Five Things a Product Manager Should be Thankful For

Five Things a Product Manager Should be Thankful For

In a time of recognition for the good things in life, and for the opportunities that life has presented us with, I thought it would be a good time to take a few moments and reflect on some of the things that all Product Managers should be thankful for.  So, on this Thanksgiving week, enjoy the Clever PM’s inaugural top five list of things that a Product Manager should be thankful for!

1. Customers

I know, I know – this seems like the obvious one.  I mean, without customers, we wouldn’t really have a job, would we.  But customers are more than just cash in the door; they’re the people who we really serve.  They’re the end users who struggle with a wide variety of problems that we attempt to help them solve quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of friction.  They’re the people who a Product Manager really reports to.  They’re the ones who give us our performance reviews, every single day, when they choose to use our product over others in the market.  Customers are the single most important resource that a Product Manager has available to them, and the art of cultivating your customers so that they are a reliable, responsive, and repeatable source of valued input is a key capability for any Product Manager to develop.

2. Sales Teams

Sales Teams take a lot of flak in the Product Management world, and often for good reason.  They make promises based on projections that we’ve explicitly stated are unlikely; they tell prospective customers that our products can do things that they really can’t; and they never seem to read the documentation that we send them.  But, the harsh reality is, they’re doing a job that we can’t do.  Most Product Managers are not great sales people – we paint pictures of what the product does and how it solves problems, but we sometimes struggle with the more ineffable qualities of sales presentations that professional sales people excel at.  And, most importantly, they’re the ones who close deals, and keep us all employed.  They also, to a large part, keep us honest, even when we struggle with doing the same for them.  They challenge us to ensure that we have clear, concise, and value-based statements regarding our product capabilities.  They force us to distill complex technological solutions into as few words as possible.  They offer a valuable source of market intelligence, talking with prospective and existing customers every single day, hearing about the strengths and weaknesses of not only our own product, but of our competitors as well.  As challenging as they can be sometimes, Sales has their seat at the table for a reason, and we should be thankful that they’re there.

3. Developers

I’ll probably catch some flak myself for putting Sales at #2 and Developers at #3 here, but consider this an unranked list — because very little that we do as Product Managers could ever be done without our counterparts in the actual development side of the business.  They’re our compatriots in the trenches, the guerilla soldiers who support our nefarious schemes.  They’re the people who take our (often unpolished) ideas, designs, and stories, and who make them a reality for our users.  They’re the often unsung heroes who spend hours staring at words on a screen and creating real value based on the priorities and problems that we give them to solve.  They can be irascible at times, overly logical, and challenging to work with when they don’t believe in the cause.  But they also hold us accountable to the standards of technical feasibility, of proper sizing and estimation, and ultimately of providing enough detail to get the job done without micromanaging the delivery of value.  They’re the constant reminder that no matter how much we know about the market, there’s someone who knows more about the technology.

4. The Cloud

I shuddered writing those two words in the header, since “the cloud” is such an over-used buzzword nowadays.  But, the ability to use cloud services like AWS or Microsoft Azure has had an absolutely incredible effect on our work as Product Managers and our options to quickly and efficiently define, build, and validate solutions to problems that can easily scale beyond the mere test audience.  The ability of flexible storage and server solutions to give you as much or as little horsepower as you want or need — and at a fraction of the cost of actual physical hardware — has made us faster, cheaper, and better at delivering value to our customers.  Add in the built-in backup ability that many of these services offer, and “the cloud” is an essential toolkit in any modern-day Product Manager’s belt.

5. Our Peers

Every year at ProductCamp Seattle, I’m amazed by the sheer number of people who arrive, as well as the amazing quality of the presentations that people give, not to mention all the support that’s provided both by the team who volunteers for the “unconference” but also by every single attendee.  Just listening to the conversations that happen in between sessions, at lunch, and at the after-party remind me just what an overall awesome group of people we Product Managers are.  We come from such a wide variety of backgrounds, with a breadth of experience that is hard to match in most other professions, and we’re always ready and willing to share our knowledge and our passion for great products with other people.  So my #5 thing to be thankful for this year is all the other great product managers out there who have dedicated their lives and their careers to identifying, designing, and delivering valuable solutions to customer problems.  I tip my hat to all of you out there, and wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

In Closing…

I’d just like to take a quick moment to specifically call out some of the great people that I’ve had a chance to meet and talk shop with since I started out this experiment/journey with The Clever PM:

  • Rich Mironov – Who wisely counseled me on some tips and tricks to getting a consulting business up and running (which is still clearly a work in progress), and gave a kick-ass presentation at ProductCamp Seattle.
  • Lewis Lin – Who not only wrote an awesome book on nailing the Product Management interview, but who also inspired me to share my knowledge here and elsewhere with my peers.
  • My friends & family – Who have been nothing but supportive of my turn toward a non-traditional approach to making a little bit of cash and spreading my ideas around.
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