5 things every aspiring product manager should know

5 Things Every Aspiring Product Manager Should Know

For many, becoming a Product Manager is a dream job. You get to work in tech! With really smart people! And get paid a lot of money! All while building cool things!

It’s true — building products can be a magical experience.

However, not everything about product management is rainbows and unicorns. Here are 5 unglamorous aspects of product management every aspiring PM should know about before accepting their first role.

eyeglasses with blurry eye chart in background
They don’t always see what you see.
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

1.) You don’t get to set the product vision

As a product manager, you don’t get to set the vision for the product — your higher-ups do. This is a hard reality for people who have been told that being a product manager is like being the “CEO of your own product”.

If you want to be “CEO of your own product” you’re literally going to need to become the CEO of your own company. Only then will you have full creative control over how the product is built.

If you’re in a small company, a PM will take direction from the founder and implement it to match their expectations. If you’re in a larger company, perhaps a VP or Director will tell you what their version of a successful product looks like. Sure, you may be able to put your own mark on their product, but if it’s too far from the vision of your boss, then it’s easy enough for them to go out and find someone else who is willing to listen to their instruction and do it their way.

shattered Christmas ornament
Your stakeholder’s dreams. Shattered after telling them no for the 5th time.
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

2.) You’re the designated “bad guy”

As the product manager, you are the designated shit umbrella for the team. Stakeholders, customers, and bosses will yell at you and stress you out, but you need to just suck it up, deflect it wherever possible, and take it when needed.

Why? Why not just tell them all off?

Because as a product manager, your job is to protect your team. Your developers don’t want to hear about all the political dynamics and power plays going on while building the product. They just want to develop things that are cool and that people actually use.

Let them do that and they’ll be happy and your product will be successful. You’ll just need to take a nice, hot shower after work every day to clean yourself of the toxic spew being hurled at you from every direction.

people holding green checkmark signs, with one person holding a red x sign
Authority? Nope, you’ll have none.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

3.) You’ll be expected to be a manager, but will not be given any management authority

Another unfortunate thing about being a PM is that no one really needs to listen to you. Chances are the dev manager is running your developer’s performance reviews, your designer belongs to the design team, and your product marketer is more buddy-buddy with the marketing team than with you.

Why should they care about making your product a success?

Well, that’s something that you’re going to have to get good at answering. You’ll need to sell them on the vision of the product and get them excited to build this thing for the company. It’s a tough skill to master, but one of the most critical to success as a product manager.

How can you do this?

  • First, always make sure they understand the “why” of what you’re building. How will it help people? Will it save time? Money? Your customer’s sanity? Why should they care?
  • Second, get them involved with your customers. Knowing that they’re making an impact on real people is a great motivator for most people. Try sharing positive feedback at meetings, kudos comments from customers, and whatever you can find to show them their hard work is appreciated.
  • Finally, bringing in pizza, donuts, bagels, and beer for the team is a great way to thank your team when things get tough.
guy pointing at girl's laptop
Someone will always be telling you what you should be doing.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

4.) Very little of your time is spent doing the fun stuff

As a PM, very little of your time will actually be spent creating the roadmap, mapping the customer journey, or doing deep strategy work.

Rather, most of your time will be spent communicating. That means talking, emailing, and chatting with developers, customers, designers, stakeholders, marketers, customer support, and other managers.

Now, we’re not saying that introverts can’t be product managers. We actually think they make better ones because they are better listeners. However, product managers have to at least be comfortable around other people. You’ll need to speak up and make your opinions and priorities known. You’ll also need to tell people “no” at least once a week (if not a few times a day).

That’s why being charming is a great quality to have as a PM.

Being charming while telling someone “no, we can’t do that”? Friggin’ golden.

man on top of a mountain peak with a larger one in the distance
There’s always another (higher) mountain to climb.
Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

5.) The reward for a job well done is another, harder job

So, you were communicative, got your team on board, protected them from all the crap shoveled your way, and delivered a successful product to your founder or your boss’ boss. Now what?

You’re given a harder product to manage, of course.

Have fun!

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