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The First Experience
The first exercise we do in our product management essentials workshops is to have the participant teams (there are typically 4-5 teams grouped by tables) list the challenges that a product manager faces and then draw a picture of a Product Manager. Those are the instructions – simply draw a Product Manager. We usually get a few strange looks at first, followed by some grins and then the groups quickly jump in. Without fail, the pictures end up looking something like this:
You see the pattern. Product Managers are asked to do a lot, across many functions. We are the glue that holds together the critical cross-functional product team.
As I thought about the fact that this is how we, as Product Managers, perceive our roles, I started reflecting on my core viewpoint on product management – that it is the perfect balance of art and science.
Art: collaboration, vision, creativity, storytelling, leadership, positioning
Science: process, technology, operations, data, pricing, financials
Another way of looking at this is that product management is a great example of the combination of people (art) and process (science). Product Managers are required to perfect a wide-range of knowledge, skills and abilities. We must be story-tellers and data analysts. We must be leaders and doers. We must be visionaries and tacticians. In short, we must be well-rounded.
This is one of the reasons product management is so difficult. This is also one of the reasons a career in product management is so rewarding and exciting.
In our recent research, we asked respondents to provide an open-ended “in your own words” account of the single biggest pain point they face as Product Managers. There were some passionate responses, and after a bit of informal categorization, about 40% fell into people/art (e.g. difficulty in collaboration, lack of resources, undefined roles and responsibilities) and about 40% fell into process/science (e.g. challenges in prioritization, development methodologies, market research hurdles). The remaining 20% of answers fell into pain points related to product strategy or a lack thereof. Strategy is actually a microcosm of product management – it is, in itself, a balance of art & science. (That’s an entire blog post on its own.)
So, with all of this being asked of us, what do we do? To put it simply and bluntly, we do our jobs. We must continue to show up every day ready to put out that next fire and also ready to lead our teams and products to the future. While true resource shortages and inefficient processes can (and should) be addressed to make our lives easier, we will always be asked to be those well-rounded superheroes.
Doing our job also entails educating our colleagues on what product management is, what it is not and how their roles fit into the collaborative picture. We are not only the stewards of the products themselves, we are the stewards of the product management function as a whole. We need to embrace this role of evangelist.
I know that’s asking a lot, but you can do it. You’re a Product Manager, remember?