Managing a Product
Recently one of my co-workers shared an excellent article that explains what exactly a product manager does. I think it’s one of the clearest and best articles I've read about managing a product, and if any of you are interested or even curious about product management, I’d highly recommend checking out “So you want to manage a product?” on Product Coalition.
I wanted to share some quotes from that article which I personally learned during my time as a PM and include some of my own comments – hopefully it’ll provide more info about an awesome field!
When you begin managing a product that has at least one customer, you quickly learn that your job is much larger than even the fullest-featured product. Your job is to deeply understand the problem that your product aims to solve then chase the moving goal of solving every nuance of that problem. You will always have too many feature requests and too little time. Too many bugs and too little time. There are always things to do.
When I worked on my first project, I’d had zero experience with website store locators and overlays. But pretty soon I realized that the single most important thing in coming up with a good product is to identify the problem it solves, then work backwards from there to make a useful end product. Starting with the end-users in mind and the specific problem helped me to focus on providing the biggest value given time and resource constraints.
Being a product manager is about making compromises between what your team can accomplish within a given period of time and what your customers absolutely need. You will continually be torn between your team, customers, and business in an impossible race against time. The minor victory is in balancing short- and long-term product strategy, no matter if your product was conceived today or twenty years ago.
How I wish I had unlimited time and money! But that’s not the case – there are simply not enough resources to do everything and then some. Having finite resources helped me quickly learn how to prioritize the most important features for my product and to focus on providing the most bang for the buck. The 80-20 rule is essential here. That's what every seasoned product professional would tell you if you ask around in the PMHQ community.
This is how I learned that, especially at a large healthy company, a product manager does not create visual designs. They also does not write code. Your designer is the design expert. Your engineer is the programming expert. And you, the product manager, are the expert on whether the design and functionality meet the specific user need at hand.
I can’t stress this quote enough. Being an effective PM doesn't mean I have to do everything to put the product together. Being an effective PM does mean that I always put the end-user first. I'm the advocate for the person who uses the product, and it’s my job to make sure whatever the team does solve this person’s problem.
Being a product manager is not about getting wrapped up in the fact that you have “manager” in your title. Sure, you get to call the shots. But you also get to be accountable for every up and down of your product. If a user doesn't understand your product, that’s on you, not Marketing. If your product comes at the wrong time, that’s on you, not Strategy. If a user can’t find the button, that’s on you, not Design. And if a target user has no use for your product, that’s on you, not them.
This is something that I’m continually learning. One of the most challenging aspects of being a PM for me personally is not having direct control over setbacks – but at the end of the day, if the product doesn't deliver or fails to meet expectations, that’s on me. So I have to learn how to be an effective leader, communicator, and influencer, without having to step in to do someone else’s job.