The chance to solve and build
I was recently talking to a new acquaintance about the job of product management. This person spends all of their time deep in financial analyses for a private equity firm and has little insight into the life of a software product manager. Like so many other conversations intended to answer the question, “what the heck is it that you do?”, I started out with the requisite laundry list of responsibilities — market research, business case development, stakeholder management, roadmapping, communications, user research, etc, etc. After that, I started to unpack things more and went into the taxing non-cognitive and emotional components of the role. Those who have done it know what I’m referring to here — the endless suggestions to overfill a backlog, countless opinions on how and what to prioritize, the continuous need to quickly run to and manage the next production or customer issue. All of these things, on the surface, appear to run counter-current to the goals of agile and efficient software development. Our job is to build the right features for the right users at the right time(s). Right? Correct, this is the primary focus of the role…but all those things listed above should only strengthen and reinforce this focus. Without these opinions, suggestions, issues coming from and / or happening to real people in real situations, our idea of “right” would be crafted in a vacuum…and probably way off-base.
After that rather circuitous explanation, I am then asked, “OK, so it sounds like a lot of drama. Why do you do it?”
(me) “Oh don’t get me wrong. I’m good w/the drama. You *must* develop a thick skin to stay in this role.”
But that didn’t quite answer the “why”. Sure, dealing with a wide-ranging and diverse set of customers and stakeholders is a fantastic side benefit. But it’s not the main attraction.
Then I simply responded with the two words that consistently align with the real inspiration of the role — solving and building. Everyday, those of us in software product management get to solve real problems for real people. Hey, if we’re not doing this, go back to chapter 1 / page 1 of the how to PM book. It’s been said many times before, but I believe always bears repeating — helping people solve their problems and challenges is one of the most rewarding feelings. And we live in a golden and wonderful time where the cost and effort to build digital products, from scratch, are getting infinitely cheaper and easier. How great is it to start with an idea and see that idea come to life and deliver actual value to users? (rhetorical question — It’s really great) Sure, there are the really important activities to ship what you’ve built and get people to use what you’ve built. (more on these in a future post) For now, let’s celebrate solving and shipping!
To all software product people out there: the chance to solve problems and build products is a gift. Here’s to seeing many more problems solved and amazing products built in 2016.