Confessions Of A Product Guy

Products - Great power, Great ResponsibilityMany people believe that the role of a Product Manager is glamorized — awash with over-hyped terms like CEO of your product and Leading without Authority.

To tell you the truth, it’s quite the opposite. Product Management by definition is a fire-fighting discipline, where with owning great products comes great responsibility.

Here are some of the things that I have stumbled upon, learned & experienced after spending a few years as a ‘Product Guy’.

1. A never-ending process of learning and growth

Products - Satiability

Working with a team of engineers isn’t rocket science, and neither is asking for a particular feature at a particular cost.

The best Product Managers are the ones who can take a look at a prototype (or better yet, a concept) and quickly analyze different things that they could do to reduce costs, while maintaining the functionality of the product, or find ways to enhance features within a budget. We have to be innovative and detail-oriented.

While it’s imperative to worry about best-costs, innovations, and end-prices, maintaining a user-first attitude is just as crucial.It doesn’t matter if we add additional features for free if the end-user never actually benefits from them. Sometimes we might remove a feature which is crucial for our end-user.

The result? We’ll probably fail against our competitors offering that same feature. We constantly need to place ourselves in our customer’s shoes, to stay focussed on the one person the product has to impress: the user.

In most organisations, we are the link between the engineers and the marketing departments.

The marketing department will always want things faster, cheaper and better to make more money. The engineering team will always want more time and money to get things done right. We, as a product community, have to become more fluent in knowing our audience and what they care about.

This will help our teams get along better, improve communication levels, and drive us towards the same end-goal. We have to learn to be both an engineer and a marketer.

2. Minimum Viable Products are about speed and tunnel vision


Minimum Viable Products (or MVPs) are all about discipline where the idea is to always test new products. This includes rapid hypothesis testing, validating learning about customers, and a fast approach to product development.

The MVP model applies to all companies that face uncertainty about their markets. This is true regardless of industry or even scale of organisation. MVPs are always driven by a compelling vision. They need market support, split-testing & actionable analytics as vehicles for learning how to make the vision successful.

Everyone has a recommendation or two for Product Managers:

  • Go talk to Sales; they know what the market is asking for.
  • Call your top 5, 10, 20 or 100 customers because they’re the most important.
  • Find out who the biggest users of Technical Support are and why.

Everybody wants to have their say. Even Engineers have suggestions about what should be added, changed or updated, even if they’ve NEVER met with a user or a customer in their lives.

Guess what? Just because we asked you for your input about a bug, feature, prioritisation, or whether you think the UI should be red, blue or chartreuse, does not mean that everything you requested will actually happen. The whole point of soliciting folks for feedback is just that…to get feedback.We’re collecting information that will help US as the Product Managers make a decision about what to do.

NEWSFLASH: Making great products is not about democracy.

3. We are only as good as our team

Products are built by teams

A Product Manager may be at the centre of the product universe, but is NOT the sole torch-bearer . We are absolutely zero without our team.

Product Managers will always be the 2nd or 3rd best at something which someone in the team does way better, be it coding chops, designing user experience, creating user interface, sales, marketing, customer support etc. Probably only a tiny percent of Product Managers in the world have ever had any official authority over the complete Product Team.

Yet, somehow, every single day we manage to convince the team to take our directions. We do it by respecting people, gaining their respect back, and convincing them that our vision is the one with promise.

Even if we had the authority to fire every last developer (who does that?), they still wouldn’t do what we want unless they buy into our visions. I really would like to whine about All responsibility and no Authority … but sadly that never works.

Product Management is a role by influence, not authority

4. What we do on our less busy days

The last person in this world to ever have free time is your friendly neighbourhood Product Manager. This is what we like to do when we are not in between a scrum, iterating between releases, struggling to meet our deadlines or killing bugs one at a time.

  • Researching our customers: Meeting or talking to our customers, running user studies, reading support & feedback emails, responding to tweets, analyzing experimental data, looking at usage data
  • Collecting feedback: Reviewing our already launched MVP’s — what worked? What didn’t?
  • Product deliverables: Writing specs, creating product manual & related content, writing blog posts, prioritizing bugs, etc.
  • High-level product thinking: Planning the roadmap, exploring strategic business positions, documenting goals, ideas for growth hacking
  • Personal and organization development: Reading industry articles, attending dev boot-camps and startup events, talking to mentors, building best practices, knowledge transfer
  • Recruiting: Interviewing candidates, contacting potential candidates, networking at industry events
  • Whatever else that needs to be done or can’t find any owners: Buying domains, managing servers, managing SaaS product subscriptions, improving deployment processes etc.

As the digital arm of a traditional retail business, we have realised the potential of Product Management as a discipline and understand it to be a core function for organisations of the future.

And for the unenlightened, or corporations who still question the need for Product Managers at all, the clip below (watch on youtube) reflects the challenge that many of our peers face when attempting to explain the importance of their role!

Find me on twitter

PS – This post was originally published on Medium in 2014.