Don’t bother hiring a product manager
I’ve met many miserable PMs in my life. The misery is rarely around the compensation, work-life balance, or career opportunities. Their complaints usually revolve around extremely difficult stakeholders who insist on certain things to build. Whilst stakeholder management is a part of any PM job, some companies are set up in a way that makes it impossible for the product managers to actually bring impact.
“I don’t even know if I’m doing a real product management role,” they would say, and sadly, they’re probably right.
If you’re a CEO, founder, or a senior leader considering to hire a PM, check this list and see if you actually need one. If you can see your organisation is reflected in this article, don’t bother hiring a PM — save some money and hire a cheaper role. You would also spare a PM some misery.
Don’t bother hiring a PM…
If you have a fixed idea on what to build
You already know what you want to build, you just need somebody to build it. You’ve hired some engineers, either in-house or outsourced. You need somebody to gather the requirements from you and the team, maybe manage the back-and-forth of different requirements from many stakeholders. This person then passes the requirements along to the engineers and makes sure they deliver on time.
You need a Project Manager, not a Product Manager.
If your Sales team or clients are dictating what to build
You have a handful of big clients and you’re ready to bend over backwards to deliver what they need, including building custom features. Your Sales team knows best what to build, surely, as they’re the one talking to the customers all the time? Now it’s just a matter of writing the tickets and prioritising them.
You need a Delivery Manager, not a Product Manager
If they won’t have access to your customers
You have very-very-important-people as customers and their time is precious. You don’t want the new person you just hired to talk to them directly — what if they say the wrong thing?
You don’t understand why it’s even necessary for the product manager to talk to the customers directly — didn’t you already say that you know them well, you’re one of them, thus you’re sufficient to represent the customers?
I don’t know what you need, but you certainly don’t need a Product Manager. Maybe a therapy to check your ego?
If you don’t know the difference between a Product Manager and a Project Manager
“What’s s this nonsense that I need a Project Manager instead of a Product Manager. They’re practically identical — look at how similar the letters are! I wanted to hire a Project Manager, but my HR team says that Product Manager sounds sexier and will likely attract more candidates. Fine, whatever.”
Most likely you don’t need a Product Manager. But you probably need to find a better HR person.
If you’re not ready to relinquish control
You know that product managers should be given a problem to solve, not a feature to build. Heck, you were probably a Product person yourself, who has now set up your own startup. You have the vision and the strategy and you know exactly how to get there…
What’s left for the Product Managers to do, then? Maybe hire an Engineering Manager or a Tech Lead?
If you see technology as a support function
An easy way to assess this: How much of your company budget is dedicated for product/technology/innovation? If you’re not willing to invest significant resources to staff the product/technology team properly, they’ll be left firefighting all year long. No wonder they have no time and energy left to contribute to your company’s strategic direction.
Don’t hire a Product Manager — yet. Assess how you see technology plays a role in your company’s vision. Set aside a proper budget, hire a strong CTO or CPO, and let them build their team. Only do that if you’re willing to listen to them though — or don’t bother doing it at all.
I hope this article clarifies what a product manager is and isn’t. To summarise: Hire a PM if you have problems to solve, not features to build. They should be given a space to understand and refine the problem. They are empowered to identify the most valuable solution that solves the customer problems and viable for your business. And they have to be held accountable for the results.
👋 Hi, I’m Debbie. I’ve been building products and solving customer problems in tech companies for over a decade. I write about how a PM can bring 10x value to their company, not just 10% improvement. Find me at debbiewidjaja.com.
PS: I’m crafting a live, 3-week course on Data Literacy for Product Managers. In my experience building products in tech unicorns, I’ve made and dealt with mistakes around data that hinder product development. Yes, it happens even at Meta 😱
In this course, we will go back to the fundamentals, tear down the jargon, and deeply understand the data structure behind your products. The class will be limited to max 15 people to ensure high-quality interactions. Drop your email address here to get on the waitlist & be the first to hear when enrollments open!