I had lunch last week with some product folk I've worked with previously, and one of my friends shared her frustration that Product Managers in her company are simply order-takers. On reflection, this is a pretty common anti-pattern, where the Product Managers are effectively corporate waitstaff — merely ferrying directives from executives or business stakeholders to the engineering teams, without autonomy or empowerment.
I have a few thoughts as to why this happens:
- Misunderstanding of the Role: There's often a lack of clarity about what product management entails, leading to reduced expectations and a narrowed scope of work.
- Capability of the Product Manager: Sometimes, the skillset of the product manager may not align with what is expected of the role, leading to a reliance on orders from above.
- Voice of the Customer: Product Managers may not be perceived as representing the customer's voice within the organization, diminishing their influence on product decisions.
- Internal Perspectives "We know best": A common assumption that internal voices always know best so you should just do what they say, especially in companies with a history of success.
- Authoritarian Leadership: Executives who favour a top-down approach tend to centralize decision-making and limit the creative input of their teams.
This mindset leads to several negative outcomes, including:
- Disempowered Teams: When creativity is stifled, teams can become demotivated and disengaged.
- Wasted Potential: Highly skilled professionals are underutilised, spending their time on administrative tasks rather than strategic thinking. (Might also mean you are wasting $$$ on high PM salaries).
- Lack of Customer Centricity: With an internal and often short term focus, making decisions without understanding the customer need can lead to waste and rework.
So what do we see as essential components of a Product Manager role?
Product Vision and Strategy
- Vision: They craft a customer-centric vision that motivates and guides the product's direction.
- Market Acumen: They maintain a keen understanding of market dynamics, competition, and opportunities for innovation.
- Strategy and Roadmapping: They formulate and communicate a strategic path to realize their vision, detailing short-term and long-term goals through effective roadmaps.
Fluency with Data & Insight
- Product Discovery: They excel at identifying problems and collaborating to design solutions that meet customer needs and align with business objectives.
- Data Utilisation: They leverage data to inform decisions and track progress towards desired outcomes.
- User Experience: They have a basic knowledge of end-to-end product design, from user research to prototyping and testing.
- Technological Awareness: They stay informed about emerging technologies to harness trends that benefit product development.
- Agile Practices: They are comfortable with agile methodologies that emphasize customer feedback and iterative development.
- User Stories and Requirements: They can decompose complex processes into user stories, ensuring clarity and focus in development.
- Value Proposition: They clearly communicate the unique benefits of their product.
- Market Execution: They are capable of planning and executing product launches, including marketing, pricing, and sales.
- Operational Readiness: They ensure that the infrastructure for support and training is in place before product launch.
People Skills - The "Soft" Stuff
- Leadership & Influence: The ability to motivate and inspire the team toward achieving the shared goal. Gaining buy-in and driving initiatives forward.
- Communication: Crafting a story. Including verbal and written communication to foster collaboration and understanding.
- Adaptability: Capability to adjust quickly to change or new information. Comfortable in navigating uncertainty.
- Decision Making: Confidence in making informed, effective and timely decisions.
The benefits of having such capabilities are profound:
Inspirational Leadership: Product managers with a clear vision inspire their teams and guide the product with strategic decisions that resonate with long-term objectives.
Innovation and Creativity: An environment that encourages experimentation and risk-taking ensures that the product stays relevant and competitive.
User-Centric Focus: Continuous engagement with user feedback and market trends guarantees that the product evolves to meet genuine user needs.
Team Morale and Collaboration: When product managers are visionaries, they create a collaborative atmosphere where every team member's contribution is acknowledged and valued.
By investing in these capabilities, organisations can shift from a hierarchical, order-taking culture to one of innovation, empowerment, and strategic growth — essential ingredients for success.
Or maybe I should just quote John Cutler whom when asked "What is the Product Manager's job?" in a linked in post a second ago simply replied "A successul product". Fair enough!