I have a feeling that the definition of Product is lately getting lost by blurring the lines between departments and making up roles such as Product-Marketeer, Product-Growth, and Product-Designer.
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just getting old (32 is coming, ha) but it seems that the trend of combining roles, at least in the startup world, had finally arrived in Europe as well. In the past years, we had seen a fair share of attention aimed towards UI Design roles and how people should transition to UX and later towards Product-Design (Titles such as “The Death of Graphic Design”, “Will UX Designers become obsolete” etc.).
And it seems that they are after the Product Managers in 2020.
As I crawl the market for my next project, I get all these strange requests about how “we need a product person, but we need it to be a Product-Growth oriented” and as we dive into the conversation, it’s meant that you are expected to generate your leads and close sales process as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up for being involved in the daily routine, know the best clients, their needs, how sales-cycle affects the product, and vice versa, the premise of the conversation quickly streamlines into question whether my products are truly best utilized trying to upsell the client.
A while ago we chatted with my mentor about an involvement of the visionary CEO in the product, he stated that “The CEO has to think about three things and do them right:
1. The vision of the company as if Where do we go from here?
2. Hiring — Who will we sail with?
and 3. Making sure the money for the payroll is available at the end of each month.”
He finished the monologue with a statement that: “If CEO performs excellently at these three fields, the time available for the company will be fully occupied.”
In between the lines, I read this as if Let everybody do their job to the best of their abilities and I believe that is what Marty Cagan, the product guru, preaches in all of his books.
If I try to draw some parallels about what startup-bound Product managers many-hats daily operations look like, from:
- managing product features (defending downwards AS WELL AS upwards),
- writing in-depth specifications,
- communicating tickets with the development team (in a fair amount of cases leading them in an agile process),
- pre-release feature testing,
- analyzing user engagement and user monitoring,
- insight calls with key users defining UX,
- finding product-market-fit
as well as a PM being The glue of the company, I have a hard time believing that among all that (and probably a gazillion other tasks, that didn’t make it on the list) many of otherwise fully vested PM’s would do an excellent job working another full/part-time position as a Marketeer, a Sales-rep/BizDev-hacker or a fully-fledged UI Designer. I may understand the need of combining roles in a newly crafted startup that had just begun testing their newly-baked idea, but I have a harder time understanding these hackish positions in startups that already passed their “alpha” stage, as other relations such as funding and product maturity sort-of fall into place.
Now knowing many PMs could do all of these (but at what cost), coming from a half-year break due to a severe, life-threatening burnout, I wished for a more stable time for Product management. I figured out early in my career that, while I can do basic frameworks, I am just not as talented as some of my design-driven colleagues and have no problems leaving for them to decide what shade of blue would best suit our product and distinguish us from the competition. Or what kind of sales/marketing hacks to pull to attract leads into the sales funnel for the same manner. I am happy to help to brainstorm, I just believe that carrying responsibility for the product, there is little room for another fully-fledged role, especially when the product swings into Scale-phase of its life-cycle.
A conclusion: Live and let live
I can’t help myself but to believe that combining these roles is just another trick to attract gen-Z-ers or, perhaps underestimating, how much work successfully leading a product actually feels like. That is why, after an intro conversation that usually lead into a visionary world where all work is customarily fitted into a non-existent 8-hour workday, I politely decline these offers and scour the market for teams, who understand a more traditional, yet maybe old-fashioned specialization, where I feel at home and without burdens of another role that I may just not be as excited about.
I can’t imagine, which role comes next — developers? Good luck convincing dev-ops to start coding the frontend app, or a front-end developer to be excited about DBA.
TLDR: Let them have them cross-breads if they like it, I still believe in a pedigree. Then again, maybe I am getting old. Or just old-fashioned. Or maybe, just maybe — I need to be convinced otherwise. :)