Product Management: what people don’t tell you

Being responsible for “product” as a Product Owner, Product Manager, or Product Whatever, is glorified. Job adverts describe product management as being the ‘mini-CEO’ or ‘startup founder in a corporate,’ but that is far from true and far from reality. The truth is, being in product management is not an easy or glamorous job. Below what most people don’t tell you about product management (a recap of this Twitter thread by @jmj, Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager, and my own thoughts):

1. You have to say no a lot

Your number 1 job in product management is to say “no” a lot. You have to say no to distracting ideas and say no to keep your product on track for success. A lot of times, people will be frustrated with you because you are saying “no.” It’s up to you to communicate your vision in a way that makes the “no” understandable and acceptable, and you have to communicate why X is more important than Y right now, but don’t expect people to listen.

2. You’re accountable

Being in products means that when things break, you’re accountable. You cannot blame “the process,” “the technical writer,” “the QA,” “the salesperson” or “the team.” It’s your product, get ready to bite the bullet. A good product person takes full responsibility and measures themselves regarding the success of the product — no excuses.

3. You’re not the idea person

You are not the idea person; it’s your job to create good feedback loops and communicate why specific ideas are prioritized over others. Designing new products is a very, very small part of what you’ll do. Good product people crisply define the target, the “what” and “why” (as opposed to the how).

4. Being an influencer makes or breaks you

Since you do not have many direct reports, or in most cases: none at all, your ability to influence will make or break you. And being the boss wouldn’t fix it anyway. Remember: sometimes it is more important to convince your team than it is to satisfy your customer on the vision, the what and the why.

5. You have to be the expert

You have to be the expert, on everything. Good product people know the market, the product, the total product suite, the roadmap, and the competition extremely well. You focus your roadmap and your team on customers and their real problems; not on symptoms or anecdotes. You anticipate flaws and build practical solutions instead of putting out fires all day.

6. Explain continously

Cristal clear communication, from presenting on stage and pitching to customers, to writing opinion pieces, is essential. You have to explain continuously: how the product works, what our future vision is, why are some things the way they are, why some bugs are at the bottom of the priority list, why competitors appear better but aren’t, why customers don’t always know best, why you keep saying no, etc. etc. Good product people create explicit materials as FAQs, functional overviews, how-to’s, white papers, documentation, and blogs to guide customers and the rest of the organization. You take a written stance on important issues, instead of just voicing your opinion verbally as a complaint or problem “that is out of your scope.”

And those points are exactly why being in products is such a great job to have. It makes our work challenging and different every day. There is no need for a “leader” to tell you what to do, or a manager to request “more challenging work.” YOU are the one in control.

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