Abhishek Sharma

@abhishekksharma

The dark side of the product management role

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/21GWwco-JBQ

Popularised by all Silicon Valley companies, people think Product Manager is a Mini CEO kind of role. Software Engineers, Business Analysts and even Designers are interested in this role before examining the pros and cons of it.

Most online articles cover the positive aspects of the product management role, but nobody talks about the dark side of it. In this article, I want to share a few aspects for aspiring and early-stage product managers, which they should be aware of before choosing PM as a career path.

Responsibility without Authority

From Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit by Dan Olsen

With great power comes great responsibility, but that’s not the case for Product Managers. Product Manager’s motto is “With great responsibility comes no power”. Product Management is a challenging role mainly because often product managers have a lot of responsibility without much authority. In many organisations, product managers are responsible for the product vision strategy and execution through owning the product roadmap without any authority. There is a manager title in the role; however, they often do not own any team (engineering, sales, marketing, and support) needed to execute against those goals. This aspect can be disturbing, irritating and frustrating if not handled properly.

Nobody knows what you are doing

There is no clear definition of the product manager job. It varies company to company or team to team. Even most of the time, the stakeholders don’t know what the responsibilities of a product manager are. They think that a product manager facilitates meetings, in the best case one can imagine is they manage the project and delivery. The most extreme version of this when people say “you don’t need a PM.” Other versions are: “PMs are just useless bureaucracy” or “the engineers can decide everything.” Ahh!! So sad. Few experience leaders & CXO’s see a pm role is the intersection of UX, Tech & Business. Even they are not clear on what are the specific roles and responsibilities of a product manager.

Anything or Everything

“Product manager has to do anything or everything for the success of the product.” This is a very open-ended and broad statement. But is it true? What is anything or everything look like? Do they have to write code? Do they have to design? Do they have to sell their product? Are they responsible for growth & marketing? Do they have to run operation? Do they have to manage customer support?

The answer to the above questions could be “yes” depends upon product stage, company size and most importantly, the interest of product manager itself. But it could get worse if one has to call to the customer as a customer support executive or deliver the product for eCommerce company as a delivery agent. These might need to be done for the success of the product, and there is nothing wrong or shame on this.

Trade-offs at every step

Product management is the kingdom of Trade-offs. Product Manager has to do trade-offs every day on each and every step which are unavoidable. They are making product decisions every day like:

  • buy vs. build
  • features vs. quality
  • data-driven vs. intuition
  • speed vs quality

The later stage of their career, it becomes habits in their personal life. They starts make the person life decision like shopping, choosing the right place for travel etc. as a product decision. In fact, few PM’s have a prioritised list for their personal tasks. Is it bad? Is it overkilling? Is it normal? Can trade-offs in own life avoidable? All these questions are unanswerable.

Thankless Job

One of the negative aspects of Product Management that can be really hard for people to internalise and adjust to is just how thankless the job can be at times. When things go wrong, the product manager is the first person to get the blame for it, but when things become successful, then it is the team’s effort. The role of a PM is to redirect praise to the people who deserve it and absorb blame. The worse thing is it can lead to “Imposter Syndrome: It is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud”.

Ready for Failures & Criticism

In Product, it’s the end result, not the process, that makes the job worth it. We all will fail at something at some point. How one reacts (emotionally & mentally) determines how successful he will be. Failure and criticism aren’t bad, but it can de-motivates one if it frequently happens not taken in the right aspect. More problematic is that after a few failure or criticism, product managers try to become a perfectionist to avoid mistake. Which is not a good behaviour for a product manager and can lead to “Imposter Syndrome.” As a product manager, it is okay to make a mistake but not repeat the same.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

Final Thoughts

As every coin has two sides, there is pros and cons of a product management role. One should and have their own reasons and interests to look for PM role instead of thinking it is highly popularised or in-demand position and jump into that. For me, I love all of the above aspects and see the positive side of it’s like a learning opportunity. If you want to be a product manager, it’s essential to realize that there will be emotionally hard parts of the role and come up with your own ways to cope.

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