The Product Manager's Triforce
There's a running joke about what it means to be a Product Manager. You start with some PowerPoint Presentations, mix them up with Excel Spreadsheets and finish up with Long-ass Meetings — all the while you keep taking credit for anything that gets done. That’s a PM right there.
The sad part is that the joke is only funny because it's often true. But sadness is boring, so we ain’t having none of that here, weee! We’re talking here about how the joke makes kinda sense in a good way.
I’m not telling you to actually use PowerPoint. Jesus, dude. Talk about boring.
What you need to do is actually demonstrate the Why’s so the team knows where we are all heading (usually to the abyss, but SHHH DON’T TELL ANYONE).
Anyway, vision. That’s a critical part of the job, because you are often in charge of looking at the short term stuff. And that may get in the way. Because no one will blame you for looking at the short term numbers and do something about them. Survival depends on the short term most times. The mid to long term stuff are problems for the You of the Future, so you let that sucker deal with them.
But when you do that, bad things will happen as the You of the Present slowly transmutes into the You of the Future. You can observe this process unfolding by A) slowly realizing the product is in a bad spot and B) you sense the gaze of your boss urging you to update your LinkedIn Profile.
And what kind of things should you look out for? Well, your usual suspects are competitors trying to eat your lunch (hint: eat theirs first), tech tendencies rendering you obsolete (hint: no hint here, everyone just struggles a lot here, sorry) and your vision becoming stale while it rots inside a drawer somewhere (hint: speed is key and it won’t come unless you acknowledge being fast is important).
You’re the guy in charge of protecting the vision. You need to balance short term with stuff that’s gonna position yourself to win the market in the future. Not easy.
You can also think of PowerPoint as a metaphor for Communicating. But to me that’s the ‘Long-ass meetings’ part of the joke.
You need to understand the key metrics and you should be able to track what's happening. That's when spreadsheets are most handy!
But anyway. You need to know your numbers and also be able to analyze anything that seems fishy, so you actually know what’s going on.
It takes time, it’s boring and Excel has some weird bugs that make you cry blood from time to time.
But that’s you there. You need to know what’s going on so you can prioritise properly. You can find quick wins here, you can course correct as soon as possible and most importantly you get to not look like an idiot when someone asks you something about your product.
So you need to communicate.
And the easy way to do that is getting everyone in a room, lock the door and bore the hell out of your buddies. I do that sometimes. Sorry, guys. I know you hate meetings!
Anyway, nothing will ever get done properly if you don’t communicate. Over communicate. And then communicate again. And send an email on top of it, just to make sure.
You are a broken record. But it’s cool. It’s not your fault if people can’t remember anything related to the vision or your key metrics and you are just forced to repeat and reinforce stuff all the time.
No one is going to do it for you, dude.
Cool, so balancing these three things is important and difficult. Suck it up, no one asked you to be a PM. Just remember the joke so you know what to do if you’re screwing it up.
But, uh, the ‘taking credit’ part is true. We do that a lot. Thanks, developers and designers! This new yatch I just got with my bonus will match perfectly with that island I bought in the Pacific last fall.