The Product Manager role has gained prominence in recent years as companies are becoming more Agile focused to better compete in a continuously changing technology sector, where business cycles are rapidly shrinking from months to weeks to days.
However, the Product Management role is becoming overly technical and highly mundane, often leading to the deployment of crappy products. One major problem is that companies heavily rely on engineers to develop creative products and solutions, instead of, well, creatives!
What is a Product Manager?
The Product Manager role typically varies by company, but they’re the ones responsible for developing kick*ss products for an organization, known as the practice of product management. They’re responsible for developing the product vision & strategy, as well as strategically driving product development, market launch, and ongoing improvements.
They define the product strategy, roadmap, and feature definition through the lens of their business’s strategic goals, specific customer needs and broader market opportunities, product data, and financial resources available. They work at the intersection of UX/design, technology, and business, and are constantly seeking the answers to these questions:
- Do our customers want this feature or product?
- Can we build this feature or product?
- Should we build this feature or product?
Product Managers typically run around all day like they’re on fire, but their daily activities include the following objectives:
- Set a product vision and strategy that is differentiated and delivers unique value based on customer demands. This includes defining personas and analyzing market and competitive conditions.
- Define what the product team will deliver and the timeline for implementation. This includes creating a release plan, capturing actionable feedback and ideas, and prioritizing features.
- Provide cross-functional leadership, most notably between engineering teams, sales and marketing, and support. A key aspect of this is communicating the product roadmap and keeping everyone informed of updates.
- Create business cases, develop forecasting, and manage profit and loss (P&L).
And to clarify, Product Managers should NOT be involved in managing the day-to-day details of a product’s development, that is the duty of a ScrumMaster (or PM).
Key Traits of Product Managers
- Visionaries: The ability to see opportunities where others see problems, to make complex ideas simple, and to passionately seek to change the world for the better.
- Customer-Focused Empathy: Spending time with customers (or end users) is critical, where you’re asking unbiased questions and receiving honest feedback about what they like or what’s not working. This provides a deep understanding and empathy towards your customers, as well as their needs and goals.
- Design Thinkers: Design thinking encompasses cognitive and practical activities including problem-finding, decision-making, creativity, sketching, prototyping and evaluating.
- Great Communicators: The ability to lead comes from the ability to communicate with poise and focus across multi-disciplinary teams.
- Intellectual Curiosity: The intellectually curious person has a deep and persistent desire to know and constantly ask “why.”
- Data-Driven: Data over opinion, where tough decisions are made with hard empirical evidence and not speculation or gut feel.
- Active Listeners: This requires the ability to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and remember what is being said and by whom, also noting one’s background, role, and perspective in order to properly gage the core concept as well as needs and expectations.
Wow, talk about great expectations… Product Managers are pretty much superheroes!
Why Creatives Make the Best Product Managers
Creatives are a naturally curious, often
daydreaming brainstorming new ideas and creative solutions to difficult problems. Where others see a blank canvas, we see full-scale solutions without having to understand – or be constrained – by the limitations of technology.
And because us creatives have higher emotional intelligence (EQ), it makes it easier to empathize with customers by engaging, listening, and learning from them; which is the secret to building awesome products. Additionally, we enjoy collaboration within diverse teams in order to hear a variety of perspectives – including opposing views – because we know that these can lead to bigger and better ideas.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include four core skills: emotional self-awareness, social awareness (empathy), self-management (motivation), and relationship management (social skills).
For example, think about the battle between Steve Jobs “the creative” versus Bill Gates “the engineer.” Both were extraordinarily brilliant and developed great companies. However, Bill was a convergent thinker and was often constrained by his limitations of hardware and software, where Steve transcended technology with divergent thinking by developing new product ideas without having the technological solution to build it.
Steve continuously innovated by launching the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, not to mention redefining commerce with iTunes and Apple retail stores.
He built Apple into one of the most valuable companies on the planet with a market cap today of a trillion dollars, a distinction that only one other company has ever achieved (and it’s not Microsoft).
Microsoft simply could not keep up with Apple or the technology space and came close to irrelevance in early 2000’s by launching several failed products (Windows Vista, etc.), and was only more recently pulled back from the brink of extinction by Satya Nadella.
That’s great and all, but what happens when the product requires technical direction?
This seems to be the main issue holding companies back from hiring creatives into Product Management, when the answer is simple: the Tech Lead should only be coding no more than 20% and focused on backlog grooming (with the Product Manager) and providing technical direction on user stories and acceptance criteria. If they can’t, then just elevate this up to the technical architect and/or CTO if necessary. But Product Managers aren’t supposed to be technical (except for technical PM roles, duh), nor are they supposed to be tech architects. It simply isn’t necessary.
Whaaat? Product Managers not technical? I can practically hear all the engineers crying in their tacos.
That’s right, I said it.
It’s only a matter of time before robots take over software development, and that’s when creatives will rule the world!