We are lucky in 2018. We are living and working at a time when product management knowledge and know-how is easily available. Overwhelmingly, it is top-notch writing by people who are currently actively involved in PM roles. A lot of the writing out there focuses on making product management understandable and accessible to other people. Because of this, it usually tends to cover what product managers should do.
Very few mention what product managers shouldn’t do. I find that pretty strange given that most product managers on a typical day will tell you that they have too much to do. I trace the hectic nature of most product manager calendars to one principle usually found in these what product managers do writing pieces.
It usually goes like
Product management is like filling in the white space between the different roles. You are the owner. If something is not being done, do it yourself because if you don’t, no one else will.
This usually gets interpreted as
Ben Horowitz says I’m the CEO of the product. And Marty said, it’s my job to fill in the gaps. But to know what’s getting dropped, I need to know everything that’s going on. So I’d better attend all the meetings I’m invited to and get involved in every project.
Now obviously, no one really thinks exactly that but this is how it tends to play out. This is bad from all angles. Your work-life balance suffers, things get missed anyway and most importantly you have less time to do what you should be doing.
Things a Product Manager Should Not Do
This is from my perspective as a product manager in enterprise softwares
- Don’t attend every meeting - In fact, there should be a good reason for every meeting you say yes to. See here for how to get the most out of meetings.
- Don’t touch code - To be clear, it’s helpful to know how to code but you should never contribute code to a project.
- Don’t attend every customer call - This one can be particularly difficult. But it is a fact that not all customer calls are the same. You get different value out of a sales demo versus a requirements discussion call. So pick and choose wisely.
- Don’t be the product owner - You should not be heavily involved in execution and delivery. Your time is best used thinking, test, analyzing and researching your way to a clear understanding of user needs.
- Don’t collect the data - Your job is to derive insight from data. So why waste your time collecting and cleaning it.
- Don’t be the sales guy/gal - Product conferences or sales pitches. The urge to sell our product is sometimes unresistible. But do resist it mostly. It’s great to be in touch with what works with customers but you shouldn’t be the primary seller ever.
- Don’t write collateral - There’s a reason copywriting exists as a profession. You should be helping your copy team understand the value of the product, not writing their copy for them.
But what if I don’t do this and nobody else is doing it? These are all really important things. Won’t the product suffer?
Damn straight it will suffer. When the product management gurus said fill the gaps what they really should have said is make sure the gaps are filled. Delegate, persuade or cajole the right team members to make sure the tasks get done…but don’t do it yourself.
PS - If you are the first product manager in a company or if you are one of the first few employees in a company then maybe this doesn’t apply to you….but in that situation, being product manager is just one of many jobs you need to do. So do them just as long as needed until someone more qualified can take them up