Next time you're out to lunch with a software engineer, ask him what the role of Product Management is. Chances are he can't tell you what a Product Manager does, and that's not his fault. It's the fault of the Product Managers he's worked with to date because most of them clearly suck.
Product Management is often one of the most important functions in an entire company. And yet, it's also one of the most commonly misunderstood. How is that possible?
There are several reasons so many Product Managers struggle to impress upon their colleagues the value they add, which unfortunately is because so few add real value. Bad Product Managers:
- Don't perform the due diligence to back up their strategic decisions. They think that because they have the title "Product Manager" and others don't that their opinions are more sacred. Guess what, Beavis? They're not.
- Perceive themselves as "translators" from business to engineering. I'm pretty sure both speak English (unless you're offshoring, but still.) This view of Product Management is so wrong, I don't even know where to begin.
- Have all sorts of excuses for why their product isn't doing well. Product Managers need to be scrappy and have an optimistic attitude. If they're product is a sinking ship, why haven't they bailed already? If it's got potential, why are they excusing their own failure?
- Are perceived as "gatekeepers" by the rest of the business. Product Managers who are saying no to a bunch of stupid requests all day haven't communicated a vision to their stakeholders so that their stakeholders wouldn't want to distract from that vision.
- Can't immediately define what success means for their product. Product Managers should know this so well, they can recite a prepared speech about the measurements of success for their product.
Most Product Managers do some combination of these things, which (correctly) leads to mistrust from those upstream and downstream in the development process. This in turn prevents Product Managers from truly leading, because it sure is hard to lead when no one is willing to follow. A lack of leadership results in a failing product, and a failing product, by definition, means a failing Product Manager.
It's really simple, folks: the role of Product Management is to ensure success of the product. No excuses. I'll offer more details on how great Product Managers accomplish that in future posts.