So you are the product manager -- CEO of your domain -- and the go-to-guy for everything that matters. You help set the strategic framework for where your product and the business are headed and lead a cross-functional team to greatness.
You are a rational force and a creative artist. You converse with every tribe, including customers, marketing, sales, support and every other stakeholder group that your product depends on to win in market.
But do you speak engineering?
The intersection between product and engineering is where the magic happens for software companies. And great product management is usually the difference between mediocrity and awesome. While nobody would miss product management if it (and you) disappeared in the short term, ensuring product alignment with business strategy, market opportunity, and customer need is what superstar PMs do in market leading companies.
However, the reality is that you need engineering more than they need you. They can continue to crank out product without you (and be happy doing it), but you can not write a line of code yourself. Engineers are the manufacturing engine that drives the business forward and are the most important non-customer asset in the company. You are overhead.
So why do product people keep pissing off engineering? "I don't anger them," you think, but consider the following five common ways that PMs piss engineers off every day. I
t's a chance to pause and truly reflect. Be honest, which ones do you do? It's a bit like body odor, self examination and fearless honesty matter.
Reality: Building great product is a collaborative process that works well if everyone agrees on the product vision and strategy. Why wait to involve engineering in your roadmap planning until you have set the product direction? Transparency builds trust and trust leads to great effort. Involve engineering early and often, so everyone has a chance to contribute to the product vision and buy into where the product is headed.
Just keep talking
Reality: Write it down. You are a talking head to engineering and prone to flip flop on priorities based on what the last [fill in the blank with customer, sales, exec] asked you for. It's unlikely that your most recent insight is more important than what they were already working on, so stop jerking them around. Putting a plan in place and articulating features and user stories in detail makes you appreciate the nuances of what you are asking for and what it takes to build it. It also gives the team a way to comment and ask questions, ultimately helping to refine what you are asking for before a line of code is written.
Explain how to do it
Reality: You are wasting your time and engineering's patience. Focus on the "why" and "what" and leave the "how" bits get developed to engineering. And whatever you do, don't bury yourself a bigger hole by suggesting how hard or easy something is or when the team is going to deliver it.
Reality: Great leaders deflect praise and give credit to others. They do this because they know that great efforts are almost always achieved by the team and that deflecting praise builds trust and is the greatest reward for success. Sage product managers always have their head up and are thinking about what's next and how to work in the interested of the team. For when the team delivers, PMs shine. Hand out the praise like they do candy at Halloween in Atherton.
Reality: You must seek out uncertainty and problems and absorb them. Remember that you love the spotlight of being a product manager so you need to own issues across the product including with the core software product itself. Understand the nuances of a given problem and learn to articulate any impact and remediation clearly. Explain the different potential solutions and the tradeoffs of each and truly lead. Great PMs deflect praise while in the glorious sunlight and absorb problems in the shadows.
Do you do any of the above? We all do.
Just remember that great product managers operate from a position of knowledge and confidence but are dependent on engineers for product, business, and career success.
Your job is to humbly lead with conviction, focus on the "why" and "what" and put your product team and engineering in a position to shine.