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There’s No “I” in Product Manager — Why Ego Gets in the Way

Lisa Wagner
Mar 11 · 6 min read

I have seen this many times, product managers driven by ego. They are bad for the team, for the product and for business. I have been that PM as well at times, nobody is perfect and it’s ok to fall into some traps. It is important to realize it and learn from it. So always remember: There’s no “I” in product manager.

How do you spot an ego-driven PM or check if you are one? Have you done any of these things:

  • Come up with an idea on your own and dismissed anybody else’s
  • Said/thought the users are just too stupid/ignorant to understand this amazing feature
  • Taken credit for something the team has done/come up with
  • Put a lot of effort into promoting only yourself and not your team within the company
  • Used only the data in your favour when reviewing how a new feature performs

If you have said yes to one of them, then welcome to the club!

Your ideas are the best and if they are not yours per se, you’re really good at obscuring the fact it was someone else, when you talk about a successful launch. If it wasn’t all tat successful you’re still really good at making it sound amazing in front of your peers and stakeholders and (secretly) thought, it’s the users fault for not understanding your genius idea.

I am not saying don’t be proud of accomplishments or stop believing in yourself, I am not saying don’t show off a little when something was successful or don’t celebrate, I am not saying don’t self market so you can get a promotion. What I am saying is, don’t do it all on your own.

You need your team

First of all, you need your team, a developer can still ship a working feature without you, but you cannot do that without your developer. You are not the one most important puzzle piece, but you are part of the team. And that is awesome!

Secondly, your team has an amount of experience and expertise that you cannot have on your own. Tap into that, you’d be crazy not to. When I was working on a product to create and optimize social media campaigns, sometimes, I needed to get some very specific information about a Facebook campaign. The easiest and fastest way was using the Facebook Graph API Explorer, in the beginning I had to ask a developer to help me and that meant interrupting their work. After that happened a few times, my lead developer offered to teach me how to use it. He gave me the basics and over time I learned more complicated things using the documentation and asking my developers. This is just one example of many things I have learned from team members over the years. And I am so here for that!

And remember that they often have prior experiences with other products, with users, with methods and tools. All these different experiences can give you different perspectives. This allows for a far bigger pool of ideas and knowledge to base new ideas or optimizations on, because oftentimes you do not need to reinvent the wheel, remix and improve can be a very valid method.

Last, but not least, your team members are a bunch of amazing humans, not just resources. If you treat them like the amazing human beings they are, they will do the same for you and together you can do anything. This helps team morale, motivation and safety. Prescribed team building does not work, but if you connect with your team a board game night or a shared lunch/dinner will be a fun way to get to know each other outside of work. Plus, this will create trust and that leads to better communication and an open feedback culture, that in turn will allow everyone to become better together.

So in short, if you do the following things, your team will deliver amazing results faster, come up with super cool solutions, give you actionable and honest feedback as well as teach you a ton of interesting and helpful things.

  • Collaborate with your team on ideas, trust their expertise and experience.
  • Give your team room to explore and experiment.
  • Allow them to fail.
  • Learn from them.
  • Celebrate your team, give them credit.
  • Have an open feedback culture. This needs psychological safety.
  • Action their feedback.
  • Be a human.

You are not your user

Thinking that your mind alone can solve all the problems you think your users have in the best way possible, is not only a little cheeky, it is insanely self-absorbed and unfortunately, not true.

The hard truth is, us normal mortals, we are not the kind of visionary we believe ourselves to be. Chances you’re the next Steve Jobs are marginal at best. And that’s alright, you don’t need to be any kind of lone wolf huge brain visionary person. There’s a cool trick, you can just go and talk to your (potential) customers.

While it usually doesn’t work to just ask “hey customer, what do you need?” and then build it, there are great interviewing techniques that’ll get you the why, the underlying challenge, the job-to-be-done. Equipped with that knowledge you can solve whatever it is. Again, do this with your team, involve them early on. Doing user research together will add more perspectives, people extract different details from interviews.

I once was part of a group of people conducting JTBD interviews together, no one had done it before and we prepared together. Then the people feeling comfortable enough interviewing, did do the interviews and the rest watched a stream via Hangouts and took notes. Afterwards we’d come together and review our notes & learnings from the customer and we also did a feedback for the interviewers. That gave all of us the chance to learn and get better at interviewing.

If you do not know your customer, you cannot deliver value to them. It’s that simple!

You don’t have to be the business expert

As a product manager you live at the intersection of business, design and technology. That means you need to speak everyone’s language, but you do not need to be the expert on any of the areas. Just as trusting your team’s expertise on design and technology, you should trust your other stakeholders’ expertise when it comes to business and the market.

Especially in bigger corporations, you will work with a lot of stakeholders outside your core team and there’s a good chance there are marketing managers involved. In a perfect world, they’d be part of a cross-functional team, but in reality that’s not how this works (just yet). No matter the organizational set up, you need to work with them closely. They know their market!

Get quantitative data from prior market research and then go out and do some qualitative research, for example. This will make you faster and you don’t need to spend that much time getting into the nitty gritty of that specific industry. This is especially helpful in my current role as a consultant and coach. I cannot know every industry, I need to rely on other humans’ expertise. If you work for a company, you will automatically get into the details of that company’s industry over time.

Knowing your business goals is the only way to work towards and reach them. If you do not understand your business, you cannot reach the goals.

Only the combination of everybody else’s knowledge, expertise, experience and needs will enable you to build amazing solutions to real problems while reaching business goals. As a product manager you need to be a communicator and facilitator for business, design, technology and customers.

Overall, I believe in what Richard Branson said:

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take good care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Put your team first! Together put your users second and understand your business stakeholders’ needs third.

Have you been on a little ego trip in your PM career? Have you seen this behaviour in other? What did you do to change it? I am curious to hear about other people’s experiences!

Lisa Wagner

Written by

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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