Why I hate to be a Product Manager but still love being one?

When people ask me what type of work I do? I proudly answer Product Management in technology companies. Please don’t be mistaken with that statement. I don’t feel proud because a role Product Management bestows me lot of power (in literal sense). On the contrary I believe it is one of those roles, which has very less formal authority.

While I was trying to figure out how to explain my Product Management role in layman terms I came across a hilarious video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiBeKrwfU90. I couldn’t control myself and burst out laughing. In the video Product Manager (ostensibly CEO of the product) explains (in roundabout way) how her job is to make sure that customer don’t puke (because of the product). And, having seen how Product Managers work in various companies I can vouch that the Product Manager in the video is not far from the truth.

Honestly, if someone asks me give an example of a role where you have Accountability without Authority. I would without a doubt say Product Management. And, I guess this is THE thing, which I hate about product management. You are RESPONSIBLE for a lot but don’t have much formal AUTHORITY and sometimes EMPOWERMENT.

And the problem gets further complicated if you work in Technology Companies where many stakeholders don’t understand the role of Product Management. What I have observed is that most stakeholders liken the role of Product Management to that of Requirement Manager, Product Architect, UI Architect, Program Manager or Marketing. When I see this happening I recall the “blindfolded men and elephant story” which I read in my childhood. In the story many blindfolded people try to figure out what is an element by touching it. The problem arises as different people touch different part of the elephant and convincingly explain how elephant looks on the basis of their view.

Blind Men and Elephant

I guess this happens because most people don’t understand how Product Manager works with various stakeholders such as sales, engineers, support, customers, channel, and business partners, management, board of directors and anyone else who is necessary to ensure product success. And, some of these people with whom Product Manager needs to collaborate are very difficult people to work with J. These stakeholders probably see what Product Management does for them and keep only that perspective.

The sad part is that NOT every Product Manager succeeds…if you go by statistics you would realize that
1. Up to 95% of NEW product introductions fail
2. Most products have 80% FEATURES, which are never used
3. And, approximately 50% of the R&D investments are wasted

I believe these things happen because either Product Management is not well understood by various stakeholders (including Product Managers themselves) or these roles are not empowered enough.

So the question is, why do still I love being a Product Manager despite of all these drawbacks?

The answer is…that being in Product Management I become the owner of the customer problem area. In a way I become responsible to address that problem domain through a user-friendly solution in a competitive environment. I become the voice of the customers and start representing them while making business decisions. I am also forced to develop alliances to ensure product success. And, this is what makes Product Management interesting as well as challenging.

Product Management is one of the toughest yet one of the most rewarding roles because it provides enormous opportunities to learn, improve, and make an impact. It also teaches you how to become better person because you are FORCED to learn skills to get things done without much formal authority.

IMO, Product Management is not a role for timids or power mongers. It’s neither a role for people who want to show off or for people who want to hide behind the walls.

It’s a role for people who really want to try and solve real problems.
It’s a role for people who dream of bringing innovations to make things easy for others.
It’s a role for people who dream of making world a better place by improving the way people live, learn, work, and play.

And yes it’s difficult to be in Product Management but it doesn’t kill you. And, as I always believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.