If you want to be a bad product manager, dogmatically follow product management rules. Learn a product management framework and abide by it it no matter what. Product managers need to “stick to their guns” and never give in. Thought leaders, authors, and consultants are experts and you should follow their advice without question.
If you want to be a good product manager, adapt your practices to the organization and situation. Product management is not (yet) an advanced science. Instead of laws and rules, we have guidelines and experiences to guide us. While it is in the best interest of a product manager to identify and follow best practices whenever possible, these are not absolute rules. What works effectively in one organization may not work for another, and a good product manager needs to identify what will make him or her most effective and change tactics accordingly.
Marty Cagan argues that the “product management model” which may work best in a company depends on several factors, including the type of product, the product development process, the role of product management, the size of the organization, and the company culture. Beyond that, it is important to realize that these elements are interrelated as well. For example, the “best” product development process for an organization will depend on these other factors. What works well for a large, formal company with established product management may not work well for a small informal startup where product management is just getting started.
Many product managers — especially new ones — are looking for a strict guide to follow which will lead them to product management success. Unfortunately, we do not have one yet, and it seems unlikely that one will be established in the near future, given the multitude of variations that exist. Those who expect to be given a prescribed plan are often frustrated at the lack of direction and afraid they are failing in their product management duties.
As a product manager, you should not look for the perfect model, or feel guilty if you are not doing things the exact way that the experts / consultants / authors / bloggers (including this one) prescribe. Instead, focus on understanding the needs of the organization and the market, and put yourself in a position to make the most impact.
- Maybe the type of requirements document that works “best” for your situation is different than what the training prescribed; what really matters is whether it will meet the needs of the engineers and the team.
- Maybe your Win/Loss Analysis can not follow a traditional structure due to the nature of your customers and how they make purchase decisions; what really matters is whether you can collect the relevant data which will help improve your product and sales process.
- Maybe you are not able to tackle all of the aspects of your chosen product management framework at once; what really matters is whether you are focusing on the areas which will have the biggest impact initially.
These should not necessarily be looked at as faults that need to be corrected. Instead, they could just be the nature of the situation and represent the best possible response.
Regardless of the situation, product managers should still focus on continuous improvement, possibly even developing a plan which addresses areas on which to focus. A good product manager will concentrate less on comparing himself or herself to other product managers, and more on what is best for the company, the product development team, the market and the customers.