Product Management Takes Courage
Job descriptions represent an ideal. I have often wondered how people might rewrite the description of their own role — with brutal honesty.
A product manager might write the following: “The product manager will ultimately be responsible for defining and building what is most important to the business. This requires reviewing and rejecting ideas, leading cross-functional teams without explicit authority, being dependent on those teams for success, and reporting on outcomes that will be very hard to measure.”
To many, this description reads like a headache. But product managers know better.
Sure there is the nastiness of the role, but there is also the hidden joy — and it takes perseverance to find it.
There is something that even a brutally honest job description like the one above would likely miss, even for people who love what they do. It is the reason so many of us continue to pursue what we do with passion. It is because we have the chance to do something meaningful every day. And product managers, in particular, are blessed with an important and unique opportunity.
We get paid to build products and services that will make the world better. And our own happiness depends on us doing this work better too. Of course, that “betterness” directly impacts those who benefit from what we produce — both our customers and our companies.
But it is also better for us when we are serving others well. And that is really what product management is all about.
However, I know that many of you do not feel that you are serving others well right now. You are not happy product managers. You are living in the nasty bits of that job description and it is hard to see the joy and honor in your work. I get it — I have been there myself in the past.
Product managers have to think high while acting tactically. Everyone wants something from you (now!) and you get all of the blame when things go wrong. Yes, many things are out of our control. So instead, let’s focus on what we can control, which is a lot. We can control our own actions. It is up to us whether or not we go boldly.
Here are the rules that courageous product managers follow as they address the tough parts of their job and celebrate why they still do it:
1. Have a calling
Many people call this a vision, but I think it is more. It comes from your head and from your heart. This is courage in its own right. You have to be absolutely committed to serving your audience with what you believe is most important — even if others say no.
2. Get inside the pain
People talk about having empathy and I think it is important. But it only really comes from experiencing the customer’s problem in a visceral way. Get inside the pain so that you can truly fulfill your calling.
3. Goal first
Goals are needed to build anything of value. You need to find a way to assess interruptions and requests as they come in. You also need to quickly know whether you are going to invest real effort. However, a goal-first approach only works when everyone understands what you are trying to achieve and why. So, share goals transparently with the team.
4. Review everything
By starting with clear goals, you can allow your strategy to determine “yes” or “no” — not you, the person. Goals make it easy to review everything because you have a defined way to evaluate and can do so with objectivity.
5. Differentiate everywhere
If you are bold, you probably want to be boldly different too. But you cannot focus on just the bits of what you produce. Every single customer interaction point impacts their love for your product. You must have the chutzpah to push for change and improvement across all of those interaction points — even if it is technically outside of your realm of influence.
6. Welcome interruptions
Interactions with urgency are what propel people and organizations forward. An interruption simply means someone needs your help. And when you help people who depend on you, you earn their trust and love. Rather than running from these moments, welcome each one as a possibility to serve.
7. Do not fear success disasters
Do not fear scale before achieving it. If you incrementally cut down what could be great by worrying about what might happen if things go well, nothing will go at all. Work on what you are passionate about, then incrementally improve everything. If you are fortunate enough to find wild success, embrace it!
8. Be grateful
You have the greatest job in the world. You get to build what other people want and need. And you get paid exceptionally well to do so. When the frustrations bubble up and your internal reserves get low, take a moment to remember that you are more fortunate than most.
Product management takes courage. You need the confidence to attempt what has not been done before.
To find the right solution — the one that will deliver the most value for everyone involved — you need to see from different points of view. You have to stay true to what you know is right and relentlessly pursue it. This work takes strength and perseverance. In a word, it takes grit.
Creating something positive and lasting is profound. But there is no guide — this is where courage is needed.
What is the most courageous thing you have done in your professional career?
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