Ballad of the Type B PM

Type A individuals [are] rude, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics.” They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.
[…]
Type B individuals [are] a contrast to those of Type A. Type B personality, by definition, are noted to live at lower stress levels. They typically work steadily, and may enjoy achievement, although they have a greater tendency to disregard physical or mental stress when they do not achieve. When faced with competition, they may focus less on winning or losing than their Type A counterparts, and more on enjoying the game regardless of winning or losing.

Type A and Type B personality theory

Photo by Flickr user Bright__Light

Conventional wisdom tells us that product managers are the epitome of a Type A personality: they’re outcome oriented team leaders who drive a strong vision and push for productivity. PMs set the vision. PMs manage priorities. PMs obsess over quality and velocity.

PMs are kind of control freaks.

And we love them for it.

Why are so many PMs Type A?

Let’s step back for a moment. What are product managers actually responsible for? Everyone’s definition is slightly different, but it generally comes down to two things:

  1. Setting the vision for a product.
  2. Guiding a team to fulfill that vision.

This work comes naturally to Type A personalities. They tend to already have a strong vision, and their competitive drive motivates them to ship at all costs. They are deadline oriented, and have strong time management skills, both of which keep their teams on track. Sounds perfect for the job!

The thing is, being an aggressive, checklist-oriented driver isn’t the only way to ship great products.

You don’t have to be Type A to be a great PM.

A few Type B archetypes

The artisan

We often associate PMs with fast, efficient execution. That’s not the right approach for every problem, though. It flies in the face of the “move fast and break things” ideology, but sometimes you have to slow down to do great work (my colleague Kane has a great example of how velocity and short-term gains can sink a company).

Artisans are great at untangling complicated problems, and they often have a vision when others feel lost. Their approach may feel meandering to the deadline-obsessed, but it’s powerful when you need to get it right on the first try.

The facilitator

PMs are responsible for setting a great vision. That doesn’t mean they have to do it alone! That vision can come from other people on the team. A great facilitator knows how to draw the best ideas out of the people around them, clarify their thoughts, and drive agreement around a path forward.

Facilitators shine in teams where everyone is passionate about the problem space, because they broker a path forward without excluding or alienating individuals.

The empowered sidekick

We love to call PMs the CEOs of their product. At the same time, their job is to fulfill the actual CEO’s vision, not chart their own path. Great things can happen when a PM wholeheartedly embraces the role of fulfilling someone else’s vision.

Sidekicks are excellent at execution, and rarely get into conflicts with their coworkers. They care about supporting the overall vision — and they don’t care about credit, ownership, and turf wars.

So what?

You don’t have to be a competitive go-getter to build excellent products. There’s nothing inherently Type A about prioritization, breaking problems down into actionable pieces, creating buy-in, and shepherding execution.

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to ship the right thing. It’s ok if we get there in different ways.