PM Personality types a.k.a Myers Briggs for PMs

The Myers Briggs Type indicator (MBTI) is used to understand your personality type. The idea behind the indicator is that if you understand your personality and default preferences then you are able to play to your strengths. In addition, by knowing your team’s preferences, you can communicate better with your teammates and thus become a high performing team.

As I’ve led product teams, I’ve discovered that there there is a similar model of PM personality types that once understood will help you in creating high performing product teams.

Why classify?

Aren’t we all unique snowflakes?

Classification helps us think in a structured way. It helps us understand our behavioral patterns as well as default behaviors. This is valuable in designing the organizational makeup, types of team members you want to hire and deciding how to approach product strategy, It simplifies things.

I like to think about different PM personality types in manner similar to that of the stages in the product lifecycle. A product goes through: introduction, growth, maturity and decline — each of these stages map cleanly to a certain PM personality type.

Types Of PM’s mapped to Product Lifecyle

Pioneer PMs

Pioneer PMs are most comfortable in the early product/market fit phase of a product. They display some of the following traits:

  • Comfortable with lots of ambiguity and the abstract
  • Very fast moving — drive to iterate quickly and learn
  • Lots of product intuition to guide decisions — at this stage there isn’t a lot of data available and thus strong product intuition is desired to make progress
  • Very technical/ technically savvy

Settler PMs

Settler PMs are most comfortable in the “let’s scale” phase of a product. Product/market fit has been achieved — its about seizing the moment and going for growth. They display some of the following traits:

  • Built to scale — everything they think about is scale
  • Like process systematization — at this stage of the product it is important to have the right amount of process to get to repeatable outcomes. Settler PMs know how to organize.
  • Really good at stakeholder management — the company is growing and there are a lot of stakeholders- Settler PMs know how manage this growing set of stakeholders effectively.
  • Strives to remove ambiguity — predictable outcomes require structure and clarity. Settler PMs are good at setting up roadmaps and associated processes to manage growth effectively.

Harvester PM

Harvester PMs are most comfortable in the “cash cow” phase of the product. At this stage, the number of users of the product have somewhat peaked — there isn’t that much headroom for growth. The product has matured but the lack of a strong harvester PM can send the product, and as a result, the company, into a tailspin. They display some of the following traits

  • Maintenance focus — keeping the existing user base satisfied and managing churn is the focus.
  • Very value extraction focussed — Harvester PMs excel at exploiting and achieving efficiencies whether it be in process or resources. These efficient gains amplify the “cash cow” nature of the product and this is exciting to them.
  • Ruthless prioritizer — they internalize and know how to prioritize stuff that maintains value

Great, you’ve put forth a fancy model, but how does this help me?

The above classification doesn’t imply that PMs are bucketed into only one area. Think of this as a spectrum of traits and behaviors, the objective is to learn where your defaults lie. Knowing these personality types help in the following ways:

For PMs

This model helps you understand your defaults. What do you gravitate towards? Knowing this about yourself will help you in deciding what stage of company/product you want to work in or very intentionally migrate to. What really motivates you?

For Managers of PMs

A core part of the managers job to is ensure that the team is productive and happy. Understanding which type of PMs you have on your team helps you understand their motivations.

Knowing the types, the process of matching products to PM’s can be tailored for maximum satisfaction from the employee perspective (product matches my defaults) – which leads to a high performing team.

It also helps you scale your team by helping individuals move from one type of job to the other, if that is their desire.

For Executive management

Knowing the personality types can be used to tailor the PM hiring strategy Are you an early stage startup? Go for the Pioneer PMs. Are you ready to scale? Go for the Settler PMs. Having a tailored strategy will bring you benefits in increased conversion (applicant to hire) and very motivated PMs (As you’ve closely matched the products they own to their default type). As your company moves through the various stages of the product, you have a blueprint on how you can hire the right level of talent at each stage. As your company matures, you will have products at different stages of the product lifecycle and you will have the right talent to manage all these products.

What do you think? Are there any other PM Personality types that I’ve missed? Would love your feedback!

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