If you want to be a bad product manager, just start being a product manager. Obviously you were hired or promoted or appointed for a reason. The fact that you were given the job should be evidence enough that you’re qualified to be a product manager. Don’t worry about training, education, best practices, or any of that stuff. You’ve sold products, built products, marketed products — so managing them is practically the same thing, right?
If you want to be a good product manager, you need to work at it. Very few people are just naturally good at product management. In fact, very few people are just naturally good at anything. Most things in life require skills, knowledge, experience, and hard work to succeed. Unfortunately, that basic truth does not seem to carry over to product management.
Too often, people are simply put into the position of being a product manager without any experience, training, mentoring, or support in the role. You would never hire a software developer who had never written a line of code and expect them to be productive from day one. You would never promote someone into an accounting position if they had never been an accountant before without putting them through extensive training first. However, new product managers with no product management experience are too often put in the role with no support structure in place to help them succeed.
One day someone is a designer or analyst or marketer or engineer. The next day they are a product manager, expected to perform all the functions of product management with no little to no idea as to what a product manager should do and how to do it. Is it a wonder why so many products fail?
There is clearly a void in many organizations in training and developing product managers. Who is responsible for this problem?
First and foremost, the person who hired and who will manage the product manager is responsible for making sure the new product manager is effective. Those who manage product managers must ensure that product managers know how to do their job. Every product manager is a “first time” product manager at some point; prior experience in product management is not necessarily a prerequisite for a product management position.
However, when product managers come from some other area of the business — engineering, sales, marketing, design — they may not have enough exposure to the other aspects of product management. Managers of product managers need to make sure that product managers are well-rounded. Best practices should be shared. Resources need to be available for training, coaching, mentoring, and other opportunities for learning.
However, product managers need to take responsibility for their own learning and development as well. A new product manager should not expect to wait and be taught, if for no other reason than for the fact that most managers of product managers do not provide adequate teaching and training. You are responsible for your ongoing growth and career development. The best product managers are ones who are constantly learning and improving their skills.
As trite as it sounds, many new product managers do not know what they do not know. A new product manager may not know, for example, that they should be visiting customers without salespeople, or that a long-term product roadmap should be created, or that they should be developing a product strategy based on the needs of the market and not based on responding to competitors.
People reading this blog already realize that they need to be learning about product management, so in a sense this is preaching to the choir — if you are reading this, you know that you need to work at being a good product manager. If you manage product managers, you need to ensure that you are providing the support that new product managers require. If you work with new product managers, you can help them learn and grow by passing along tips, resources, and guidance to help them learn — ultimately, that will help you develop your skills as a product manager even further.