Search This Blog

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why Companies Need Full-Time Product Managers (And What They Do All Day) | Smashing Magazine

Why Companies Need Full-Time Product Managers (And What They Do All Day) | Smashing Magazine

Why Companies Need Full-Time Product Managers (And What They Do All Day)

In Fairness

This one is the most important characteristic of a product manager — the one that rules them all. I once had a discussion with a colleague in our development team about the development process for new products that we had rolled out a few months before. One of the words he used to describe the new process is “fair.”
It was a passing comment, and I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but since then I’ve kept going back to that conversation and the importance of fairness in product management. All of the characteristics I’ve talked about are great, but fairness is the one that a product manager simply cannot do without.
Let’s look at one definition of the word and consider what it means in product management:
fair (adjective)
free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception.


One of the fastest ways for a product manager to become ineffective is to play favorites with a team, product line or user base. As soon as people sense that you are not looking at all ideas equally and fairly, their trust in you will inevitably erode. And without trust, you’ll have to work a lot harder (and longer) to get people to follow your road map.


If you start doing things purely for reasons like “Because I want to” or “Because my performance is being measured this way,” then trust will erode again. You cannot be effective by nursing your pet projects and ignoring the needs around you.


This often happens when product managers receive news they don’t want to hear, especially from the user research or analytics teams. If something doesn’t test well, don’t make up reasons why you are right and users are wrong. Do the right thing and realign the design.
One of the hardest skills for a product manager to learn is to take their own emotions and feelings out of the equation when making decisions. Yes, a lot of gut feeling goes into a product vision, but that should not be based on personal preference or preconceived ideas. This is much easier said than done, but it’s something to strive for and to be aware of at all times.


This one seems obvious, but you see it often, especially with metrics and assessment. Don’t ignore or distort negative data or blame a problem on someone else. Your job is to own the product, and this means owning its successes and its failures. You’ll gain trust and respect only if you acknowledge the failures as much as the successes and commit to doing better next time.
A product manager is often referred to as “the great diplomat,” and with good reason. Our responsibility is to balance the variety of needs from inside and outside the company and to somehow turn that into a road map that generates business value and meets user needs. A focus on fairness will help to accomplish that goal:
  • Fairness to users
    Approach users with respect, openness and transparency. Understand their needs, and explain to them why you might need to do something that will make it more difficult for them to meet those needs.
  • Fairness to the company
    Do everything you can to understand the needs of marketing, merchandising, customer support and other departments. Pull them into the planning process; be clear about how projects are prioritized; and help them adjust to that process so that they can define their project goals in a way that gets them on the road map.
  • Fairness to technology
    Don’t try to force the development team to make the product’s technology do things it’s not capable of doing. Understand the technical debt in the organization, and work actively to make those improvements a part of regular development cycles.
A lot of this comes naturally with good product managers, but we need to be conscious of it every day. Fairness is a prerequisite to building great products. If you’re not fair, you’ll be dead in the water, working with a team that has no reason to trust that you’re doing the right thing.

A Prerequisite For Success

One last topic needs to be addressed. An organization can hire the best product managers in the world and implement the best development processes, but it will still fail if one prerequisite for success is not met. There needs to be an executive mandate and company-wide understanding that, even though everyone has a voice, decisions about product ultimately rest with the product manager.
This one is hard to swallow for many companies. When I mention this part in training courses on product management, the mood in the room often changes. This is when people start complaining that, even though they see the value in the role, it would never work at their company because team leaders aren’t willing to give up that ultimate control over the product. The strategies for dealing with this warrant another article. For now, here’s what Seth Godin reportedly once said: “Nothing is what happens when everyone has to agree.” The product manager is there to make sure things happen — the right things.
When everyone has a say (Image: Dilbert, 1 July 2010) (View larger version)
Executive teams and individual contributors have to buy into this role. If they don’t, then the product manager will become impotent and a frustrated bystander to a process that continues to spiral out of control. And they’ll end up going somewhere where their value is appreciated.

What Now?

We’ve covered a bunch of what might be considered “soft issues” in product management: what product managers are like, how they work with other people, what differentiates a good one from a bad one. It’s tempting to skim over these issues to get to the how — the processes and day-to-day activities of the role. But that would be a mistake. I haven’t seen a role in product development that relies more on these soft skills than that of the product manager. A product manager could have the best strategy and could execute brilliantly, but if they’re not able to work well with people and rally them around a cause, they will fail. So, if you’ve skipped over any of those sections, consider going back and reading them.

No comments:

Post a Comment