When you’re a product manager, one of the first things you read is the famous Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager post by Ben Horowitz written 19 years ago. Every PM should be able to recite it forwards and backwards. If you’re already at that point, great! Now go ahead, and read it one more time.
In the spirit of ‘always be learning’, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with others to learn the mastery of the trade and there’s conclusion I’ve arrived at:
There’s a terrible amount of confusion on what a good product manager does.
Product management is a relatively nascent discipline. Across a lot of companies, it can mean a product owner, a project owner or even a program/process manager. Since the role is so different across the industry, the understanding of what makes up a good “product manager” is so undefined.
Because of that, I want to share my version of the modern day Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager.
Story Telling vs. Selling
Good product managers are story tellers. They tell captivating stories focused around customer pain and their emotions, which motivate others to action.
Bad product managers are salesmen. They know they can’t lead with authority, so they try to persuade teams to implement ideas they come up with. They sell, they don’t inspire.
Learning vs. Shipping
Good product managers focus on learning. Whether it’s customer interviews, shipping product or looking at user metrics, good product managers are always laser focused on what they can learn that makes an impact to customers.
Bad product managers exclusively focus on shipping. They think success is only defined by delivering product into the hands of their customers. They never see how shipping is subset of learning. They fail to revisit what they ship and use what they’ve learned to pivot, kill or iterate on the original idea.
Multipliers vs. Individual Contributors
Good product managers are multipliers. They figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their team and find ways to bring out the best in people. They learn the best way to be a 10X individual, is to get 2X productivity from 5 people around them.
Bad product managers are individual contributors. They have to be the fastest to answer every email, first to have an opinion and is the earliest one in the office/last one out.
Context vs. Ideas
Good product managers share context. A good product manager is the curator of the best ideas, not the creator of the only ideas. They invest in collaborative brainstorming and know the best ideas will come from a team where everyone has shared context over the customer pain and the reason to care to solve them.
Bad product managers only share their ideas. They are quick to jump to a solution and don’t want to hear other input from the rest of the team.
Decision Making — Small vs. Large
Good product managers make a small percentage of team decisions. They give context to builders and let builders build. They get out of the way by empowering everyone on the team to make the right decisions.
Bad product managers make a large percentage of team decisions. They view themselves as the person who knows all the right choices and are bottlenecks to forward movement. A good indicator of this is a team’s progress when their PM is unavailable.
Easy vs. Undesirable
Good product managers make their job look simple and easy. If you ever see a product manager and think that you could do his/her job with the same success, that’s a good product manager.
Bad product managers make their job look undesirable. These are the individuals who talk about their stressful lives, always run from meeting to meeting and never seem fully engaged in conversation. You’d never want to switch roles with them.
Winning vs. Losing
Good product managers are humble winners. Winning in product development is a team sport, and there’s no “product” in team. They share the glory with others around them and make sure everyone is there to celebrate both big and small wins.
Bad product managers are sore losers. They are the first to come up with an excuse and never want to talk about how they could improve for the next time around. They often point fingers at engineering, design, leadership…etc.
Relationship vs. Transactional
Good product managers are relationship-driven. Relationships trump feature requests with external customers, and internal relationships drive great teams. They spend time investing in people around them and think about the long term game, not the immediate future.
Bad product managers are transactional. They tell others what they can do for them and ask for things in return. Everything is give and take. They play checkers, not chess.
Marketers vs. Partners
Good product managers are good marketers. They know their target audience and the best ways to reach them. They design their product for distribution.
Bad product managers are partners to marketing. They view product marketing as the black box where ‘blog posts come from.’
Focused vs. Scattered
Good product managers are focused. They know when to push a team for a specific solution, and when to be creative on how to get there. They are persistent on pursuing clear customer pain and only focus on a select few to solve.
Bad product managers are all over the place. They run teams in a decision by committee basis. They want everyone to be happy and are willing to cater to every request.
Products vs. Excuses
Good product managers create compelling products. They build products that customers love and share with others. They create emotional experiences that are essential to people. They build painkillers, not vitamins.
Bad product managers create compelling excuses. They push products out to customers and fail to understand why they aren’t successful. They are quick to assign blame or find reasons they were doomed from the beginning. They focus on the advantages that other winning products & teams around them have, and not what they could’ve done better.
Good product managers know how to win. And they win with people around them.