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  • Writer's pictureTacit Edge

Good Coach, Bad Coach: The Trials and Tribulations of Finding a Product Management Coach

Ahhh the ever-elusive Product Management Coach. Many say they are coaches, but few have the experience and education needed to truly be effective. 


Why is a good Product Management Coach so difficult to find? 


Well, first, there’s no education pathway into Product Management. That’s probably the first major barrier. So even getting started on the right pathway is incredibly difficult. 


Second, it’s hard to know what good Product Management looks like. Companies with bad Product Management practices get lucky and succeed. This often happens if a company has a great network and lots of capital to keep going. Or if a company succeeded in the past when good Product Management practices weren’t essential to survive and now, they can continue to succeed based on this initial tailwind. Meanwhile, some companies with great Product Management practices still fail. After all, building and commercializing a successful product is extremely difficult and many factors outside of our control can get in the way.  


Third, Product Management has seemingly been changing rapidly throughout the years. First it started as a highly delivery-oriented role, and now it’s evolving to be more discovery, business, and user-focused. So folks with expertise from 10 years ago may not have the expertise needed for today. 


What Are We to Do in This Confusing Product Management Coaching Landscape?  


It ain’t easy out there, but there are some things we’ve seen that make great Product Management coaches. 


Ask for a proven track record of Product Management success 


This can be tough to ascertain, but if you ask questions and dig deep, you can often see where someone has truly been a part of making a product successful vs. folks who have simply been around success or possess only years of experience.  

what makes a great product manager

Ask them for examples of when they have developed and launched successful products


If someone leads with years of experience but cannot provide a tangible product they launched, grew, and optimized, this is a first red flag. Successful Product Managers have several products they have launched or optimized. They should have clear user data and revenue/cost targets they have hit. They should have stories about what the challenges were and how they overcame them. They should know what practices worked and didn’t work to hit these outcomes.  


Ask about their failure rate


Successful Product Management Coaches have failed A LOT. Failure is how great products are built. What matters is that they succeed enough to offset the failures. Ask them about how they learned from failure, how they overcame it, and if their failure rate was offset by enough successes.  


learn skills to become a great product manager

Dig deep into past experience 

Getting hired at a big-name company like Google or Amazon is a huge accomplishment, but very few folks have been given enough empowerment to build the end-to-end product management skills that you need to be an effective coach. So if someone leads with big-name experience, dig into what they did, what they owned, what results they achieved, and how this experience can relate to what you need.  


Ask about their limitations 

In our experience, the best Product Management Coaches are honest and transparent about the experience they do and do not have. If in a discovery call they are honest about having more experience in launch products vs. optimizing them or being a team coach vs. executive coach, this is a good sign. Also, not many people have been part of a successful organizational transformation. So if you’re hiring a coach for this specifically, ask detailed questions about what did and didn’t work, what they learned, and how they overcame the challenges. If someone claims they have seen and done it all, this is a red flag. 


Ask about their coaching education 

This is the biggest one of all. An effective coach, even without any product management experience, can be transformational. But an effective coach with a successful track record in Product Management is worth their weight in gold. Coaches lead with partnership instead of mentorship. They believe the mind with the problem holds the solution. They believe that their coachees are whole and resourceful. A lot of what we think is “Product Management Coaching” is actually mentorship – where someone shares experience, and it may or may not work for you. Trained coaches are experts at partnering to empower their clients, instead of making clients reliant on them for all the answers. So when searching for a coach, ask them if they understand the difference between mentorship, consulting, and coaching. Ask them about their experience empowering others to reach their potential and look for education through the International Coaching Federation. 


In conclusion, great Product Management Coaches are experts not just at the practice of Product Management, but also the practice of professional coaching. If someone you’re working with doesn’t have both, move on and try to find someone who does.  


Unlock your path to product greatness with Tacit Edge! Our tailor-made product management training & certification programs are designed to elevate your skills and propel you toward success.


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