Product Managers: It’s Time To Take Action!

Over the past 15-20 years, this once mysterious thing that we call Product Management has really come into its own. What once was a somewhat obscure, inconsistently applied, and often misunderstood function has evolved into a clearly defined and highly respected role that is now widely recognized as one of a company’s primary levers to achieve more profitable revenue growth. As a result of this corporate revelation, the role of Product Management has also, as of late, been the subject of multiple surveys, studies, and benchmark reports, all aimed at identifying exactly how product managers are viewed, compensated, and organized from company to company and from industry to industry.

We at Sequent continue to read about and think about all the content being provided from many sources.  It’s good to see so much attention paid to product management, but to be honest, some of the themes seem a little repetitive.  These include:

  • Product managers are overworked.
  • Product managers are too busy fighting fires.
  • Product managers don’t have enough authority within their organizations to affect large-scale change.
  • Product manager roles are not well understood.

It’s always the same story, and we hardly need another survey to tell us the same things.  We hear them all the time during the workshops we facilitate, and these same themes seem to show up in many of the Product Management case studies that we have read from some of the most successful organizations and product leaders across the globe. We’ve all heard it many, many times before. And perhaps it’s time to stop continually pointing out these issues, and, instead, start doing something to overcome them.

Most schools of thought would agree that one of the primary roles that a product manager must assume is that of a leader. And one of the primary roles of leadership is to take personal accountability to change that which needs to be changed, to define that which needs to be defined, and to lead that which needs to be led.

Can you imagine a CEO complaining about how many fires he or she has to fight in any given day? Can you imagine that same person saying that they have no time to strategize or plan because there are just too many other things to do or because nobody understands what their role really entails?

The fact is, we expect leaders at every level to deal with all of those multitudes of situations and to rearrange their workdays to accommodate them while, at the same time, somehow finding a way to weave all of those unforeseen inputs into the fabric of a greater overall vision. And if things become confusing or difficult to manage, we expect those same leaders to have the capability and desire to somehow figure it all out. We say that product managers are supposed to be mini-business owners and think as if they were CEOs of their product lines. Why, then, should we assume that they would be excused from having to exhibit this core leadership competency?

It’s time to give product managers around the globe a lot more credit. Product managers are leaders and they are business owners and they can juggle multiple unforeseen tasks while still having time to promote their visions and lead their product teams. And if they can’t do all of these things, then perhaps we should stop referring to Product Management positions as leadership roles.

Companies will not pave some magical pathway for product managers to do their jobs, nor should they be expected to. Because, in the end, all of that firefighting is part of the job, just as it is for any business leader. Putting out another survey pointing out the fact that product managers don’t have enough time in the day would be, I fear, setting a false expectation that it should be somebody else’s responsibility to prioritize a product manager’s workload. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, it is the very ability of a product manager to navigate all of this that will ultimately define that person as a leader.

The time has come for all product managers to embrace their busy days, grab firmly onto those water hoses being pointed at us, and revel in the fact that, with each fire we approach, we are gaining further insights into how we can plan for the futures of our product’s businesses. And with each fire that we battle, we are moving one step closer to taking the personal accountability of a true business leader. And with each fire that we extinguish, we are learning how to put proactive measures in place to prevent future fires from getting in our way again.

In short, it’s time to stop pointing out the problems and start taking action. And, like any business leader should, be glad that we have something to take action on! That is the sign of a true leader, and that is the sign of a true product manager.

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