors are doing, which leads to copycat products – do your own research.


Third, product management is appealing to many people because of the often-heard characterization of the role as the “mini CEO” of the product. This expectation sets up new product managers for disappointment.


In time, product managers (aka, owners, champions, etc.) may gain influence to truly be responsible for a product as a CEO would, but even then their authority is limited. Instead, become the Chief of knowing your customers’ needs and knowing your product.


There are many more points for new product managers, but I’ll conclude with advice I once received… have lunch regularly with people in other functions in the organization.


Product management is a highly cross-functional role. Your influence will grow more quickly if you personally have relationships with people in these functions. Each week ask someone you don’t know to join you for lunch and learn about their role.


What inspires you?

Originally it was solving problems for people in a way that creates value for them – what I see as the heart of product management. I still love this, but what inspires me today is helping others become more successful product managers and innovators.


This is why I started and continue a weekly podcast… to help product managers with what inspires them.


We are flooded with buzzwords lately – paradigm shift, synergy etc.… where do you think product management as a whole is heading?

Product management as a profession has its roots in the “brand management” role that was created at P&G in the 1930s. It has seen slow steady growth until just recently, with its popularity rapidly rising.


2015 laid the groundwork for this. It was the year of “innovation culture” with numerous leaders of organizations discussing how to create or improve their innovation culture. 2016 has been the year of the “product manager” role with several headlines describing the role and its desirability to both college grads and companies.


I see its future heading down a path not unlike project management. For years, leaders of organizations were skeptical about the value of project management until enough evidence existed to change their minds.


Product management is starting to prove itself as leaders are assigning it more importance. This is aided by the turbulent nature of most industries and markets. With changes occurring faster and faster, products need an owner for them to be successful.


The growth of product management is seen at universities also. I teach product management and innovation courses for some graduate schools. Just a few years ago these courses did not exist.


Not only are there more courses available, schools are starting to offer graduate specializations and in time we’ll see undergraduate programs also.


In your opinion, what are some of the most common mistakes made by product managers and how can they be avoided?

Even with the popularity of Lean Startup practices, Design Thinking, and SCRUM product development, there are still many products developed that were not first validated with potential customers.


Good product management begins with a deep understanding of a customer problem and then quickly proceeds to testing concepts and validating potential solutions before actually building anything. Fast inexpensive experiments are needed.


The best product managers and owners put their success rate at around 50% — getting half of the requirements and features right before validating the concept. The other half is wrong and no one wants to build something that is just wrong.


Further – most product managers are not in the “best” category and will end up building a lot more “wrong” without proper validation.

How do you ensure a successful product launch?

Product launch is largely execution – execute properly and you’ll have a good launch. Where product launches go bad is back in the beginning of product development. A great launch can’t save a poor concept.


So, start by knowing you are solving an important problem in a way that a sizeable number of customers will buy your solution, creating value for them and you – and doing it in a manner that is better than options from competitors. That is a mouthful and the key pieces are:

  • Problem worth solving
  • Solution customers will pay for
  • Market that is large enough to care about
  • Ability to beat what competitors are offering

This all starts by first building your base as a product manager.


For more product management wisdom, follow Chad on Twitter

Mark is the Lead Author & Editor of Spectechular Blog. Mark established the Spectechular blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Product Management.