Thank you, Steven and Michael, for sharing your thinking on product management. One can very much feel that you know what you are talking about – you have been there before.
Some observations come to my mind. Maybe they are also helpful for others following your discourse.
Both of you describe one trait that each product manager must have: taking responsibility. That is: not feeling like a victim who encounters external dangers, but feeling like an owner who takes risks to make a difference.
Now how do you do that?
To me, Michael emphazises the individual perspective. The product manager is described as a leadership hero who makes stuff happen by himself. It is in line with the general management thinking where an individual makes all the difference.
Steven, on the other hand, focuses more on a system perspective. What should you do as a product manager to increase the likelihood of a good outcome? This is action through second order effects. More clockbuilding than time telling.
I believe a product manager has to do both. Making sure that the team effort is more than the sum of the parts; that all people are heard and can use their strength.
And at the same time, a product manager should also make personal contributions that go beyond orchestrating the team effort. His natural domain for this is providing clarity of intent. While everybody should be included in sense making and creative discovery, the product manager is expected to be the expert to provide direction.
In any case, the expectations for a product manager are really high. ’Just’ understanding user needs, taking care of the backlog, managing team and stakeholders, and solving the day-to-day issues is a challenge on its own.
The tasks described by Michael and Steven are substantially larger and need a lot of experience. I find it important that each product manager has a great product director (i.e. boss) to assess his competence and support learning. The product director should agree with each product manager on the right amount of responsibility such that the product manager works outside the comfort zone, but not in the panic zone.