A few weeks ago, I celebrated my first year as a product manager. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t get a whole lot of congratulatory messages. Only LinkedIn remembered (thanks LinkedIn!).
Self reflection is something that I truly value, so I decided to take some time to think about what I’ve learned about the product management discipline during the past year. I came up with three key findings:
1. Wearing Multiple Hats is the Name of the Game
Before I became a product manager, my thoughts about the role can be summed up in this beautiful Venn diagram from the pm heels blog:
Now that I have a year’s worth of product management experience, I’ve modified this diagram to become something like this:
2. It is Important to Always be Working on the Most Important Things
From my product management Venn diagram, you can see that there is an infinite number of tasks that a product manager can be involved in. Yes those tasks can have UX, business, or technology components. However, they can also involve random stuff like getting pizza for engineers who are working late (I haven’t had to do this yet but I happily will).
This brings us to the problem of prioritization. Since no one can do everything, product managers have to constantly check to ensure that whatever they’re working on has a higher chance of improving their product’s success metrics compared to other things that they could be doing. In case you’re wondering, there most definitely are some cases where the most important thing a product manager can do is get pizza for engineers who are working late. 🙂
3. Relationships Matter
I once heard someone describe product management as “the grease and the glue of product development”. It’s up to us to rally our stakeholders around a common goal, and to ensure overall progress towards the achievement of that goal. This means that we have to constantly influence our peers in design, development, and marketing. As none of these people work for us, it really comes down to influencing without authority.
What I’ve learned in the past year (and from folks like Robert Caldini) is that people who like and respect you are more likely to listen to and understand your ideas. In the same vein, you are more likely to listen to and understand the ideas of people that you like and respect. This insight has led me to always try to make relationship investments up front, before they were needed; by then it was usually too late.