Learnings from my first six months as Head Of Product

I took over responsibility for one of three product groups at Visable in September 2021, first with the title "Product Lead", then with the better fitting title "Head of Product". I have been shaping the product organization and leading the product development since then and have learnt a few important lessons so far.

My most important learnings

  1. Focus
  2. Set expectations straight
  3. Be honest
  4. Coach your directs


Even with your full organization using OKRs, there's a huge risk that teams get overloaded with extra goals and tasks. There's a new KPI there that was not even meant for the team, and a goal that was "forgotten" when setting yearly OKRs. If everything is important, nothing is important–so your task as head of product is to enforce focus. This is easier said than done: Tasks and goals often come from outside your product organization and are indeed important for the goal setter (often, top management). But you and your product organization committed to product goals, and hence it is your task to facilitate this conflict of interests and find compromises. Yes, goals can change if they fit the direction of your product organization and are solidly evaluated, but then saying "yes" to something new needs to mean saying "no" to something old. If you are not convinced about the proposed extra goals, keep something in mind: You cannot avoid the conflict, so you should better shape it asap. Saying "no" now means moderating a moderately big conflict now, saying "yes" to more and more things however will cause huge conflict in 6 weeks from now.

Set expectations straight

Job titles and organizational charts don't tell you the (full) truth of how your organization works. You should rather assume that everything is different from the official setup. That's why you should invest a lot of time into finding out how decisions are being made and how stakeholders interact. Next, write down for yourself how you want to collaborate (With whom? When? How? How not?) as it's your task to shape the organization–from the product perspective. Focus on the three main stakeholders that you identified, don't pick too many fights. Invite them to an informal getting to know (even if you knew them before, this is for your new position). Set up an event (or event series) with the expected outcome of an expectation agreement. Share this with the organization so that everyone knows that you are actively improving stakeholder collaborations.

Be honest

As a leader, you are tempted to play it cool and pretend that you know and control everything. This is of course not true and will only get you into trouble as your team and other stakeholders will lose trust in you. Let's face the truth: Shaping a product organization is complex and does certainly not happen overnight. You will start with a lot more questions than answers. And getting to a shared product vision does not happen magically.

Be transparent about all of that and moderate the change. Make clear that it will take time and will sometimes also go in circles. Share what you know already and what you don't know. Share what your priorities are, what you are working on and where you need support.

Coach your directs

Care for your directs and make sure they want to continue working with you and can achieve results. Keep very close to them and offer your help over and over (to a point where it feels you're overdoing it). Do every single one-on-one, always come prepared. And never forget to ask them how they do in their job. Trust them unconditionally and give them as much responsibility as possible instantly. And then hold them accountable for that. Let them reflect frequently on what is working well and what needs improvement. Help them to focus on one growth area at a time and make sure that is has actionable improvement ideas.

Did this help you?