Blog

Day in the Life of a Product Manager

Product management is a relatively new field.

The interesting thing about Product Management unlike most other jobs is that it's crosses industries and is sometimes very industry specific.   It's also a role where like those with an MBA come from many different backgrounds.

So even though Product Managers come from very far afield and our jobs are very unique, the team is unique and the product or service is unique, there are still Product Management best practices that help set you off to going from a good product manager to a great one.

Product Management Best Practices

All else being equal and if we look at the traits or processes adopted by the best product managers, they would include the following:

1. They keep abreast what the customer truly wants.  After all there is wisdom in the old adage that the 'customer is always right'.  It's not to say that the customer can communicate or tell you exactly what they want -- in fact in my years of experience a UX designer and product manager, it rarely the case (unless the sample pool of your responses is large enough with respect to your audience/user base.)  It's listening to your customers, attending sales sessions in person, doing site visits to your customers, talking to them directly or over the phone or eavesdropping on feedback channels.  It's also super important to learn what customers do NOT want.

2. Learning to say 'No'.  This is likely the hardest.  Warren Buffett has this same advice when it comes to success.  He said something like how the most successful person has learned to say No.  He's also been said to have said that he keeps his calendar completely clear and schedules things on the go -- which means he says no to almost every meeting he comes across.  That's because Warren prioritizes his time and also prioritizes the spontaneity that comes with being in the job as a CEO.  another product management best practice is to learn how to say no.  It's not the saying no part that is important, but as a product manager the most important thing to do is to prioritize. There is only so many hours in the day, so much money you can have and so much time before the launch because of some deadline.  Ruthlessly prioritizing the work and the product backlog is one of the main things that a great product manager does.  I didn't say it would easy to have those crucial conversations, but it is important and vital even, to do your job well as a product lead.

3. Be Everyone's Backup.  There's other ways to say this same thing.  Some people might say this as the buck stops with me, or that ultimate responsibility falls with the product manager, but I'd like to phrase it this way to keep the mindset that you are not really the "boss".  In most organizations and certainly in scrum or agile teams, the Product Manager isn't the one wearing the pants and is the one that's has direct reports that are on his agile product team(s).  Typically, they aren't which means you have direct authority to hire, fire or other organizational ways of human resources.  Your power, if you have any even, is a soft, servant power.  At the end of the day, in self-organizing teams, you remain the backup for everyone.  The backup role means you do what must be done, allowing others to do it for you but if it fails, you become the person to end up doing it.  You need to step in and be knowledgable enough about each area to know who to talk to first, how to talk to them, and pick up where they left off if there is a need.  You are a servant to the product and the team.

4. You see risks everyone.  This might be different for different people.  Some can love the thrill of risk taking on products where you make decisions on very little information alone.  Some may think that risks are too strong a word.  But at the end of the day, however you want to call it, it's someone that's able to see a few steps ahead and make sure the team and product bump into the bend in the river up ahead.  No it's not say that you need to do something about risks.  There are risks everyone and depending on your product, they can range from acceptable risks or unacceptable risks.  It's that you have developed a sensitivity to or an aversion to anything that can sink the "product" ship.  Some of these latest risks creep up on you and the fact is that theses always exist, small or large.  The fact is that your product can be the most amazing in the world and have many accolades and if you don't think through the possible areas where your product's survivable is at stake then you're not a great product manager, yet.  Learn to see the potentially big risks and squash them first, one by one.  Jeff Bezos loves this famous saying, "step by step, ferociously."

5. Guess everything.  There is an adage that it's better to be "sort of right than to be exactly wrong."  The ball-park right part is something that comes with time and experience.  One of the best product managers best practices is to be better to making judgement calls at a glance.  Don't be afraid to guess at how long something would take, or being able to quickly choose one thing over another.  Scrum and agile teams philosophies teach us to go with the focus on value and the rest is just in managing a series of conversations to get us there.  In most of the working world, people area afraid to give the wrong answer, or afraid to look stupid if the answer isn't correct after all.  After some time on the product, you'll realize that you've foster some subconscious reflexes to help you make better calls day by day.  It gets better and the throughput of your decision making will get better by using my intuition.  This is not to say that you shouldn't verify this with your data or analytics but it's to say that you should work at training your brain to better know your product by heart.  This is the key to making everything else easier if you can just commit to memory the essence of your product or service.

At the end of the day, product management is an art and less of a science (unless you're talking about data science.)  It's being able to use your judgement, your discretion, your sensitivity, your submission and your willingness to truly listen that will take you from a good product manager to a great product manager.