A few days ago, we read a very interesting thread on Twitter that tried to demystify Product Management, remove a few misconceptions about the role, separate the chaff from the wheat, and paint a true picture of what Product Managers experience on a daily basis which is very different from what is generally portrayed in different online fora and social media channels. The thread was compiled by Noah Weiss (Head of Slack’s Search, Learning, & Intelligence group). You all can follow him on twitter by clicking this link — https://twitter.com/noah_weiss . We are reproducing the thread written by him here for the benefit of all our followers as we firmly believe that there are some uncomfortable truths and great honesty in the thoughts around Product Management that Noah shared. Here are some of the perceptions around Product Management that need to be busted (we are sharing his thoughts “as is” with his permission to ensure the essence of the thoughts are not lost ) —
Product Managers are mini CEOs — This is admittedly a catchy tagline. CEOs have direct management responsibilities, decision making authority, business-level objective ownership, and often founder-level credibility for the original vision. In reality, PMs have none of these. It’s a pernicious trap, because the PMs who act as if they are mini CEO for a feature are the most likely candidates for a team organ rejection. Teammates want product leaders, not dictators.
Product Managers are the decision makers — Many people who convert from another role into product see it as way to get to “make the calls”. It’s a common pattern, especially for disempowered engineers on dysfunctional product development teams. PMs are responsible for the pace and quality of decision making. Full stop. That does not, however, mean they should make even a small fraction of decisions themselves. They should be the ultimate facilitator: pull the best ideas from their team, coordinate with various partners, get exec context, etc. They should lay out well-researched tradeoffs, time-box deliberation, and structure great discussions. Only in rare situations should they actually “make the call”. When they do, it withdraws from their organizational capital account balance. That needs constant deposits as a counterbalance.
Product Managers are the idea generators — More than any other product dev role, PMs are judged nearly exclusively on the output of their team. Unlike eng or design, there are few independent artifacts to hang their hats on. The degenerate case is PMs who think their ultimate work product is new ideas. They churn out 10x more concepts than their team could ever build. This has a two-fold downside: their team execution suffers without sufficient PM attention, and it stifles the potential creativity from non-product teammates. PMs do need to immerse themselves in context and research to prime coming up with great product ideas. In an ideal world, that’s a constant team exercise the PM just happens to drive.
Product Managers have to be great at company politics — Unfortunately, at the largest companies this one is a bit true. But at companies in the thousands or smaller, that degree of politics only happens when shared alignment breaks down. Great PMs are an antidote to startup politics emerging. They keep disparate groups bought into a shared vision of where the company/product needs to head. This requires developing deep domain knowledge, communicating compelling stories and setting an inspirational strategy.
Product Managers need technical degrees — I believe this started with Google’s hiring of CS students directly into product, as a backlash of the MBA influx during the dot-com bubble. Though I was one of them, I disagree with the premise. While a technical foundation is certainly useful for PMs, like every hiring heuristic applied unconditionally as a filter it produces far too many false negatives. PMs do need to have a deep curiosity about the underlying tech, humility about the details, ability to develop strong partnerships with engineering, and a voracious learning appetite.
In summary, just a few dangerous PM myths to avoid: mini CEO, chief decision maker, primary idea generator, political savant, and tech degree required.
These insights are really useful for any Product Manager or any Product Management aspirant. We thank Noah Weiss (Head of Slack’s Search, Learning, & Intelligence group) for sharing these insights. Link to follow Noah on twitter — https://twitter.com/noah_weiss