A lot of our readers have been asking for advice on whether or not product management is the career for them. I thought I'd first lay out a few points about common misconceptions/buzzkills of the PM role as well as qualities I've seen in great product managers.
Misconceptions/Buzzkills of Product Management:
1) I’ll be the mini-CEO of a product!
Let’s get one thing straight. You are not a CEO (at least not yet!). As a Product Manager, you’re going to have to learn to throw away any ego and remember that you own the failures while your team owns the successes. The best teams work well because everyone feels ownership over the product and it is your job to gain the company to guide your team towards a certain product vision or strategy.
2) I get bored easily and being a PM lets me do different types of work in different fields!
A lot of people think that being a PM means you get to work on all sorts of different things like engineering, design, marketing, finance, strategy. Quite honestly, depending on the size of your company, there will be dedicated teams for each of those functions, and your role will more be communicating and coordinating with each of these teams. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be the one committing code, or designing the UI/UX of a new feature from scratch. You should be helping out and providing feedback where necessary, but know that your job is going to be a step removed and you should be letting the experts on each team do what they do best.
3) There's a ton of satisfaction in shipping products!
Product management is a job that does not have concrete immediate satisfaction. There is no moment of clarity where you find and fix a bug, or when you’ve designed the perfect user flow, or when you’ve finally managed to balance the budget. You’re going to be scrambling around making tons of small decisions and it will take a long time before you see a final product and even then, you should be sharing that satisfaction with everyone on the team who helped make it happen.
4) The PM role is well-respected within companies!
The reality is no one (including your family and friends) is really going to understand what you do. Every company's PM role is entirely different and there is a ton of ambiguity within product work. To emphasize this point further, I love quoting from Ken Norton:
“Remember buddy, nobody asked you to show up. Product management may be the one job that the organization would get along fine without (at least for a good while). Without engineers, nothing would get built. Without sales people, nothing is sold. Without designers, the product looks like crap. But in a world without PMs, everyone simply fills in the gap and goes on with their lives. It's important to remember that - as a PM, you're expendable. Now, in the long run great product management usually makes the difference between winning and losing, but you have to prove it."
Still want to be a PM?
Like most jobs, product management involves more of an attitude than a set of skills. Some of the best product managers I’ve seen were able to:
- Deal with ambiguous tasks and immediately adapt to get stuff done.
- Break down problems and proactively look for solutions.
- Build great relationships with and clearly communicate with all teams they work with.
- Place themselves in their customers' shoes to develop product insights.
- Establish enough to rally a team (without formal authority) around a product strategy.
- Maintain a framework for prioritization as well as make the right product trade-offs.
- Stay curious about all things technical.
Product management can sometimes be a very unglamorous job but ultimately there is great joy in knowing that your product could be affecting millions of users across the world.
And if knowing all this has you brimming with excitement, then maybe it's time to button up, roll up your sleeves, and your own product manager journey.
Interested in learning more about product management and discovering whether it's the right career for you? You might want to check out our popular course: One Week PM.