Product Manager, Not King

A good product manager is responsible for many things

  1. Design
  2. Architecture
  3. Execution
  4. Life-cycle Management
  5. Most of all, HE IS A LEADER
  6. Adamant but not Authoritarion

Design

Never Forget your Value Proposition. For example, software that pools your existing servers’ disks to make an elastic storage system, freeing you from re-configuring every app as you add disks. That is different from providing an eventually consistent multi-site elastic object store as a service.

Never lose sight of your original vision. Vision is what the value proposition can accomplish. The vision of electronic whiteboard on every wall in every office shouldn’t turn into an iPad app competing with omnigraffle. (Article coming soon)

Never dilute the idea. Engineers will want to ever so slightly change the product to overcome some technical challenge. For ex. the vision required using a finger or practically anything as a stylus for an electronic whiteboard. This was relaxed to using a special marker. Then we added active electronics to the marker that required batteries. The result ? Disastrous. Markers that either never had enough charge, or died midway in a meeting or were easily misplaced. It made the entire product worthless.

None of the above is an excuse to not be open to ideas. As a product manager, you must listen to ideas, and incorporate those that fit the vision

Architecture

Understand Technology. Good product managers understand the technology in their products. Great product managers are solution architects too. They understand how different technologies and concepts can be pieced together to make a product. You don’t need to code, but you should be able to browse through an API or product spec and understand what it can or can’t do

Diverse knowledge. Breadth of knowledge is key.  For example, a good product manager for a white board understands LCD, Digital Mirror Devices, geometry, optical engineering, digital electronics, software engineering, machine learning, cloud services etc, They all can be combined to create a kick-ass solution like the Google Whiteboard. Lack of diverse knowledge would result in mediocre junk like the electronic whiteboards in many classrooms today

Execution

Maniacal Focus.   Beware of Feature Creep that end in project Runaway! For example, multi-touch support for the electronic whiteboard was feature creep. When a large multi touch surface was not available, the team switched to using an iPad. Before the PM realized it, the team was building an iPad app and not a whiteboard at which point the project had runaway

Connect the dots. You should know exactly what needs to get done and by when to deliver your product. A good product manager wouldn’t have to consult a project plan or jira to tell you what is lagging.

Partner with Project Managers. A Project Manager’s narrow focus on execution  can drive the team to deliver, and free up a Product Manager.

Leadership

In addition to all the qualities you need in any leader, a product manager has to watch out for authoritarians

Avoid Authoritarian Traps: When your development team has an internal disagreement, they will often defer a specific decision to a product manager. As any good leader in modern times, you have to facilitate conversation and provide a conducive environment. Lead the team through the product vision.  Let the project manager to lead the team through the execution strategy. This will help the team make the right choice

Don’t Agree to Disagree: Agreeing to disagree is a failure to resolve a difference in opinion. Its when one side trumps the other. It is when one side pulls the rank card on other. Rank and authority can’t overcome laws of physics. Nor can they sell a lousy product. So stay engaged and resolve the conflict.

8 Replies to “Product Manager, Not King”

  1. Don’t agree to disagree ? Are you kidding me ?! There is this guy you know that nobody can reason with. Its such a waste of time arguing with him. You know who that is

    1. Now now! You guys are doing an awesome job working in spite of the disagreements. Yeah I have hear ideological arguments. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t see disagreements on what the product should do, but rather disagreements on how to do it

  2. professional shops use c++. have you ever seen an operating system or anything complicated written in go? We should use only c++

    1. I dont disagree with Amazon. Here is an excerpt from their web site

      “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
      Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly”

      That says to work out the disagreement, but then to quickly decide which way to go, and stick commit to that decision. I agree with Bezos there!

  3. During my private pilot training, I learnt “get off the ground or end up in the trees!”. Once you have reached a certain velocity, you have to commit to a takeoff. Its called V1. I call it the point of no return!

    1. Good one. I read the Amazon management principles again. I think you are right. They are saying stick up for your thoughts. But once a decision is made, commit to it

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