Are you good at Product?

Last weekend I published a piece on how to get better at Product. I wanted the piece to be more of an evergreen “how-to” so I didn’t put in the personal story behind why I wrote it. This is that story.

The week I started working at Kickstarter nothing changed, but everything changed. Overnight, I heard from companies that had shown no interest before. Just as suddenly, everyone was curious about my thoughts on how to do Product. My writing magically became more interesting. People wanted my advice. Everything was easier.

Nothing changed about me. I hadn’t had time to learn anything new. The industry just decided that if I worked at Kickstarter, I was “good” at Product.

It’s a lazy way to evaluate good, but most people don’t know how to do better. Sometimes PMs succeed due to a strong team (but have a weak skill set). Sometimes PMs have a strong skill set, but picked the wrong opportunity. Lots of people change jobs after two years and that’s just not long enough to know what will happen.

So, instead of trying to figure it out, people rely on where you work. When I left Kickstarter for HBS, I became less “good” at Product again. When I joined Lola (and we got a lot of press) my “good” status came back. I’m not the only one who has seen this pattern.

But seeing it was really hard for me.

I had to fight so hard to stay in this job after being told it wasn’t for me. It was hard to get people to take my Microsoft experience seriously when I was looking to move on. In contrast, my friends who started in Google APM never had to fight that fight. They were assumed good by default (and likely learned these three things).

The whole time it wasn’t about me, or my skill set. It was about my employer. I just didn’t know that until someone dropped me into the “good” bucket.

Right now, being “good” at Product isn’t about skills. It’s about if someone will give you a chance.

This was hard for me because we all know who gets the chances in tech. People who meet the imaginary bar. That didn’t seem right, so I wanted to figure out a more objective measurement for what it meant to be a “good” PM.

I set out to find “what is a good PM;” I found “how to get better as a PM.”

PM varies everywhere.

  • It was impossible to write down a list of “things you have to know to be good.”
  • Our bar for good is pretty weak. We say people who are 22 and 26 are “good” at product. You haven’t studied Product at all when you’re 22, so that means there is a way to be good as an entry-level product person.

At 26 you’ve worked for four years, but you will work for 40 more. Your career is so long.

It’s definitely going to be harder to be considered a “good” PM later on than it would have been if you got your “good” stamp at 22. Yes, it’s even harder if you don’t look like the people who got their “good” stamp at 22. It sucks.

But the upside is, we’ve got a long time. If people are getting stamped “good” at 22, there’s a lot of time to learn more than they know. We can chip away at this idea of “good” and push towards getting better, instead.

Try not to worry about if you’re “good” right now. Instead, focus on what you’ve learned and what you are going to learn next.

Thank you for reading. ❤