What makes a great product manager (PM): a perfect combination of skills like business acumen, market orientation, technical skill, and soft ones… the usual suspects.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your position), just as our management thinking is becoming outdated and requires reform, we also need to update our view of this ultimate management role.
We need to understand and re-define this role from a more meaningful, tasteful, and human-centered perspective so that we’re able to leverage its full capacity and avoid costly mistakes.
Product Manager & Misunderstandings
To begin with, the fundamental myth to demystify about Product is: Product is not a role. It’s more precisely described as a series of activities (and behaviors) in constant flux, becoming the core of value creation in modernized companies.
For example, a product manager running a fintech product at a 100-person company in a highly regulated market spends his time optimizing features and scaling infrastructure as the start-up grows. However, his equivalent in a five-person consumer tech company would be running discovery sessions to uncover customer needs and finding the product/market fit.
PMs’PMs' cross-functional behaviors and activities further differentiate them from other team members as their work exists within and around others’ work. The PM concentrates on how people work beyond domains, co-creating value, and, while doing so, implants a new set of activities and behaviors at the core of each department as a by-product.
Watch your PMs closely, and you can see a continuous cycle of value creation in the following cross-functional interactions:
- Summarising user research to propose roadmap changes
- Coordinating deliverable timelines between sales and engineering
- Resolving execution differences between lawyers and engineers
- Keeping their teams motivated and focused
- Spreading emerging practices and product language across the company
Their cross-functional, adaptive behavior is why it’s hard to standardize product management as a role, organize it into a job description, and, therefore, find the right person for the job.
Product is Culture
With the reasons for lack of clarity clear, how do we move towards a solution? Separate product management from outmoded organizational ideas, and stop thinking about it as a role instead of thinking of it as a culture.
We waste time trying to retrofit Products into old definitions of work, getting distracted with role boundaries, tactics, and day-to-day mechanics. We end up missing more significant outcomes and value simultaneously taking place behind the scenes.
Of course, the expected outcome of a PM’s day-to-day work is still visible and measured: seamless co-creation, decreased costs of coordination, communication, and cooperation (traditional performance metrics).
But the more significant (and often ignored) value of product management is that the department-agnostic behavior of “product people” means they are the center point of value creation across the company. Product people are responsible for stitching and building an organization’s fabric — foundations that include vision, constitution, values, systems, language, beliefs, and habits.
Together, these elements form a shared understanding of why and how we work together. And they help bring that to life in the form of the company’s organizational culture. That’s the real value of product management.
What difference would you see between a team of only product people and a team made up of Product, design, and engineering? With the first example, nothing new but with the second, both designer and engineer would become more like product managers. Product people build a culture at every point of interaction.
Building the future
Furthermore, questioning product management as just a role is similar to looking at it from a strict performance/efficiency/output perspective when it is so much more than that. We need to strengthen our knowledge around management with the ‘soft sciences’ such as design, creativity, psychology, and human science. These add a diversity of perspectives and move the focus beyond output, and pure performance, which we know can provide a misguided view of success and longevity. That is why we need to rethink what and why we build things. Since the people making these future decisions will be product people, we should think about and develop that talent beyond foundational mechanics and performance so that they’re more equipped to start building a better future. Product management, as we know, it is dead. It is time to move beyond it as a role and instead embrace it as culture and as the future of work.
So, with this in mind, what need to we are doing to embrace the future of work?
Here are a few suggestions:
Students: Read an e-book on organizational behavior. Focus on gaining knowledge of techniques for working with others, way of life mapping, and psychology. These fluid ‘meta’ potential are as quintessential as your overall operational responsibilities.
Universities: Provide possibilities for cross-functional teams to practice product management on actual troubles — it’s the only way they’ll get a natural flavor of the complexities of working in product.
New PMs: Join a product community (domestic and international). Expand your network and examine the craftsmanship of products from various teams.
Senior PMs: Future-proof your profession employing getting experience in product teaching and entrepreneurship. The subsequent growth stage for many of us will be building a new product for human beings or new businesses.
Hiring Managers: Change your view of talent. The ‘meta’ expertise (like social intelligence, empathy, and cross-cultural flexibility) is integral for tradition building as ‘traditional’ ones (like product strategy, facts analytics) and domain experience.
Leaders: Get a coach. As with all management jobs, help in changing people’s minds requires strong self-awareness and self-management. The path to each of these is difficult to find on your own. An exceptional instruction will inform you there quicker, so make use of this shortcut.