The Secret To Successful Product Management Is …

by drjim on July 28, 2008

Product Mangers Need To Be Good Leaders

Product Mangers Need To Be Good Leaders

… leadership. Sorry in advance for this rant, but I’ve just about had it with product managers who spent their time whining and complaining that nobody listens to them. Pretty much across the board I’ve seem organizations where IT Product Managers get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield (on a good day!). In talking with these Product Managers, I think that I’ve heard just about every excuse that you could imagine: “it’s really an engineering company and I’m not an engineer”, “they don’t work well with women”, “most of the team is in India and they think differently”, “this is a low priority project”, etc. To which I say, just shut up already. The time for Product Mangers to feeling sorry for themselves is over – nobody has time to listen to them anymore.

What’s wrong with all of these complaints? The accusing finger of blame is pointing in the wrong direction: it’s not everyone else’s fault, it’s the Product Manager’s fault. Yes — I’m blaming the Product Manager, get over it. We really have done a lousy job of clearly defining who we are, what the qualifications to be Product Manager are, and just exactly what value we bring to the company. Who can blame everyone else for not respecting us?

What’s Wrong With Product Managers?
Most (98%) of Product Managers don’t understand the #1 rule of being a Product Manager: you are the CEO of your product. I really don’t care if anyone told you that you were (normally they don’t); however, they sure are going to hold you responsible if it fails so you may as well grab the reigns and start to drive that product wagon because if you don’t, then nobody will.

A good 75% of Product Managers then go on to mess up Rule #2 of being a Product Manager: it’s all about the people. Do you know what the difference between a project manager and a Product Manager is? Scope. A project manager has a clear start and finish to a project and gets to lose him/herself in tracking the progress of that project. A Product Manager operates on a higher plane and needs to ensure that the world is ready for the product once the project manager is done. Oh, and that the product that was created was the right product with the right features.

What To Do?
So what is a Product Manger to do? Let’s keep this nice and simple — show some leadership. A Product Manger can’t “manage” because nobody works for them. Instead, a Product Manger needs to inspire those that he/she works with in order to have them work on those items that the Product Manager needs to have done. IT staff, finance staff, marketing folks, etc. all need to come together and do work at the request of a Product Manager for whom they do not actually work. The only way that this can be done successfully is for the Product Manager to set an example of leadership by showing the team the correct way forward. This means that the Product Manager needs to have great interpersonal skills, lots of time and patience, and the ability to simplify complex product status in order to communicate it to many different parties.

How hard can this be? It turns out that it is very hard. There are lots of different Product Management courses out there; however, there is precious few courses on Product Management leadership. Maybe it’s time that Leadership becomes the new focus for all Product Mangers…

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