Recently I had pause to reflect and look back on my experiences driving product for the last 15 years. I consider myself a technologist first, yet have always been drawn to the sphere of product management and have generally held both CTO/Head of Product positions. Product management is probably one of the least well-defined roles in most, certainly technology, companies. The role where you see the most variance from one company to another as to what the role even entails.
That said, I posed myself the question, what makes a great product manager? In my experience, great product managers:
- Are able to take the acorn of an idea and grow it into an oak tree. Good ideas can come from anywhere, quite often, not from the product managers themselves.
- Apply critical thinking to everything they do. They listen, ask great questions and understand the real need. They then work out the most elegant solution to the problem in partnership with the business/design/development teams.
- Say NO a lot. Someone has to.
- See the forest for the trees. Not everything is urgent, not everything is equally important, they prioritize needs/features/issues and hone in on what truly matters at that moment in time.
- Can harness, not stifle creativity. They understand amazing products come from the minds of great UI/UX Designers and Art Directors and ensure these folks have the space they need yet ensure they don’t go off the reservation.
- Understand the difference between form versus function. They care about making it work, then making it fast, then making it pretty.
- Have strong opinions, yet aren’t opinionated. They bring an opinion to help shape or lead a discussion, yet don’t get wedded to a single point of view.
- Are curious first, critical second. They remain open-minded at all times and their natural response is: “that’s interesting, tell me more”.
- Are the most flexible people. The law of requisite variety states that the most flexible person wins, ensuring product gets delivered requires a lot of flexibility.
- Don’t hold out for perfection. There is no such thing as bug free and it’s impossible to satisfy all the business needs all of the time.
- Release early and release often. There’s nothing to be learnt from an unreleased product. The longer it takes to release the more painful the lessons.
- Serve and protect. They serve the needs of the business and protect the development team from those same, ever-changing needs.