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Type in Product Management Role in Google, and you will find no shortage of articles, blog posts, Slideshare presentations or the like that describe what a product manager does.  I’ve even contributed to a few of those over the past year and a half.

And while there are many perspectives offered … some I subscribe to, others not so much … what I was pondering this morning was that there is often a side to the Product Management role folks don’t talk about.

So, let’s explore 3 of the not-so-glamorous aspects of the Product Management role … and please, feel free to comment and/or add others where you see fit …

Everything is Not as it Seems 

Through the various books or organizations, and the many methodologies or frameworks dedicated to product management, we have all likely been exposed to the premise that Product Managers should be mini-CEOs.  In essence owning responsibility for setting direction, ensuring the needs of the market/customer are met, and managing P&L.

Even this blog that I maintain is based upon the premise that whether intentionally chosen, or inadvertently thrust upon them, Product Managers are called to be leaders.

Often times, however, things are not always as they seem.  Furthermore, it is unlikely that the role will pan out the way it was described in the job description. For example,

  1. I’ve seen owning P&L in the majority of job descriptions for the role … but I’ve also seen relatively few organizations that truly have the capacity to provide the financial data necessary to truly get to P&L.  When that happens, you will need to cobble together any meaningful data you can get your hands on to measure the health of your product/business. Don’t rely on others to give you that answer.
  2. Setting direction and carving out a product roadmap is not as simple as doing your homework with respect to the market/customer, your competitors, and/or managing your backlog.  Directionally, you absolutely have a responsibility to prioritize investment, and manage delivery of your roadmap within a specified budget.  But write your plans in pencil, because along the way change happens.  Here is a link to an older post on that topic that might be helpful … The More Things Change
  3. Product ownership is another responsibility you are likely to find in just about every job description.  Let me first reflect on a point I made in a previous post … “it’s not the title, or the perceived authority that comes with the role, that defines leadership.  You are a leader when you start acting like one.”  But the reality is that true ownership will be dictated from the top-down … and will depend upon the emphasis at the executive level.  Is the company sales/revenue driven?  Technology driven? Sometimes product management is a little like parenthood … you may not always know what you are doing (or have control), but you definitely need to act like you do!

What is it You Seek?

I came across another blog post recently, and the author made some nice, concise points about the reality of the product management role …

  • “Have moxie but don’t self-promote: Compliments should always go to the team. Credit should be handed out freely and generously. Success belongs to the team but failures belong to you.”
  • The role of a PM is to redirect praise to the people who deserve it, and absorb blame. This is key to the role.
  • The hard part is that your contributions often aren’t recognized the same way you try to recognize others.

Let’s be clear, this is not easy and it will make you test your motives!  Are you in it for personal adoration & praise? Or to build/deliver something really cool that you can hang your hat on regardless of who gets the credit?

Playing Nicely in the Sandbox

Product Management by its very definition means  you will be required to operate in a matrixed environment.  Every one of us is dependent on others who are experts within their own domain to succeed in delivering a successful product to market!  For example, some of the folks we are dependent on include …

  • Development/Engineers – to help build our products
  • Marketing – to help position/message our products
  • Sales/Business Development – to help sell our products
  • Finance – to help price/report on our products

There are others, to be sure.  But the reality is that sometimes goals/objectives/agendas don’t always align (GASP … I know that comes as a shock to all!).  And that means our role often times becomes babysitter, mediator, translator, negotiator, diplomat, peace keeper, etc.