Product managers are products too

4 minute read

Notes on this article. I’ve added some personal thoughts which may be very specific to my set of circumstances.

Because product managers are also products, your mission is to find product/market fit, by ensuring that you know what market pain points you’re solving, and by shipping iterations to yourself that will provide value in solving those pains.

Know who your customer is

Consider why your hiring manager chose you. It’s usually one of two things:

  1. They chose you because they want to do more. They’re out of bandwidth with current resources. If this is the case then you should look to show how you add bandwidth without drastically changing the processes that were in place before you joined.
  2. They hire you because you have specific expertise to tackle a new challenge. Contrary to the first reason, in this case you actually want to show differentiation because the hiring manager is looking for something different.

Personally there are two different types of hiring event that I have experienced in my PM career.

  1. Being hired into a new company
  2. Being hired into a new team within the company.

I’ve had to do the second type of hiring even much more often than the first as I move around to different internal teams to solve different problems they are having. It could be getting started with agile, scaling a product, starting a product from scratch or any number of other challenges.

Each time I start with a new team I meet with the directors and dev leads of each team to talk about what I can offer the team, what they’re hoping to get from me as a PM and what they believe the goals of the team are. They’re like mini-interviews in a way.

The point is that only once have I had to prove my value as a PM to the company. But since being hired I’ve had to demonstrate my value to numerous different teams within the company who have hired me out to help them with specific goals.

I think this type of setup makes it slightly complicated to declare who my customer is as a PM. It’s a number of people, often at the same time.

Know who your end user is

The end user of the product manager is the entire hiring organization.

There are different customer segments here (marketing, dev, legal) or whatever. I should know how I provide value to each of these different departments.

At first glance this seems to apply less to because I’m a PM for internal products.

However, it’s important to realize that I have a responsibility to know how I provide value to the development org and understand how the problems that I solve in the company feed into value in the sales department or savings in the finance department. The work I do can definitely effect customers. It’s just not as direct as for PMs who work on external facing products.

Know what your value prop is

The goal of any product, including a product manager, is to provide some set of benefits at some set of costs.

My costs are:

  1. Compensation and benefits.
  2. Opportunity cost. If I am selected for a role, the hiring manager cannot select someone else.
  3. Reputation risk. If I do a bad job it makes my hiring manager look bad. This seems like a much lesser risk to me in a well functioning company.

Know what your personal roadmap is

Just like you’re looking to improve your products with qualitative and quantitative user research, you should be doing the same to yourself and your skills as a PM. What skills could you learn to turn yourself into a better PM?

Right now I’m working on the following things:

  1. Deliberateness. Senior product managers know from experience what to do when faced with a given problem. I’m still in the situation of searching around for solutions when faced with new challenges. I can’t pattern match very effectively yet.
  2. Writing. This has always been a goal of mine. I want to write a lot and publish what I learn. Really really hard for me. That’s part of the reason you’re reading this right now!

Know when you have product market fit

I feel the metaphor gets a bit contrived at this point. :-)

Therefore, think of your cover letter as your product press release, your resume as your product release notes, and your portfolio as your case studies. Use them wisely to generate market demand and validate your product / market fit.

People are not getting new jobs often enough for this to be super important.

It’s definitely correct. You do need to document your value in your resume and cover letters, show growth and tailor them to the reader.

But cover letters and resumes are not something you’re constantly working on. You just give them an update once every 3 to 5 years when you’re looking for a new job.

Maybe for PM contractors it could make sense.

Key Takeaways

The idea of having a personal roadmap to develop your product management skills is really good. It fits with the model that corporate goal setting seems to be moving towards: short, focused sprint-like skill development cycles.