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Secrets from Hollywood on How to Excel in your Product Manager Jobs

Product manager jobs are all the craze these days.  Within our rank and file here at we have been getting a lot of buzz of interest from individuals from all walks of careers looking toward their next step.  They are asking us about how did we become product managers, who excels at product manager and really what is product management.

Everyone seems to have their own definition these days and we don't see it letting up anytime soon.  Whether you are a VC who's been a product manager before, or a developer who's step into a product manager jobs role because your company or team need you to step up, the things you do a PM is going to be different.

That's why the definition is so personal.  That's why the definitions of what's considered product manager jobs is to diverse.

That's what we love this career path.  Heck, it's more than a career path, but it's one that involves lifelong learning (i.e. as a product manager you never know everything) and you can be in all sorts of industries so you can honestly learn in some my industry verticals.

My own personal journey took me from entrepreneur to cofounder to freelancer.  I've worked startups, started my own startup, worked in large matrix organizations and in large organizations that were very flat.  Either way, it's very exciting to see a career path that has been so meaningful to so many.

Often when people ask me about my experiences a product manager, especially those that want to transition to product manager jobs, I typically answer them directly with ancedotes from own experiences.

Lately, I've been realizing that in some ways it does a disservice to people, because the products or services, the teams, the individuals in the teams are so diverse and varied that there is a slim chance we will encounter the same exact issue.

What I've found helps (and I've yet to actually test this on people in real life, so please comment below to provide feedback on this idea) is to use an analogy that people might understand.  At the same time, the analogy helps to provide context to what it is that "we" do and also provides an powerful visual for people to better understand why product managers do what we do and why it makes sense to structure it this way.

Hollywood jobs versus Product Manager jobs

I haven't personally been in Hollywood or the studio system so much of what I say is the hours and days and weeks of time that I've spent watching interviews of actors, directors, screenwriters, tv writers, producers, composers for film and tv.  It's another area that fascinates me and intrigues and I've always loved the idea of directing or writing a screenplay (a long term goal of mine).

In thinking about the studio system set up in Hollywood, we can better understand what a product manager jobs.

In a typically tv or film project you have:

  1. Film Studio
  2. Producers, the "money"
  3. Directors
  4. Cast/Actors
  5. Crew
  6. Audience/Viewers
  7. The film or tv show

As a product manager, you are like a Director on a film or tv project where you have one foot in the execution and also one foot in the "business".  You have creative freedom, but are also subject to "notes" from the producers and the film studios who front the project and pay the bills.

So taking that into account, here's the typical hierarchy of a organization that houses product managers:

  1. Brand/Company
  2. CEO or Chief Product person
  3. Product Leads or Product Managers
  4. Front-End Developers, Designers
  5. Back-End Designers, Software Architectures, Tech Leads
  6. Users, Customers, Clients
  7. The Product or Service

With each of these 7, it almost exactly mirrors the organization structure of a film or movie project from Hollywood.

Some Key Commonalities

Product Manager aren't the ones that call the shots.  While they have creative freedom, they are ultimately like the Director on a Hollywood project whereby they are beholden to Producers and the Studio for funding.  Ultimately Producers and the studios work together and collaborate on the project, but there's also natural tension between the two groups because what sells (or what studios think would sell) is not in line with the creative side of a film lead by the Director.

Similarly in a software product manager jobs role, the product manager shares the decision authority in most cases to Business Sponsors, committees, the CEO, chief product managers or VP of product to co-own a product roadmap or product backlog.  It's not uncommon to see these groups work collaborating together, but it's also not unheard of that there is a natural tension between these two groups.

The other aspect that's eerily similar is how there is a centralized authority.  Whenever there is a question about how the film is made or how the costumes look or the dozens of other decisions that need to made on set, the Director is typically the one that has the last word.  Similarly in a product manager jobs role, the buck stops with the PM in making decisions on design, on marketing message, on whether to fix defects or push forward with new functionality.

There's also inherently a lot of commonalities between media and software.  Naval Ravikant from Angelist fame and renown angel investor has talked about this in his recent post about "How to Get Rich".  In there he lists, media and software as leverage, what he calls "business leverage".

Here's the quote: "Business leverage comes from capital, people and products with no marginal cost of replication (media or code)."


Some Lessons Learned from Hollywood to Product Managers

First Lesson:

You do not own the whole production.  You work with other departments to make it all work.