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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.