How To Be A Good Product Manager

Tips on product management and product marketing for product managers. By Jeff Lash

Let go of your past

Posted on January 30, 2007 by Jeff Lash · 2 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, pay special attention to the area of the business from which you came. If you were a software developer before moving into product management, make sure to inspect the developers’ code closely. Don’t be afraid to delve into the details of the application — after all, that’s where you came from, and you were obviously good at it or else you wouldn’t have been promoted to product management! If your background is in sales, be sure to tell your sales staff exactly how to sell the product. When you accompany them on ride-alongs, help them sell and after the visit make sure to give them critiques on their performance. If you were a user experience designer previously, discuss every design decision with the user experience designers working on your product. When you see something that is designed differently than you would have designed it, don’t be afraid to tell them. And if you find that they’re really just not doing a good job, don’t hesitate to just change their designs — this is your product, right?

If you want to be a good product manager, be very conscious about not micromanaging in the area you feel most comfortable. There is a natural instinct for product managers to gravitate towards the function of the business from which they came. Programmers will be more interested in code, designers will be more interested in design, and salespeople will be more interested in the sales process. In some cases this may be appropriate — maybe the reason the company put a former marketer in charge of the product was not because of technical problems with it but because the marketing strategy needs help.

However, there is a very fine line between paying special attention and meddling. There is no single way to lose the trust and respect of others on the product development team quicker than to play the “I used to be, so I know better” card.

Most likely everyone you work with will know your background. If you moved into a product management role from with the same company, you may have worked with some of the same individuals in your prior role. If you went to a new company, you likely discussed your background when getting to know the team. There is no need to mention your “credentials” any more; as a product manager, you will be defined by what you do as product manager, not what you did before.

To ensure that others don’t feel micromanaged, product managers need to let colleagues know that they trust the quality and integrity of work being done by all groups, especially the discipline from which they came. You can establish this trust by making it clear what level of detail you will get involved in, leaving plenty of decisions at a detailed level up to the practitioners’ discretion.

Explicitly leave some decisions up to the group, especially aspects at a more strategic level than maybe they have been responsible for before. If you don’t feel comfortable with that yet, ask for recommendations on a less visible aspect of the product, and then accept the recommendation and acknowledge the astute analysis of the issue.

Where there are aspects of a particular area that you feel warrant your involvement as a product manager, make sure it is a discussion of equals, not a lecture on how you would have done it. If you do disagree with those in your former role, make sure that it’s because of a genuine reason that is important to the product, not because you just want to show your superiority in that area of the business.

As much as possible, leave the details up to others. Though this may be challenging at first, over the long run it will establish more trust and a better working relationship, and allow them to do their job better. You are now a product manager and presumably want to stay as a product manager. If you meddle too much in your previous area, you may find yourself out of product management and responsible for that part of the product again, but it may not be by your own volition.

How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Vice President and Group Director for the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing research and advisory services at SiriusDecisions.

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