So what makes one product manger any better than another? I’ve spent a lot of time both working as a product manager and working with other product mangers and I think that I’ve got this figured out. I think that we can all agree what a good product manger looks like: they have successful products that customers want and internally everyone wants to work on their product because it is recognized as a “good place to be” from a career point-of-view. On the other hand, a bad product manage is also recognizable because their products are struggling, nobody really understands what they do or why they are any better than anyone else’s products and internally nobody is excited about working on anything that touches this product.
So how do good product managers get that way? The key is that really good product managers know their product and the environment in which it operates inside and out. This is the one thing above all others that sets them apart. All too often, program managers get placed into product manager positions (I mean after all, aren’t they really the same thing?) and don’t make the transition that is required to fully become a product manager.
Program managers (and bad product managers) tend to focus on just the day-to-day parts of creating and launching a product. Good product managers do the same; however, this doesn’t take up all of their time. Instead, good product managers spend a considerable amount of time trying to prepare customers for the new product / features and making sure that end user feedback gets back to the product developers even as the product is being created.
You would think that at least bad product managers would have projects that run more smoothly because of the extra time that they invest in program management activities. However, this is generally not the case. I believe that the extra level of motivation that the rest of the team brings to a good product manager’s product development program allows him/her to spend less time managing the process and more time making sure that the product will be well received.