More product, fewer product managers


In today’s fast-paced technology-driven world, the role of a product manager is crucial in bridging the gap between engineering and the user. However, there seems to be a common problem among many product managers - they are not doing enough hands-on work. Instead of focusing on truly managing the product, they often find themselves in a project management role, drowning in documentation and endless check-ins. This disconnect has led to a growing sentiment of having more product and fewer product managers.

The Gap Between Engineering and Users

The essence of good product management lies in the ability to understand the product or idea being built and effectively communicate it to those who will use it. This involves continuous feedback gathering through demos, shadowing, and adapting to user feedback. A good product manager should be the bridge between engineering and the users, constantly keeping stakeholders aligned and ensuring the project is on track.

The Problem with Some Product Managers

Unfortunately, many product managers seem to believe that they can operate solely in a document-centric environment, focusing on creating roadmap documents and keeping stakeholders aligned through check-ins and nagging. This approach leads to an imbalance in priorities, with more emphasis on stakeholder management rather than truly managing the product. As a consequence, the role of the product manager often becomes more of a project management job.

Office Politics and Ego Buffing

Another issue that arises in many organizations is the worship of agile methodologies and the obsession with senior management egos. Management often becomes enthralled with product managers who excel at office politics and appeasing senior management, rather than those who truly understand and manage the product. This creates a closed loop of ego-boosting, where product managers focus on pleasing senior management rather than prioritizing the needs of the actual users.

The Corporate Environment

In the corporate world, there is often a disconnect between the expectations of building innovative and competitive products and the reality of maintaining outdated software systems used internally or by inertia-driven corporate clients. In these cases, product managers and product owners often prioritize career advancement and political maneuvering over the creation of a good and usable product. This can result in fragmented functionality and a lack of coherent improvement.

The Role of Technical Product Management

To address these challenges, many organizations are recognizing the value of technical product management. Product managers who have a technical background can effectively communicate with engineering teams, understand the technical aspects of the product, and make informed strategic decisions. By involving technical product managers, the gap between the business and engineering functions can be bridged, leading to more effective collaboration and better product outcomes.

The Transition from Developer to Product Manager

There seems to be a common trajectory of developers transitioning to product management roles. While this transition can be challenging, it offers the opportunity to bring technical expertise and a deep understanding of the development process to the role. This can result in more effective communication with engineering teams and better decision-making when it comes to prioritizing tasks and managing the product roadmap.

Rethinking the Role of Product Managers

To improve the performance of product managers, it is essential to rethink the role itself. A strong emphasis on understanding the technical details of the product and maintaining effective communication with the engineering team is crucial. Product managers should be empowered to make informed decisions and drive the product forward, rather than getting lost in paperwork and stakeholder management. By focusing on empowering product managers as mini-CEOs within their teams, organizations can foster a more collaborative and productive environment.

In conclusion, the role of product managers should be about managing the product, bridging the gap between engineering and users, and making informed decisions. By shifting the focus from documentation and stakeholder management to a more hands-on approach, organizations can create products that truly meet the needs of their users. With more product and fewer product managers, companies can foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and ultimately, better products.


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