If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t ever spend time working on things that are not product management duties. You’re part of a product development team, and each team member is responsible for his or her own area. You handle the product management tasks, the marketing person performs the marketing tasks, the designers and developers take care of their areas, the testers are responsible for their deliverables, and so on. Working with those other groups just encourages them to slack off and show that other people will bail them out if they can’t complete their work. Focus on the product management deliverables and push others to make sure they contribute their fair share.
If you want to be a good product manager, help out when needed in areas outside of product management. Product managers should be more strategic than tactical and should avoid micromanaging members of the product development team, but on every project the time comes where team members need to assist with other areas. There’s a difference between diving into the details to fill in gaps that are not finished and diving into the details to change work that someone else on the team has done.
The Silicon Valley Product Group discussed this in their article on Thriving in Large Companies, though the idea really applies equally to any size company):
Be willing to do whatever it takes. …. I know of many cases where the product manager needed to help out with deliverables for customer support, sales training, technical writing, QA, engineering, and marketing. You may need to just do it.
This is an important concept for everyone on the team but especially the product manager. Assisting with deliverables in other areas helps for a few reasons:
- It helps a project progress. The main reason to “just do it” is to get the project finished and help improve the product. If the only thing holding up a new release of your product is the Help documentation not being finished, help the technical writers as much as you can. If Marketing normally does training with your customer service staff but they’re tied up with other projects, do the training yourself.
- It sets a good example for the rest of the team. When you start helping with other areas, people begin to see that it’s not just okay but encouraged. Designers will help developers. Analysts will help engineers. People will focus on the big picture and the end goal rather than just their own silo.
- It makes you a more valuable employee. Your strength may be in product management, but if you can show that you have good skills in training or writing or designing, it just shows that you are a more valuable contributor and leader. The more areas you can assist with, the more you will be able to contribute and the more likely your projects and products are to succeed in the end.
Product managers need to make sure they are not too caught up in the details all the time but available available and willing to assist with other deliverables when needed. In the end, a product manager is judged by his or her ability to lead a team to deliver a successful product. Sometimes that can be done by leading and directing from afar, but more often it requires a product manager to pitch in at key points to ensure success.