I’ve just finished my first week as a Product Manager at TalentSwot. And at the encouragement of my new boss I thought I would share my experience of being a Product Manager by answering the seminal interview question Marty Cagan asks — “Is the Product Manager the CEO of the Product?”
It’s easy to approach this question with a guise of “power”, as Cagan states. Everyone with an idea, after all, sees themselves as something of a “Product Manager”. I would be lying if at times if I said that I didn’t narcissistically envy the thought of being a Product Manager to “prove” to myself and others that I could build a product that was successful after being a developer for so long.
But that’s not the reality of how working in a team works. The job of a Product Manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible. The way to do that is to gather information and create a shared understanding between those who interact with the product. And above all, it’s to be human — to those who you work with, to your customers, to your vendors, and to everyone involved. Often we think we can listen, but we fail to listen to what is really being said. And often, it takes some time for what we really need to learn to sink in.
On that point, recently, I went to a School of Life event at the National Gallery of Victoria. As an activity of mindfulness, we were instructed to look at an object that wasn’t a piece of art for approximately five minutes and try to understand and make conclusions from what we were looking at. I choose a lighting fixture. And after I took away the perceptions of what I thought I knew about the lamp, I started to see features and functions that I hadn’t noticed before. It really changed my perspective and taught me to stop rushing the task at hand.
Or, as they say in Belize, to “Go Slow”.
So I guess I was fortunate enough that, on a long flight back to Melbourne from Central America the week before I started, I completely lost my voice. Not being able to speak allowed me to whisper something up along the lines of “Okay, that sounds good” while taking notes in stakeholder meetings. And I was surprised at how much I remembered by writing notes down as well as writing my own thoughts down.
I guess to answer the question, I think that it depends on the kind of CEO you want to be. Do you want to be a “CEO” that focuses on working towards your own goals and own personal ambition or do you want to be a CEO that understands the needs, requirements, and aspirations of everyone on the team you’re working with and how to use that to get the best product possible? Do you want to be approachable and empathetic even when it’s really hard to be that person? Because that’s a good Product Manager. Leadership is a service, not a gift.
I feel that above process, measurement, and ideation, being a PM is about working with others, not taking sides, and trying to balance expectations. And that really hard. But I hope it makes me a better employee and human.
I’ll take the line from the email I’m frantically writing to everyone to sum , “Welcome to Sprint 1, the first of many.”