The Curse of the Platform Product Manager
February 5, 2015

The Curse of the Platform Product Manager

by Brian de Haaff

On a group bike ride yesterday, a fellow rider shared an interesting perspective. He has spent the last several years at a well-known technology company and was recently promoted to VP of Product Management for Mobile Platforms. He shared with me how difficult the transition has been adjusting to life as a platform PM. After hearing his story, I realized this may be one of the most challenging roles in product management.

Platform product managers are vital to the health of a technology company. Everyone depends on them, but no one seems to love what they do.

In 2005, Marty Cagan wrote about these challenges for the Silicon Valley Product Group. Ten years later, little has changed. The bar for platform PMs remains high because they are a critical dependency for every product they support. They must consistently support multiple products and hit a moving target — and there is no room for error.

I have experienced this firsthand running product and strategy in six software companies and being the CEO of three, including now at Aha! (visual roadmap software). Working with several software products and services built upon a common platform is no easy feat.

If you are a platform product manager you know the role can be challenging for the following reasons:

Distant customers Platform PMs are not typically responsible for setting the roadmap for the functionality that customers use. This means that control over user experience is limited, and can make the product planning stage frustrating. It can feel like their colleagues need them, but don’t always respect their ideas because they do not “know” customers.

Many masters Platform PMs serve many outstanding product managers and engineers, each with their own set of priorities. Matrix management is a great skill to have — it teaches you to interact with diverse teams and stakeholders. But the constant need to please everyone can get overwhelming. Poor prioritization is the number one downfall of platform PMs. Those who feel the need to please everyone do not succeed.

Irreconcilable dependencies Other product managers demand what they need from them after they prioritize the functionality that their products will deliver. They do not think of any other product, except their own. Platform PMs might feel like their input gets lost in the shuffle even though they see the larger, cross-product picture. This creates the feeling that they provide value without receiving any in return.

Don’t get me wrong, platform product management can also be extremely rewarding for the right individual. They can have a major impact across different product lines. Whatever they build will typically be used by many teams and customers, and they get to work with lots of different groups.

So, like any job it has its challenges and opportunities. But happy platform PMs tend to work well across groups, serve the higher purpose the business, say “No” gracefully, and deflect praise to others.

What do you see as the most difficult part of being a platform product manager?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

Follow Aha!

Follow Brian

Related articles

The Best Cover Letters That CEOs Love to Read
April 13, 2017
The Best Cover Letters That CEOs Love to Read

A well-crafted cover letter is a great way to get noticed. Find out what to include in your cover letter to catch the attention of a CEO.

New Marketing Managers — Do These 8 Things in the First 30 Days
January 28, 2019
New Marketing Managers — Do These 8 Things in the First 30 Days

Are you a new marketing manager? Check out these suggestions from eight marketing experts on how to show your true value in your first 30 days.