How To Be A Good Product Manager

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

Get involved in all aspects of your product

Posted on October 3, 2011 by Jeff Lash · 14 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, have someone else do the dirty work for you. You’re important (your title includes “manager,” after all) and you’ve got important things to do, like go to meetings and create presentations. You can’t be bothered with doing the “little things” like following up on customer questions, maintaining communication with partners, or interfacing with all the different functions within your company.

If you want to be a good product manager, be comfortable getting involved in all aspects of your product. Ignoring issues which demand further scrutiny is a sure-fire way to miss important details, hurt your credibility among the product development team and other internal stakeholders, and reduce your overall effectiveness as a product manager.

Product managers should know how to and spend time with activities like:

  • Follow up with a customer after a salesperson reports a customer complaint during a sales call
  • Getting to the root cause of strange problems being reported by customer support
  • Working out details of the implications of product plans with internal groups like finance, legal, and sales operations
  • Conducting customer interviews personally (as opposed to delegating this to other internal or external resources)

Often product managers do not get involved in these activities because either they do not know how to do them, are not comfortable doing them, believe that their other duties are more important, or feel though they are “above” doing some of these activities.

This is not to say that a product manager should be involved in all of the “none of the above” tasks at all times. Often, product managers fail because they are perceived as the person who should do all of the miscellaneous work, or they spend too much time in tactical responsibilities rather than delegating those. However, product managers should get involved in some details from time to time for a number of reasons:

  1. It will help you identify things related to the product which you would not find out if someone else carried out the task. Yes, a customer service representative can follow up with a major customer to find out more details about the error they received, and they will do a good job of it — but they may only be focused on identifying more out about the error and when it occurred. If you follow up, you will (should) also probe more to learn the scenario which led to the customer performing the task which caused the error, how often that customer performs that task, the broader scenario surrounding that task, the value your product provides by solving the customer need need, and a long list of other information which you would not have learned by delegating the follow-up to someone else.
  2. It will give you credibility with your colleagues. There is nothing which turns off colleagues more than responding to a request they feel is completely reasonable with a response that you do not have time for their request, that their request is not important, or that the request is “not my job.” Implying that you are “too good” to do something (but your colleague is not) is a recipe for disaster for product managers, whose success depends on influincing people over whom they do not have authority. When you can go the extra mile and help them out with a problem, show them that their request is important, act courtesly and respectfully, and finish what you started in a timely fashion, your colleague will be more than willing to return the favor at some point in the future. (Bonus points if you genuinely thank them for the opportunity to get involved and for their assistance along the way.)
  3. It will help make you a better product manager by teaching you about other areas of the business. By “rolling up your sleeves” and diving into different areas within your organization, you will make yourself more knowledgeable about the overall operations of your company and about the various aspects of business in general. The more you learn about the manufacturing operations, the supply chain, the CRM system, or the human resources policies (yes, even HR), the more well-rounded you will become, making you a more valuable product manager for your organization and a more marketable product manager overall.

Finding the right balance is important — too much time spent in the details will take time and attention away from important strategic responsibilities, though avoiding all of the details will shield you from important information which can help enlighten your strategic responsibilities. Product managers who are comfortable getting involved in all aspects of their product and can devote the right amount of time to these details will undoubtedly be more valuable and successful product managers in the long run.

How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Service Director, Product Management at SiriusDecisions.

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14 responses so far ↓

  • Chris SH // Oct 4, 2011 at 1:25 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head sir. Good post! I just was confronted with some complex commercial policy decisions above my head, had a salesperson make a random request, and deliberated my tactical and strategic responsibilities- today.

  • Fadi El-Eter // Oct 5, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Hi Jeff,

    Which tasks do you think the product manager should delegate if you think he should be involved in all the aspects of the product?

  • Jeff Lash // Oct 5, 2011 at 5:48 am

    As with many things in product management, it depends. Unfortunately there’s no set rule. I think product managers should be focusing their time on the things which can add the most value to their product and the things which help them the most personally / professionally as product managers. Often, they spend time on repetitive tasks and details which can be better managed by others.

    That said, my point was that they should be capable of getting involved in all aspects of their product, and should get involved to some extent in all aspects. You may have a high-volume product and can’t perform all of the win-loss analyis yourself, so you use third-party resoruces to help — but you should still do some yourself. You may get a lot of technical support calls, and those should be managed by your tech support group — but that doesn’t mean you can’t assist with their questions when needed or help dig into particularly complex problems.

  • Get involved in all aspects of your product : How To Be A Good Product Manager: Product management tips | jaysonpeng // Oct 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm

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  • Andrew Bonneville // Oct 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Very well stated! I would also add that your credibility goes beyond the immediate benefactor, and demonstrates to the organization your passion for the customer and product.

  • Giorgio Mancuso // Oct 13, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Do like this October post really!

    Because I am pretty new to this PM role, is there anybody willing to share some of your day.to.day best-practice?

    Thanks
    Giorgio

  • Greg Thomas // Oct 18, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Excellent post, by far the best PM blog I have going in my RSS feed. I have worked with a number of Product Managers who have ignored the little things and become consumed by their title. It’s sad really – it’s not a statement that you have to do this role every day in and day out but you need this connection with your customers.

  • Abhay // Oct 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Being authentic is important, as you right said, ‘It will give you credibility with your colleagues’ – first hand info from customers helps in branding yourself as ‘AUTHENTIC PM’.

  • Weston // Oct 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Hi Jeff, I really like this blog, especially what you say about gaining credibility. What are your thoughts on the technique where the parties in a relationship, whether business or personal, share their weaknesses with the idea that by allowing oneself to be vulnerable the relationship will gain a binding and humanizing experience? A colleague of mine recently wrote a blog about the book Click and I thought there were some interesting parallels in your two blogs. Here is his if you are interested: http://bit.ly/r1Yj86 .

  • Christina Saldivia // Oct 31, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Hi Jeff, I really loved this post in particular, because I don’t believe that product management should be “hands-off” when it comes to working with all departments and areas revolving around the product. It’s not just about building the roadmap, everything from support, development, services etc… makes the product a success or a failure. Also, if you don’t have a product on the road to success, do you really need that product manager?

  • uday // Nov 3, 2011 at 4:31 am

    I tried it.. In my exiting role as product manager i did everything which was expected and as written above, but ultimately it was regarded as interference becaz diff department in the team became over zealous .. ultimately leading to ego issues and prouduct getting hit.. My point is do everything as product manager only when your company has the culture of accepting the dirty work and effort you put in.

  • tim rogers // Nov 5, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Product management responsibilities include all aspects of the product that is being delivered to the “customer”. This position often pits you against engeneering as well as manufacturibg as your goal is always to make sure that the best product goes out the door! Self testing as well as customer follow-up is essential. You can’t be afraid to shoot for perfection and patient satisfaction or “customer delight”.

  • Ky Beckx // Nov 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Smashing article once again. I often find myself guilty of feeling a task is below me when subconsciously I know I should be doing it.

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