“What do you do for a living?” he asks.
“I’m a product manager. My teams build <enter current products> for <enter type of customer>,” I reply.
“Oh cool. My cousin is a Project Manager.”
“What?” he says confused.
“PRODUCT. I’m a Product Manager. Not Project,” sounding slightly testier than I intend.
“Oh…okay. Nice,” he says pausing to think. “So…what is it you do for a living?”
Even after a 16 year career as a Product Manager, this happens. It sometimes happens even with other members of my own peer group. It happened two weeks ago with another member of the exec team who I gently corrected rather than lunge across the table…because…well…that might be too extreme. 🙂
But for those of us who spend our days talking to customers, chasing requirements, understanding stakeholders, writing narratives that explain what problem we are solving and why, making sure there is a healthy backlog for our engineers, articulating roadmaps, making (and sometimes breaking) commitments, and just generally ensuring that the business is moving in the right direction, comments like these are not uncommon.
So why do we do it?
Why do a job for which the alternative title could be “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”?
Why show up every day to a job where your colleagues send you articles like “The Problematic Product Manager”, “The Bad and Ugly about Product Managers”, and “Product Managers: Stop Pissing Off Your Engineers”, just to be ‘helpful’?
I can’t speak for everyone…but here are my top 9 reason that I love being a Product Manager:
9. I love solving puzzles. Every day someone puts something in front of me and says something like “This is broken. Fix it.” Discovering what is broken and finding a solution is very satisfying!
8. I love variety. No day as a Product Manager looks the same as another. Boredom might show up from time to time, but it sure the hell isn’t because of routine.
7. I’ve become a better friend, sister, aunt, human as a PM. You cannot do this job well and not be self aware. If you want to make a career out of Product Management, you need to communicate well, think about the impact your words/actions have on others, and be able to see yourself through a clearer lens. All of which makes you better in other areas of your life.
6. I’m proud of my products…even the failures. I have learned so much from building great things with great people. And I’ve learned even more when those things have failed. For every great product I’ve launched, there are many that never made it out of the idea stage and a few that crashed and burned. And that takes courage and resilience.
5. I adore engineers. I love how they think. I love the way they see the world. I love that so many of them are patient and willing to explain things. I have been fortunate that Rob, Larry, Sean, Greg, Venkat, Surender, Cuyler, Sivaji, Kyle, Hans, Jeff, Raj, Gaurav, Nipun, Marcus, Andrew, and now Thiago, Robert, & Daniel are such patient, helpful, and brilliant partners.
4. I love culture…and believe good product strategy and good culture go hand in hand. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times it’s a bit more obscure. But it is always there. If what we are doing doesn’t align with the purpose for the company’s existence…something is off. And it is my job to ensure this vision matching.
3. I love launch. It is nerve wracking and a bit scary. It is exciting and fun. From my spot now leading an organization instead of a team, I mostly do this vicariously through others now…and even still, nothing gets my blood humming like launching something new.
2. I love the human brain. So much of our behavior is based on the hard wiring of our minds. Nature. Nurture. Habits. It’s crazy to watch people change their fundamental behavior or beliefs based on a product that is put in their hands. It is amazing and curious. And it brings me back to Product Management time and again.
1. I love customers. I still take pleasure in asking them questions. With their skepticism. With their excitement when they love something. I have never been so happy as when someone has said “Oh I used <some product I’ve launch>, I love it!” After all these years, I am still in love with putting cool shit in the hands of customers…in Tourlane’s case Travelers and Travel Experts…and seeing them light up when we solve a problem they didn’t even know they had!
So Cheers to all the Product Manager in the world!!
Keep doing what you do…build cool shit with smart people!