People or Products – Which Do You Mange Better?

Product Managers must balance their attention between product issues and people issues
Product Managers must balance their attention between product issues and people issues

Nobody ever said that being a product manager was going to be easy, and I think that we can all agree that it’s a tough job. There’s been a lot of talk about finding a way to certify product managersby making them go back to school; however, I think that at the heart of the task is the need to achieve a balance between the product and the people working on it. No, we’re not CEOs of a the company, however we are ultimately CEOs of our products and too many of us view our organizations as being either product or people focused.

Look, we are all under a great deal of pressure all of the time. Our budgets are too small to begin with and will get cut even further when the company runs into a tough quarter, people leave the project, other departments don’t want to work with us, and don’t even get me started on outside vendors and suppliers. Yet, still we are ultimately responsible for fixing problems and creating and delivering a successful product. I will confess that when I’ve been handed a new product to manage, I have the habit of quickly scoping my vision down to the product – what needs to be done to make it successful, people be damned.

Russell Eisenstat
is a former Harvard Business School prof has been studying CEOs who do a good job of balancing the product / people scale correctly. There is a great deal that product managers can learn from Russell’s work. What would any effort be worth if there wasn’t a clever acronym and so Russell has come up with the term HCHP which refers to “High-Commitment and High-Performance” firms & leaders.

So here’s the question that we product managers need to find an answer to: how are successful leaders able to resolve the necessary tensions that exist between their quest for creating profitable products and their desire to build a sustainable team that has a high-commitment level? As a product manager I personally feel that I’m motivated by something much deeper than short term profits. I feel a sense of responsibility to leave the company in a better position than I found it. This means creating a successful product AND creating a successful team.

Russell has some suggestions and I have a bunch of things that have worked/not worked for me. Before we jump into the details on how best to achieve this balance, which side of the fence do you fall on: are you a product person or a people person? How has this worked out for you – do your products succeed and do your teams stick around? Leave a comment and let me know.